The Story of Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Monument

arizona confederate flagMany people have stumbled upon the Jefferson Davis monument sitting in the public right of way along U.S. 60 east of Apache Junction and wondered why it was there. While it’s true that the Confederacy claimed southern Arizona as a Confederate Territory in the early part of the Civil War, Union forces from California drove all Confederate troops out of the state in early 1862.

The words carved into the stone marker are:


This inscription implies that this stretch of highway was dedicated as a Jefferson Davis memorial highway. Working from that assumption, several Arizona residents recently petitioned the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names (ASBGHN) to remove this designation because they thought it was inappropriate, as Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederacy, and an unrepentant white supremacist.

The ASBGHN met publicly on September 25, 2017, to consider these proposals, which including one to rename it the Rose Mofford Memorial Highway. During the board’s meeting, however, their staff person made a presentation which showed the situation was much more complicated.

Their research found that the monument was originally dedicated in 1943 along a highway at the Arizona-New Mexico state line near Duncan, Arizona. It was part of a longstanding project by the neo-Confederate group United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) to get a cross-country highway dedicated to Jefferson Davis, as a response to the dedication of the Lincoln Highway in 1913. The national president of the UDC attended the ceremony, and the Duncan High School band, accompanied by its majorettes, led the procession. The crowd sang the official Jefferson Davis highway song, and local Mormon church leader J. Vernon McGrath gave the invocation, followed by an address from Arizona Governor Sidney Osborn read by the secretary of state. The UDC’s president then presented the monument to the state. The Arizona Highways Department, the predecessor to today’s Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), built the foundation for the monument and placed the stone marker on it. (This was before the success of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.)

Then in 1961, as part of their participation in Arizona’s Civil War centennial celebrations, the UDC got approval from the Arizona Highways Commission, the predecessor to today’s Arizona State Transportation Board, to have  Arizona’s stretch of U.S. 80 designated as the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. The Jefferson Davis monument’s original location wasn’t along U.S. 80, so the UDC got it moved it to its present location along U.S. 60, which was part of U.S. 80 back then. The official name of the spot where it sits, however, is the Superstition Mountain Monument, because this is the name that ADOT entered into the official U.S. Board on Geographic Names database in 1984. (There apparently was some reluctance among state officials to officially record a public monument dedicated to Jefferson Davis.)

Subsequently, in 1989 U.S. 80 was decommissioned. The portion of old U.S. 80 from Benson through Douglas and then on to the state’s border with New Mexico was renamed State Route 80. The name Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, however, still appears on some maps for the stretch of S.R. 80 between Benson and Tombstone, although it appears that its official designation as the Jefferson Davis highway died when U.S. 80 became defunct.

But even though there may no longer be a Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in Arizona, the monument remains along U.S. 60 across from the Peralta Road turnoff. The ownership of the monument isn’t clear. It was donated to the state during its 1943 dedication, but ADOT is reluctant to acknowledge state ownership. The Arizona Division of the UDC was disbanded about 2002, but a local organization called the Dixie Chapter of the UDC exists, although it appears to be solely dedicated to placing wreath on veterans’ graves on Memorial Day, and it’s unclear if it’s affiliated with the national UDC. A 1998 encroachment permit issued by ADOT to the neo-Confederate group Sons of Confederate Veterans, Colonel Sherod Hunter Camp 1525, indicates that they are the monument’s owners.

The ownership of the monument, however, isn’t as important as the public’s opportunity to request that it be relocated to a museum or private property. ADOT’s encroachment permit regulations (A.A.C. R17-3-502) include a list of the things that qualify for a permit. The list includes, “For such uses as the Director specifies.” In other words, anything that ADOT is willing to approve. There are no provisions in ADOT’s regulations, unfortunately, to allow the public to protest the approval of an encroachment permit, or to petition for the removal of an existing monument.

The Arizona State Transportation Board, however, has jurisdiction over all issues related to Arizona’s highways, as per state law in A.R.S. § 28-304.B.3. So it appears that the only way the Jefferson Davis monument can be removed from the public property along U.S 60 is for state residents to persuade the board that it shouldn’t be there, or convince the legislature to pass a bill to have it removed.


