Perhaps it is not so farfetched; on April 10, 1863, Davis advised Southerners on such domestic matters as agriculture, urging them in a speech to plant corn, peas, and beans instead of cotton and tobacco.
If other matters were not pressing upon his schedule two weeks later -- preparations for the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia, for example -- he would have attended in person an event occurring with his blessing in Columbia, South Carolina:
EXECUTIVE OFFICE, RICHMOND, VA., April 22nd, 1863.
Messrs. C. A. Wiley, J. O. Campbell, and W. J. Palmer:
I have the honor to acknowledge your invitation to attend a meeting to be held in Columbia, S. C., to deliberate upon the best method of supplying text books for schools and colleges, and promoting the progress of education in the Confederate States. The object commands my fullest sympathy, and has, for many years, attracted my earnest consideration.
It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of primary books in the promotion of character and the development of mind. Our form of Government is only adapted to a virtuous and intelligent people, and there can be more imperative duty of the generation which is passing away, than that of providing for the moral, intellectual and religious culture of those who are to succeed them. As a general proposition, it may, I think, be safely asserted, that all true greatness rests upon virtue, and that religion is, in a people, the source and support of virtue. The first impressions on the youthful mind are to its subsequent current of thought, what the springs are to the river they form; and I rejoice to know that the task of preserving these educational springs in purity, has been devolved on men so well qualified to secure the desired result. I have only to regret my inability to meet you, because it deprives me of the pleasure your Association would have given.
With my best wishes, I am, very respectfully,
Your fellow citizen,
The Association in question was the Teachers of the Confederate States, a consortium of education associations from the various Confederate states. As host state, South Carolina was best-represented with a delegation of 35, a who's-who of education leaders of the day:
R. W. Gibbes, M.D., Columbia.
J. B. Patrick, S.C. Military Academy, Columbia.
J. P. Thomas, Sup't Arsenal Academy, Columbia.
Joseph Le Conte, Prof. Chem. & Geol. S.C. Col., Columbia.
R. O. Sams, State Military Academy, Columbia.
A. J. Nems, State Military Academy, Columbia.
M. LaBorde, Prof. S.C. College, Columbia.
Rev. H. B. Cunningham, D.D., Columbia.
Henry M. Mood, Pres. Columbia Fem. Col., Columbia.
T. E. Wannamaker, Prof. Columbia Fem. Col., Columbia.
J. E. B. Evans, M.D., Principal Boys' School, Columbia.
F. W. Pape, Prin. Columbia Male School, Columbia.
W. J. Ligen, Prin. Pendleton Male Acad. Columbia.
F. A. Sawyer, Prin. Girls' High and Normal School. Charleston.
Wm. Curtis, Prin. Limestone Springs Fem. High School
E. H. Pooser, Prin. Palmetto Acad. Richland District, Gadsden.
T. J. Wells, Walterboro' Academy.
C. H. Leverett, Prin. Cheraw School.
Rev. Chas. E. Leverett, Columbia.
T. S. Goodwin, M.D., Columbia.
Wm. Reynolds, M.D., Representing Prin'ls Columbia Female Academy.
C. P. Pelham, Columbia.
W. J. Duffie, Newberry.
Wm. K. Blake, Pres. Spartanburg Fem. Col.
Rev. T. L. Holmes, Prof. Laurensville Fem. Col.
P. C. Johnston, Reidville Schools, Reidville.
Rev. R. R. Vann, Prof. Latin, Fairfield Fem. Ins.
S. A. Weber, Male Academy, Unionville.
W. P. Jacobs, Tutor, Columbia.
Jas. H. Carlisle, Wofford College, Spartanb'g.
D. P. Gregg, Columbia.
B. H. Robertson, Winnsboro.
James Woodrow, Theological Seminary, Columbia.
Jno. B. Adjer, Theological Seminary, Columbia.
Wm. Johnson, Columbia.
This all-male delegation met the delegates from other states in Columbia's City Hall on April 28, 1863, with a full agenda to address, including the adoption of Confederate-oriented textbooks for use in teaching Confederate boys and girls. The party included 16 delegates from North Carolina, 10 from Georgia, three each from Virginia and Alabama, and one from Louisiana.
Two of South Carolina's delegates, Dr. Gibbes and Lieutenant Patrick, were chosen to serve as conference chair and secretary, respectively. The call for the conference, read by Gibbes, was stated in a resolution adopted by the State Educational Association of North Carolina six months earlier:
Resolved, That this Association recommend a general convention of the teachers of the Confederate States, to be held at ----on----1863, to take into consideration the best means for supplying the necessary text-books for schools and colleges, and for uniting their efforts for the advancement of education in the Confederacy; and that the Executive Committee of the Association be directed to correspond with teachers in the various States on the subject.
