Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis
President of the Confederate States
In office
February 22, 1862 – May 10, 1865
Provisional: February 18, 1861 – February 22, 1862
Vice President Alexander H. Stephens
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1857 – January 21, 1861
Preceded by Stephen Adams
Succeeded by Adelbert Ames
(Vacant until 1870)
In office
August 10, 1847 – September 23, 1851
Preceded by Jesse Speight
Succeeded by John J. McRae
23rd United States Secretary of War
In office
March 7, 1853 – March 4, 1857
President Franklin Pierce
Preceded by Charles M. Conrad
Succeeded by John B. Floyd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's At-large district
In office
December 8, 1845 – June 1, 1846
Preceded by Tilghman Tucker
Succeeded by Henry T. Ellett
Personal details
Born Jefferson Finis Davis
(1808-06-03)June 3, 1808
Fairview, Kentucky, U.S.
Died December 6, 1889(1889-12-06) (aged 81)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery,
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sarah Knox Taylor (m. 1835; her death 1835)
Varina Howell (m. 1845; his death 1889)
Alma mater Transylvania University
United States Military Academy
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance   United States
Service/branch United States Army
United States Volunteers
Years of service 1825–1835
Rank Union army 1st lt rank insignia.jpg First Lieutenant
Union Army colonel rank insignia.png Colonel
Unit First Dragoons
Commands First Mississippi

Jefferson Davis (born Jefferson Finis Davis; [1] June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American politician who served as the President of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865. He was a member of the Democratic Party who represented Mississippi in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives prior to becoming president of the Confederacy. He was the 23rd United States Secretary of War, serving under U.S. President Franklin Pierce from 1853 to 1857.

Davis was born in Fairview, Kentucky, to a moderately prosperous farmer, and grew up on his older brother Joseph's large cotton plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana. Joseph Davis also secured his appointment to the United States Military Academy. After graduating, Jefferson Davis served six years as a lieutenant in the United States Army. He fought in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), as the colonel of a volunteer regiment. Before the American Civil War, he operated a large cotton plantation in Mississippi and owned as many as 74 slaves. [2] Although he argued against secession in 1858, [3] he believed states had an unquestionable right to leave the Union.

Davis's first wife, Sarah Knox Taylor, died of malaria after three months of marriage, and he also struggled with recurring bouts of the disease. [4] He was unhealthy for much of his life. At the age of 36, Davis married again, to 18-year-old Varina Howell, a native of Natchez, Mississippi, who had been educated in Philadelphia and had some family ties in the North. They had six children. Only two survived him, and only one married and had children.

Many historians attribute the Confederacy's weaknesses to the poor leadership of Davis. [5] His preoccupation with detail, reluctance to delegate responsibility, lack of popular appeal, feuds with powerful state governors and generals, favoritism toward old friends, inability to get along with people who disagreed with him, neglect of civil matters in favor of military ones, and resistance to public opinion all worked against him. [6] [7] Historians agree he was a much less effective war leader than his Union counterpart Abraham Lincoln. After Davis was captured in 1865, he was accused of treason and imprisoned at Fort Monroe. He was never tried and was released after two years. While not disgraced, Davis had been displaced in ex-Confederate affection after the war by his leading general, Robert E. Lee. Davis wrote a memoir entitled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, which he completed in 1881. By the late 1880s, he began to encourage reconciliation, telling Southerners to be loyal to the Union. Ex-Confederates came to appreciate his role in the war, seeing him as a Southern patriot, and he became a hero of the Lost Cause in the post- Reconstruction South. [8]

Early life and first military career

Davis's paternal grandparents each immigrated separately to North America from the region of Snowdonia in North Wales in the early 18th century. The rest of his ancestry was English. After arriving in Philadelphia, Davis's paternal grandfather Evan settled in the colony of Georgia, which was developed chiefly along the coast. He married the widow Lydia Emory Williams, who had two sons from a previous marriage. Davis was an Episcopalian.

Their son Samuel Emory Davis was born in 1756. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, along with his two older half-brothers. In 1783, after the war, he married Jane Cook. She was born in 1759 to William Cook and his wife Sarah Simpson in what is now Christian County, Kentucky. In 1793, the Samuel Davis family relocated to Kentucky, establishing what is now the community of Fairview on the border of Christian and Todd counties. Samuel and Jane Davis had ten children; Joseph was the oldest son, born in 1784; Jefferson was the last and was born on June 3, 1807 or 1808, on the Davis homestead in Fairview. [9] The year of his birth is uncertain; Davis gave both 1807 and 1808, at different points in his life. [10] Samuel had been a young man when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Jefferson was the third President of the United States, and Samuel, admiring him greatly, named his last son after the president. [11] Coincidentally, Abraham Lincoln was born eight months later, less than 100 miles (160 km) to the northeast in Hodgenville, Kentucky. In the early 20th century, the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site was established near the site of Davis's birth. [12]

During Davis's youth, his family moved twice: in 1811 to St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, and less than a year later to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. The international slave trade was prohibited in 1808, and planters used the domestic slave trade to procure laborers for developing cotton culture in the Deep South. Three of Davis's older brothers served in the War of 1812. In 1813, Davis began his education at the Wilkinson Academy in the small town of Woodville, near the family cotton plantation.

His brother Joseph, who was 24 years older, acted as a surrogate father and encouraged Jefferson in his education. Two years later, Davis entered the Catholic school of Saint Thomas at St. Rose Priory, a school operated by the Dominican Order in Washington County, Kentucky. At the time, he was the only Protestant student at the school. In 1818 Davis returned to Mississippi, studying at Jefferson College at Washington. Three years later in 1821, he returned to Kentucky, where he studied at Transylvania University in Lexington. (At the time, these colleges were like academies, roughly equivalent to high schools.) [13] His father Samuel died on July 4, 1824, when Jefferson was 16 years old. [14]

Joseph arranged for Davis to get an appointment and attend the United States Military Academy (West Point) starting in late 1824. [15] While there, he was placed under house arrest for his role in the Eggnog Riot during Christmas 1826. Cadets smuggled whiskey into the academy to make eggnog, and more than one-third of the cadets were involved in the incident. In June 1828, Davis graduated 23rd in a class of 33. [16]

Following graduation, Second Lieutenant Davis was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment and was stationed at Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien, Michigan Territory. Zachary Taylor, a future president of the United States, had assumed command shortly before Davis arrived in early 1829. In March 1832, Davis returned to Mississippi on furlough, having had no leave since he first arrived at Fort Crawford. He was still in Mississippi during the Black Hawk War but returned to the fort in August. At the conclusion of the war, Colonel Taylor assigned him to escort Black Hawk to prison. Davis made an effort to shield Black Hawk from curiosity seekers, and the chief noted in his autobiography that Davis treated him "with much kindness" and showed empathy for the leader's situation as a prisoner. [17]

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