On October 13, 2017, the Arizona Department of Transportation issued a letter wherein they stated that their official position is that a Jefferson Davis Highway no longer existed anywhere in Arizona, and that the Jefferson Davis monument along U.S. 60 is privately owned. The letter failed to identify the monument’s owner.

On October 20, 2017, the Arizona State Transportation Board met and ignored requests from the public that they order the Jefferson Davis monument to be removed from the U.S. 60 right-of-way.

On October 23, 2017, and again on November 6, ADOT’s Executive Officer Floyd Roehrich, Jr. responded to inquiries from the public by explaining that the ASTB would not become involved in this issue, and that the responsibility for the monument lies solely with ADOT’s Director John Halikowski. He added that ADOT believes the monument should be relocated to private property because it keeps getting vandalized, and neo-Confederate groups conduct ceremonies there which could create problems because it’s in the highway’s right-of-way. They are trying to identify which local group owns the monument. After the owners are identified, they will initially ask them to move it themselves.  But if they don’t have the money for that, then ADOT will move it.  They hope to have a decision and take action on it by the end of the year.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis monument in the public right-of-way
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis monument in the public right-of-way on U.S. 60. (Jeff Burgess)

Sometime during the weekend of November 18/19, 2017, the monument was vandalized again. This time somebody permanently damaged it by shooting at it. The local police are investigating the crime.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis Highway monument damaged by gunfire.
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway monument damaged by gunfire. (Jeff Burgess)

As of October 28, 2018, the Jefferson Davis Highway Monument was still in place along U.S. 60, and the Arizona Department of Transportation was not responding to requests for information about its status. The monument appeared to have sustained additional damage.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis Highway Monument, 10/28/18
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway monument 10/28/18 with new damage. (Jeff Burgess)

On January 22, 2019, the Arizona State Board on Geographic and Historic Names designated the stretch of U.S. 60 between Apache Junction and Globe to be the Governor Rose Mofford Memorial Highway.

On February 22, 2019, the city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, removed its Jefferson Davis Highway monument from the side of a downtown road because it was “an ongoing threat to public safety.”

As of May 21, 2019, the Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway Monument was still along U.S. 60. It had suffered additional damage, apparently from a chisel or hammer.

Arizona's Jefferson Davis Highway monument
Arizona’s Jefferson Davis Highway monument 05/21/19 with additional damage. (Jeff Burgess)

Jefferson Davis Doesn’t Deserve Any Monuments

Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis (Wikipedia)

Communities across the U.S have recently started removing public monuments dedicated to the Confederacy because white supremacists have adopted them as favored symbols. There’s also a growing recognition that most Confederate monuments weren’t erected to honor the sacrifices made by Confederate soldiers, but were built as part of a longstanding historical revisionist campaign, called the Lost Cause, to rewrite history in order to portray the  Confederacy in a favorable manner.

There are a lot of different types of Confederate monuments scattered across the country. Those located on Civil War battlefields or graveyards, for example, are mostly historical, and they should not be removed. But there are many that glorify the Confederacy, like the monuments dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and they don’t deserve to be maintained.

Davis, like many other Confederate politicians and soldiers, served his country honorably before the Civil War. He was born in 1808 in Kentucky and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1828 and then was stationed on the frontier at Fort Crawford, in modern day Wisconsin. He resigned from the army in 1835 and eventually settled down to run a plantation in Mississippi with many slaves.

He got involved in local Democratic Party politics and was was elected by Mississippi voters to the U.S House of Representatives in 1845. But he resigned from Congress when the Mexican-American War broke out in 1846. He raised and commanded a volunteer regiment from Mississippi and led his unit in the important American victories at the 1846 Battle of Monterrey and the 1847 Battle of Buena Vista, where he was wounded in the foot.

The governor of Mississippi recognized Davis’s war service by appointing him to the state’s vacant U.S. Senate seat in late 1847 and he subsequently won elections to stay in that office. But he resigned the Senate in 1851 to run for the governorship of Mississippi as a candidate opposed to the Compromise of 1850,  which he thought was unfair to the slave states. He lost by a narrow margin but remained active in politics and in 1853 newly elected President Franklin Pierce, a fellow Democrat, appointed Davis to be the U.S. Secretary of War.

