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Albert Taylor Bledsoe

Albert Taylor Bledsoe

American political apologist for the Southern Confederacy, Albert Taylor Bledsoe (1809-1877) was at various times an educator, attorney, author, and clergyman.

Albert Bledsoe's forebears were among the early settlers of Kentucky, and Albert was born at Frankfort on Nov. 9, 1809. He was a fellow cadet of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee at West Point and graduated in 1830. Bledsoe resigned from the Army after 2 years' service in the West. He entered Kenyon College in Ohio to study law and theology and then taught mathematics and French there (1833-1834). He took orders in the Episcopal Church and became an assistant to Bishop Smith of Kentucky. Because of his opposition to the mode of infant baptism, Bledsoe abandoned his clerical career.

Bledsoe was a man of near-genius and tried many careers. In 1838 he was admitted to the bar. He practiced law periodically in Washington, D.C., and Springfield, III. In Springfield his practice was in competition with that of Abraham Lincoln. After 10 years as an attorney, Bledsoe left this profession too. In 1848 he became a professor of mathematics at the University of Mississippi, and in 1854 he accepted a similar post at the University of Virginia. His interests in theology and philosophy resulted in two valuable treatises: A Theodicy, or Vindication of the Divine Theory (1853) and Essay on Liberty and Slavery (1856).

In 1861 Bledsoe's West Point training brought him a Confederate colonel's commission and assignments as chief of the War Bureau and assistant secretary of war. Two years later, Confederate president Jefferson Davis dispatched him to Europe to study historical justifications for the Confederacy. The result of Bledsoe's research was an 1866 classic of political argument: Is Davis a Traitor? or Was Secession a Constitutional Right previous to the War of 1861? The Confederacy's defeat left Bledsoe dedicated to a rigorous defense of Southern principles. In 1867 he founded and edited the Southern Review, a Baltimore-based quarterly. Bledsoe poured the great energies of his mind into this magazine, writing from three to five articles for each issue as he toiled tirelessly to redeem the vanquished South. Yet that impoverished region had no money and little support to give to Bledsoe's efforts; to support his family, he was forced to depend upon the salaries of his schoolteacher daughters.

In the 10 years that Bledsoe edited the Review, he was the personification of the unreconstructed Southerner. He defended slavery and secession while damning democracy, industrialism, science, and new ideas. Although ordained a Methodist minister in the mid-1870s, he was constantly at odds with clergymen over various theological points. The long strain of controversy, accentuated by financial burdens and excessive work, proved his end. He died on Dec. 8, 1877, in Alexandria, Va.

A historian once observed of Bledsoe: "When one turns to a subject of special sacredness to Bledsoe, one feels precisely as if one were walking in the Round Church of the Templars, and a knight suddenly rose from the floor and brandished his blade."

Further Reading

Bledsoe's voluminous writings are the primary source for his life. No full biography of him has been written. For analyses of his career see James Wood Davidson, The Living Writers of the South (1869), and Douglas Southall Freeman, The South to Posterity: An Introduction to the Writing of Confederate History (1939). □

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