Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. To some the name is just that, a name mentioned in your history class. It seems that everyone knows the life history of Abe Lincoln. Davis, however, also has a very interesting life history leading up to the time of his inauguration.
June 3, 1808 – Davis was born in Christian (now Todd) County, Kentucky. His father, Samuel Davis, was a veteran of the American Revolution. Three of Davis’ older brothers fought in the War of 1812 under Andrew Jackson. Davis will continue the family military tradition.
1823-1824 – Attended Transylvania University in Kentucky
1824-1828 – Attended and graduated from West Point (Appointed by President James Monroe)
1828-1835 – Distinguished career in the military in “Frontier Campaigns”
1835 – Resigned his commission and returned to Mississippi to become a cotton farmer
1843-1845 – Became active in politics, was renowned for his eloquent speeches on States rights. He was a delegate for Polk in 1844.
1845-1846 – US Senator from Mississippi
1846 – Resigned from the Senate to re-enter the military after being elected as Colonel of the First Mississippi Regiment of riflemen.
Davis managed to arm his riflemen with the ‘new’ percussion rifled muskets, and developed a manual of arms for the use of these weapons. Davis and his unit served with distinction in the Mexican War. His unit was credited by General Zachary Taylor with breaking the Mexican lines during the Battle of Monterey on September 21, 1846. Davis and his regiment also played a key role at Buena Vista, and Davis was severely wounded in that action. The Regiment was sent home in July of 1847.
1847 – Davis was appointed by the Mississippi Governor to the US Senate, replacing the previous Senator who had died. Davis took office in December, 1847.
1847-1851 – Member of the US Senate.
Davis during these tumultuous years remained steadfast in his support of States’ rights. He is quoted as saying ” My devotion to the Union of our fathers had been so often and so publicly declared; I had on the floor of the Senate so defiantly challenged any question of my fidelity to it; my services, civil and military, had now extended through so long a period and were so generally known, that I felt quite assured that no whisperings of envy or ill-will could lead the people of Mississippi to believe that I had dishonored their trust by using the power they had conferred on me to destroy the government to which I was accredited. Then, as afterward, I regarded the separation of the States as a great, though not the greater evil.”
1853-1857 – Served on President Franklin Pierce’s cabinet as Secretary of War.
1857-1861 – US Senator from Mississippi
January 9, 1861 – Mississippi secedes from the Union on January 9th. Davis resigns from the Senate.
February 9, 1861 – Jefferson Davis unanimously elected President of the Confederacy by delegates to the Provisional Constitution convention in Montgomery, Alabama.
February 18, 1861 – Davis inaugurated as President of the Confederacy.
An excerpt from his inaugural speech, given on the steps of the Alabama State House:
“The right proclaimed at the birth of the United States. . . recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated. Thus the sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is by abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained, so that the rights of persons and property have not been disturbed . The agent through which they communicated with foreign nations has changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations. . . If we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us if we fail”
Thus Jefferson Davis began his term as President of the Confederate States. The next four years of his life would present challenges in the political, social, and military arenas of leadership. Future articles will examine the man as president.
Civil War Home
American Civil War Biographies
American Civil War Time Lines