To that resolution, adopted in North Carolina in October 1862, was added two subsequent provisions: One, that the Chair would "invite all gentlemen interested in the objects of the Convention, to unite with us," and two, that ladies would be invited to attend the conference sessions.
Now, gathered together in Columbia, the collected delegations from the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana took up a momentous first resolution:
On motion of Mr. Sterling, of N.C., it was--
Resolved, unanimously, That the teachers and friends of education here assembled, do organize themselves into a permanent Educational Association for the Confederate States of America.
And on its heels came a resolution to designate a committee, including one member from each state represented, to draft an association constitution and by-laws. This first "Constitution Committee" included the following leaders:
REV. C. H. WILEY,. . . . .North Carolina.
W. T. DAVIS,. . . . .Virginia.
PROF. J. L REYNOLDS,. . . . .South Carolina.
J. F. CANN,. . . . .Georgia.
S. T. PEACE,. . . . .Alabama.
W. H. STRATTON,. . . . .Louisiana.
Immediately, this committee "withdrew for consultation" and business continued, with another committee designated "to take into consideration the general interests of education in the Confederate States, and the supply of our schools with text-books, and to report by resolution or otherwise."
STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA,
EXECUTIVE DEP'TM'T, Raleigh, April 22, 1863.
Mr. W. J. Palmer, Principal N. C. Institute for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind:
DEAR SIR: The circular of the Executive Committee of the Educational Association of N. C., of which you are a member, has been received, informing me of the design to hold a general convention of the Teachers of the South, for the purpose of considering the best means of supplying text books for schools and colleges, and for promoting the cause of education generally, at Columbia, S. C., on the 28th instant, and inviting me to attend.
While expressing my regret at being unable to accept your invitation, I beg leave to say that it affords me very great pleasure to see that the desolation of war does not prevent the good men of the country from looking after this great and important matter. This is certainly the time to inaugurate the system of supplying our schools with our own books, and of impressing the minds of our children with the effusions of Southern genius.
May God bless and prosper your efforts in a cause so patriotic and so greatly to be commended by every true Southern heart.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Z. B. VANCE.
Indeed, every true Southern heart has reason to rejoice when educators are encouraged to organize themselves and take charge of their work, and to affiliate formally and permanently with the organized educators of other states, equally diligent and empowered. Had the Confederacy prevailed in its course, America might have found Davis and Vance leading a vanguard of organized educators across the nation.
As it happened, however, members of the newly-appointed Constitution Committee had anticipated their charge and brought a draft document with them for consideration. So, with letters read and laid aside, the Committee returned and offered its draft for consideration. It read:
ARTICLE 1. This Association shall be called "The Educational Association of the Confederate States of America," and its object shall be, to promote the educational interest of the country.
ART. 2. The officers of the Association shall consist of a President, one Vice-President from each State, a Recording and a Corresponding Secretary, and a Treasurer; and these officers shall be elected by the Association, for one year or until their successors are chosen.
ART. 3. It shall be the duty of the President of the Association to preside at its meetings, and to discharge such other duties as shall appertain to his office; and he shall, at the expiration of his term deliver an address before the Association.
ART. 4. It shall be the duty of the Vice-Presidents to preside, in the order they are named, in the absence of the President.
ART. 5. The Recording Secretary shall keep a permanent record of its proceedings, and list of its members, and shall perform such other duties as are incident to his office.
ART. 6. The Corresponding Secretary shall assist the Recording Secretary in keeping the minutes of the Association, and shall conduct such correspondence as the body or its President may direct.
ART. 7. The Treasurer shall receive and keep the funds of the Association, subject to its orders, and make no disbursements except on the order of the President, countersigned by the Recording Secretary; and he shall, at the end of his term, make a report of all moneys received and paid out by him, and deliver to his successor the funds in his hands.
ART. 8. Any male citizen of the Confederate States, who may be engaged in the profession of teaching, or who has, in any way, identified himself with the educational interests of the country, may become a member of this Association, in the following manner, to wit: He must be nominated at an annual meeting by a member of this body, elected by a majority of the votes then present, and sign this Constitution.
ART. 9. Each member of this Association shall annually pay to its Treasurer such a sum as shall be determined by the By-Laws.
ART. 10. The Association shall hold an annual meeting at such times and places as it may designate.
ART. 11. This Constitution may be amended at any annual meeting by a vote of two-thirds of the members present; and a quorum to do business, shall consist of any ten members representing not less than three States.
Article by article, motions were taken and adopted; thus was born the second* "national" Education Association in America, embraced by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, blessed by North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance and supported by the superintendents, administrators and principals of dozens of schools across the South.