In 1853, during his tenure as the secretary of war, Davis helped persuade Pierce to make the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico to acquire the land needed to build a southern transcontinental railroad. (Something many Southerners wanted.) He also helped to modernize the U.S. Army.

After Pierce lost his presidential reelection campaign, Mississippi voters once again elected Davis to the U.S. Senate. When he assumed office in 1857 the issue of slavery was tearing the country apart, largely as a result of the Supreme Court’s controversial Dred Scott decision.

Many Southern leaders, including Davis, were vocal proponent of states’ rights. They believed that each state was sovereign, and that the national government derived all of its authority from the states, so every state had the right to unilaterally secede from the U.S. Their affection for states’ rights was generated by a desire to preserve the economic institution slavery, so they were alarmed when  Republican anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected U.S. president in the fall of 1860. Lincoln didn’t propose to abolish slavery in the South, only to prohibit it from being allowed in any new states. But Southern leaders believed that slavery had to expand in order to survive, so why should they until they were injured before they seceded?

Davis cautioned Southerners against seceding over the issue of slavery because he didn’t think the North would allow it, and he doubted the South could defeat the North in a war. But then his home state of Mississippi seceded in January 0f 1861. The Mississippi state government issued A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union which stated:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Note: Mississippi didn’t officially ratify the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, until February 7, 2013.

After Mississippi seceded, Davis resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate and returned to Mississippi, ending his loyalty to the United States. He offered his services to the state’s governor, but his political opinions were so well known across the South that at the Confederacy’s constitutional convention in Montgomery, Alabama, in February, 1861, he was enthusiastically elected president of the Confederate States of America.

Jefferson Davis coin, 1861
Popular coin in 1861

The U.S. Civil War started when Confederate forces, with Davis’s approval, started bombarding the Union garrison of Fort Sumter  in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12 because they refused to surrender their fort. Subsequently, on April 15 U.S. President Abraham issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 troops to put down the insurrection.

Davis responded on April 29 with a speech to the Confederate congress wherein he said the Confederacy was ready for a fight. The long speech included a defense of slavery:

In moral and social condition they had been elevated from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers, and supplied not only with bodily comforts but with careful religious instruction. Under the supervision of a superior race their labor had been so directed as not only to allow a gradual and marked amelioration of their own condition, but to convert hundreds of thousands of square miles of the wilderness into cultivated lands covered with a prosperous people;

Davis presumed that European countries would take the Confederacy’s side in the war because they’d want to protect their access to the South’s cotton, and he sent emissaries to Europe to solicit their help. But despite the success of the Union’s naval blockade at stopping most Southern cotton exports, no foreign government officially recognized the Confederacy.

In July of 1862 Congress passed the Militia Act, which allowed African-Americans to join the Union army – and thousands did. Then that September President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all of the slaves in the Confederate states effective January 1, 1863. Davis responded by issuing a proclamation of his own in December. It declared that the Union officers commanding black troops were to be considered criminals and executed if captured. As for the black troops, Davis ordered that, “all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.” In other words, put into slavery or executed.

The Confederacy’s subsequent refusal to recognize captured black Union troops as legitimate prisoners of war prompted Lincoln to suspend all military prisoner exchanges with the South in the summer of 1863. This undoubtedly contributed to the number of deaths among Union soldiers at the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia.

In January 1864 Davis received a petition signed by several Confederate army officers that called for a law allowing the emancipation and enlistment of slaves into the Confederate army to help solve their serious manpower shortage. Davis declined to show it to the Confederate Congress and told the officers to drop the matter.

But Davis grew desperate as the Civil War progressed it and became obvious that the South was facing defeat. In March of 1865 he supported the passage of legislation that allowed the Confederate Army to enlist free black men and slaves that were granted their freedom by their masters so they could go fight for the Confederacy. Almost nothing came from it, despite Southern newspaper propaganda that thousands of blacks were enlisting.

On April 3, 1865, Davis and his government were forced to flee the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, to avoid capture by Union troops. Subsequently, on April 9 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 man Army of Northern Virginia, without Davis’s approval, after they had been surrounded by Union forces at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.

Then on April 14 Confederate terrorist John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln in the back of the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died from his wound the following day. Davis received a telegram informing him of Lincoln’s assassination on April 19 while he was on the run in North Carolina. He is reported to have feared the vengeance of the North when he said, “I fear it will be disastrous for our people.”

