Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America

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Jefferson Davis was elected as the only President of the Confederate States of America on February 9, 1861.

Davis was born June 3, 1808 in Kentucky, and grew up on a successful Mississippi cotton plantation. He was the youngest of ten children born to Samuel and Jane Davis. His schooling included Transylvania University. Following his 1828 graduation from West Point, Davis served in the infantry. In 1835 he married Sarah, the daughter of Zachary Taylor. They moved from Wisconsin to Mississippi. Within 3 months, Sarah and Jefferson contracted malaria. Sarah died of the disease. Davis recovered but the combination of the disease and grief, left him in poor health which plagued him all of his life.

For the next 10 years Davis lived on his cotton plantation and became more active in politics. In 1845 he married Varina Howell and the Davis’ went to Washington DC where he served in the House of Representatives. They made a good team, with her entertaining prowess and his eloquence.

Jefferson and Varina were parents of six children, two of whom died in childhood.

Davis left Congress to serve as an officer in the Mexican War. Returning from the war he was appointed to the US Senate. He lost a close race for Governor of Mississippi, but then was appointed as Franklin Pierce’s secretary of war. Davis was again serving as a Senator when Mississippi seceded from the Union in Jan 1861.

He was inaugurated on February 18, 1861 and, following the permanent adoption of the constitution, again elected by popular vote for a 6 year term and once more inaugurated on February 22.

Davis did not seek the office, but rose to the call. He felt himself better suited to leadership in the field. His distinguished careers as soldier and civilian led many to believe him a natural leader for the new Confederacy.

He whole heartedly supported a peace conference intended to create a plan to reconcile the Union and the Confederacy. But it’s failure made war inevitable.

The first capital of the Confederacy was in Montgomery, Alabama. The capital changed to Richmond in May 1861, when Virginia joined her sister states in secession.

By April, 1862 he had convinced the Confederate Congress to authorize the first conscription draft. Davis also initiated martial law, regulation of the Railroad, impressments of property, harsh tax laws, and diplomacy with France & England intended to gain commercial trade and recognition of Confederate independence.

Davis is criticized for micro-managing military maneuvers from his far away Confederate White House, rather than leaving tactical details to his Generals. As a president with a formidable cause, Davis was not a particularly tactful person, often perceived as being over bearing and unyielding.

General Robert E Lee surrendered April 9, 1861 without the agreement of President Davis. Davis hoped to continue the war, but was captured May 10, while fleeing to Florida. He was held prisoner for two years before being allowed to post bail.

He lived 12 years beyond the Civil War and had a lot of public support from fellow southerners. He retired to write his memoirs Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, (2 vol. 1881) and penned A Short History of the Confederate States of America, published after his death.

Davis died in New Orleans of pneumonia on December 6, 1889.

President Jefferson Davis is featured in two paintings by popular Civil War artist Mort Kunstler – Lee Takes Command and White House Strategy.

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