All that was left was to designate a committee to recommend permanent officers, accomplished by the chair posthaste. As this was sufficient work for one evening, the conference adjourned and reconvened the following morning.
Reynolds was a solid choice for the presidency. A native of Charleston, he was born in 1812 and graduated "with the first honor" at Charleston College, going then to to Newton Theological Seminary and accepting a first pastorate in Columbia. After a term as president of Georgetown College in Kentucky, and pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Richmond, Virginia, Reynolds returned to Columbia to teach Latin at South Carolina College "in the palmiest days of that renowned institution." The experience of being the first president of a national Education Association served Reynolds well in retrospect, as he went on to become president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and ended his career as professor of Latin at Furman University.
Reynolds' co-officers would be
W. T. DAVIS, . . . . .Virginia.
REV. C. H. WILEY, . . . . .N. Carolina.
DR. R. W. GIBBES, . . . . .S. Carolina.
J. STODDARD,. . . . .Georgia.
S. T. PEACE,. . . . .Alabama.
W. H. STRATTON, Louisiana.
T. SUMNER STEVENS, Georgia--Recording Secretary.
W. J. PALMER, North Carolina--Corresponding Secretary.
LIEUT. J. B. PATRICK, South Carolina--Treasurer.
The main business for the remainder of the conference concerned textbooks for Confederate schoolchildren -- where to find textbook options, which ones to adopt and how to arrange for their distribution and use in schools. It was agreed that the Constitution of the Confederate States of America should be published and used as a textbook. The "remainder of the morning was consumed by the Delegates from Virginia and N. Carolina, in giving to the Association much interesting information." An afternoon session gave delegates from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama a chance to bring news of their own. All in all, the day was not unlike a modern meeting of educators. By suppertime, delegates were ready to conclude the day's business, but they returned for an evening session at 8 p.m.
Therein, Delegate Wiley of North Carolina offered a handful of useful resolutions, including:
Resolved, That the authorities of the several States be earnestly requested by this Association to give their attention to the importance of educating for teachers in our schools, worthy young men, who, by the misfortunes of war, are rendered unfit for manual labor.
Resolved, That the Delegates from those States which have no system of public education, be requested to urge upon the Executives and Legislatures of their respective States, the organization of such a system, and the appointment of a Superintendent of Common Schools.
Then Delegate Wells of South Carolina offered a visionary proposal:
Resolved, That to strengthen the influence of this Association, and further the cause of education, we do earnestly recommend the organization of a Teacher's Association in each State of the Confederacy.
Each of these were adopted, and after some additional thoughtful discussion, the Committee on General Interests of Education returned with its report:
The Educational Association of the Confederate States of America, assembled at Columbia, S. C., being ardently attached to the rights, interests and honor of each State and of the Confederate States, and profoundly sympathizing with the country in its righteous efforts to maintain its independence, would remind all the teachers and friends of education in the Confederacy, that the war in which we are engaged requires for its successful prosecution active and competent laborers in all those departments which, under God, constitute the wealth and strength of a nation; not the least important of which is the school-room.
Whatever our circumstances may be, there will be children at home who can be usefully employed only in study; and while the casualties of war are carrying off the present adult generation, which, under any circumstances, would not be long on the stage of action, it is of the utmost importance that those who are to succeed them should be able to appreciate the greatness of the trusts committed to their hands. And, while this is so, it should also be remembered that it is in the school-room that the mind of the State is prepared for the development of its material and moral resources, and for the skillful application of them to its support and defence. This Association, animated with unconquerable faith in the resources of the Confederate States, cannot doubt the ability of the people to maintain their intellectual, industrial, commercial and political independence, if each class of the community, with an humble trust in God, and a sincere desire to walk in the ways of that righteousness which exalteth a nation, will diligently devote itself to those means which can be employed with most effect for such a result.
On the morning of April 30, delegates returned to the business of textbooks, their publishers and which ones to recommend, and delegates from each state offered their suggestions.
Before concluding, two more committees were appointed: one "to prepare for publication in the newspapers, a summary of our proceedings, and to invite the co-operation of the teachers and friends of education in the Confederacy, in the action of this Association," and the other "to prepare an address to the teachers and friends of education throughout the Confederacy, which shall express the views of this Association, in reference to the educational interests of the country." This last committee would have only three members, two of which were South Carolinians.
In its last items of business, the convention received invitations to hold its next meeting -- to be called its "first annual meeting" -- in Greensboro, North Carolina, and in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta was chosen to host the meeting, to be held the first Wednesday of September, 1863. Following "a brief and appropriate valedictory address by the President," the Association adjourned.
[*The first national education association had already existed for five years, founded in 1857 as the National Teachers Association. In 1870, that organization underwent a name change and became the National Education Association.]