On April 20 Robert E. Lee wrote a letter to Davis explaining why he’d been forced to surrender his army. Lee also recommended against resorting to a guerrilla war to continue the fight against the Union, as the South no longer had any chance of achieving independence. “To save useless effusion of blood, I would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities and the restoration of peace,” Lee wrote.

Jefferson Davis monument - New Orleans
Jefferson Davis monument, New Orleans, LA (Natalie Burgess)

Davis, however, refused to give up. The Confederacy’s largest remaining army, commanded by General Joseph E. Johnston, was encamped nearby. Johnston had realized further resistance was futile after learning of Lee’s surrender. He knew the Union troops that had defeated Lee would now be turned against him, and he was already being pursued by a large Union army under the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Johnston met with Sherman at Bennet Place, near Durham, North Carolina on April 17. The following day they signed surrender papers that included some political concessions that Davis had insisted upon. But on April 24 U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant arrived and informed Sherman the agreement had been rejected in Washington, D.C., because the political concessions were unacceptable. Upon learning of the rejection, Davis instructed Johnston to disband his infantry and escape with his mounted troops to continue the fight. But Johnston ignored him and on April 26 he agreed to a revised surrender agreement that was solely focused on military issues, ending the war for more than 89,000 Confederate soldiers. This led to the eventual surrender of the remaining Confederates armies across the South. Davis considered Johnston’s surrender to be a traitorous act and kicked him out of what little remained of the Confederate army on May 2.

Davis was till on the run when Union soldiers finally captured him in Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10. He was imprisoned and indicted for treason. But he still didn’t give up. He welcomed his impending trial because he thought it would allow him to prove in court that states had the right to secede. But his trial kept getting delayed so Davis was bailed out of prison after two years by prominent Northerners who believed that he still deserved a speedy. After he was released on bail, Democratic politicians urged him to run for U.S. president in the upcoming election of 1868.  They suggested his campaign should call “for a restoration of the Union upon a white basis.” Davis, however, remained under indictment until Lincoln’s successor, Southern Democratic President Andrew Johnson, pardoned all former Confederates on Christmas Day 1868.

Republican Ulysses S. Grant won the 1868 election, and after he assumed the office of U.S. president in 1869 he made Reconstruction in the South a government priority. Davis lived in the South during the  Reconstruction Era, which lasted until 1877. He didn’t publicly comment on the situation, but he privately complained that Republican control of the former Confederate states was unjust, especially because of the Union Army’s enforcement of civil rights for blacks, as he believed that white people were superior. He ended his public silence in 1881 with the publication of his book The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. He said he wrote it for the purpose of “setting the righteous motives of the South before the world.” It was a defense of the old Southern way of life, and it made him very popular at Lost Cause events across the South. He made public statements in support of national unity, but he never admitted that anything he believed in was wrong, and he never expressed any remorse for his part in starting the Civil War. He died unrepentant in 1889.

Modern Republicans and the 14th Amendment

dead republican elephantThe 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War in 1868 by a Republican-controlled Congress as part of the Reconstruction Amendments, which were designed to prevent discrimination and protect the civil rights of all Americans.  It includes a Citizenship Clause wherein it declares that, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Several Republican presidential candidates have recently called for the end of birthright citizenship, as it is defined in the 14th Amendment, because they complain it encourages undocumented immigrants to enter the country to have “anchor babies.”

Republican front-runner Donald Trump, for example, has called for a legal test case to see if Congress has the power to deny automatic citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants because of the amendment’s phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Other Republican candidates have called for a constitutional amendment to revise the 14th Amendment.

I know from firsthand experience that anchor babies are real problem, but I don’t think we need to go so far as to tamper with the 14th Amendment to solve it, as there are better options.

But I think modern Republicans have a bigger problem to address than anchor babies. I’m talking about how ignorant most of them are about their own party’s political history, and how distant their current opinions are from it.


On October 30, 2018, President Donald Trump announced he was going to sign an executive order to end birthright citizenship. He claimed, “We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States.” Like many of Trump’s claims, this was false, as numerous countries provide birthright citizenship. Most legal scholars believe the courts will find the executive order to be an illegal violation of the 14th Amendment.

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