Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Finis Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President of the Confederate States of America for its entire history, from 1861 to 1865. Davis was born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane (Cook) Davis. After attending Transylvania University, Davis graduated from West Point and fought in the Mexican–American War as a colonel of a volunteer regiment. He served as the United States Secretary of War under Democratic President Franklin Pierce. Both before and after his time in the Pierce administration, he served as a Democratic U.S. Senator representing the State of Mississippi. As a senator, he argued against secession, but did agree that each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union.

On February 9, 1861, after Davis resigned from the United States Senate, he was selected to be the provisional President of the Confederate States of America; he was elected without opposition to a six-year term that November. During his presidency, Davis took charge of the Confederate war plans but was unable to find a strategy to stop the larger, more powerful and better organized Union. His diplomatic efforts failed to gain recognition from any foreign country, and he paid little attention to the collapsing Confederate economy, printing more and more paper money to cover the war's expenses.

Historians have criticized Davis for being a much less effective war leader than his Union counterpart Abraham Lincoln, which they attribute to Davis being overbearing, controlling, and overly meddlesome, as well as being out of touch with public opinion, and lacking support from a political party (since the Confederacy had no political parties). His preoccupation with detail, reluctance to delegate responsibility, lack of popular appeal, feuds with powerful state governors, inability to get along with people who disagreed with him, and neglect of civil matters in favor of military ones all worked against him.

After Davis was captured on May 10, 1865, he was charged with treason. Although he was not tried, he was stripped of his eligibility to run for public office; Congress posthumously lifted this restriction in 1978, 89 years after his death. While not disgraced, he was displaced in Southern affection after the war by the leading Confederate general Robert E. Lee. However, many Southerners empathized with his defiance, refusal to accept defeat, and resistance to Reconstruction. Over time, admiration for his pride and ideals made him a Civil War hero to many Southerners, and his legacy became part of the foundation of the postwar New South. By the late 1880s, Davis began to encourage reconciliation, telling Southerners to be loyal to the Union. He was aided in the last decade of his life by the generosity of Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, a wealthy widow. First she invited him to her plantation in 1877 near Biloxi, Mississippi at a time when he was ailing, and gave him a cottage to use for working on his memoir. She bequeathed Davis her plantation before her death in 1878, as well as additional funds for his support. This enabled him to live in some comfort with his wife until his death in 1889.

Read more about Jefferson Davis:  Early Life and First Military Career, Early Career, Second Marriage and Family, Second Military Career, President of The Confederate States of America, Imprisonment, Later Years, Legacy

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