At 351 feet, it towers over the Todd County landscape, the fifth tallest monument in the United States. Driving west on US 68 from Elkton, it immediately comes into view: the Jefferson Davis Monument, sited in the small town of Fairview, Davis’s birthplace.
Construction started on the Davis Monument in 1917 and was completed in 1924. This was during the Lost Cause movement, the reinvention of the Confederacy as the protector of states’ rights, southern virtues, and the nobility of the antebellum South. Concurrently, Confederate statuary was erected throughout the South. To the Lost Cause, slavery was a just, biblically sanctioned institution presided over by chivalrous masters.
The Lost Cause did its best to ignore that the founding principle of the Confederacy was the defense of slavery and the economy that it supported. Figures of the Confederacy were turned into saints.
History tells us that Davis partnered with his brother on a plantation in Mississippi and owned 113 slaves in 1860. He had served in the Mexican American War, was a US Congressman, Senator and Secretary of War. As a Senator and Secretary of War he advocated the annexation of northeast Mexico and Cuba to “increase the number of slaveholding constituencies.” Elected president of the Confederacy, Davis was ineffective at coordinating the Confederate states’ generals, did not identify with the common people and failed to harness Confederate nationalism.
Kentucky just removed the Jefferson Davis statue from the State Capitol Building, relocating one element of the Lost Cause to the Jefferson Davis Monument in Fairview, where the Lost Cause remains visible from miles away.