Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis
President of the Confederate
States of America
In office
February 18, 1861 – May 5, 1865
Vice President Alexander Stephens
Preceded by Office instituted
Succeeded by Office abolished
23rd United States Secretary of War
In office
March 7, 1853 – March 3, 1857
President Franklin Pierce
Preceded by Charles Magill Conrad
Succeeded by John Buchanan Floyd
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
August 10, 1847 – September 23, 1851
Preceded by Jesse Speight
Succeeded by John J. McRae
In office
March 4, 1857 – January 21, 1861[1]
Preceded by Stephen Adams
Succeeded by Adelbert Ames (1870)
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 M. Tucker
Succeeded by Henry T. Ellett
Personal details
Born June 3, 1808(1808-06-03)
Christian County, Kentucky
Died December 6, 1889(1889-12-06) (aged 81)
New Orleans, Louisiana
Citizenship Confederate
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sarah Knox Taylor
Varina Howell
Alma mater Jefferson College
Transylvania University
United States Military Academy
Profession Soldier, Politician
Religion Episcopal
Signature Cursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
 United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Mississippi Rifles
Years of service 1828–1835, 1846–1847
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars Mexican–American War

Jefferson Finis Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889), also known as Jeff Davis, was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President for its entire history. He 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.[2]

On February 9, 1861, after he resigned from the United States Senate, Davis 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).[3] 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, neglect of civil matters in favor of military ones—all these shortcomings worked against him.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] In spite of his former status as the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis began to encourage reconciliation by the late 1880s, telling Southerners to be loyal to the Union.[7][8][9]


Early life and first military career

Davis' grandfather, Evan Davies, was born in Philadelphia in 1702; his father or grandfather had emigrated to North America from Wales. Evan married Lydia Emory Williams, also from Philadelphia. Samuel Emory Davis was born to them in 1756. Lydia had two sons from a previous marriage; along with his two half-brothers, Samuel served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He later married Jane Cook, who was born in Christian County, Kentucky in 1759 to William Cook and his wife Sarah Simpson. Samuel and Jane were married in 1783 and had 10 children. Jefferson was the last and was born on June 3, 1808. Samuel died on July 4, 1824, and Jane on October 3, 1845.[10]

During Davis' youth, his family moved twice: in 1811 to St. Mary Parish, Louisiana and in 1812 to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Three of Jefferson’s older brothers served during the War of 1812. In 1813 Davis began his education at the Wilkinson Academy, near the family plantation in the small town of Woodville. 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. Davis went on to Jefferson College at Washington, Mississippi in 1818, and then to Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky in 1821.[11]

In 1824 Davis entered the United States Military Academy (West Point).[12] While at West Point, Davis was placed under house arrest for his role in the Eggnog Riot in Christmas 1826, but graduated 23rd in a class of 33 in June 1828.[13] Following graduation, Second Lieutenant Davis was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment and was stationed at Fort Crawford, Wisconsin. Lt. Davis was home in Mississippi for the entire Black Hawk War of 1832, but was assigned by his colonel, Zachary Taylor, to escort Black Hawk himself to prison. It is said that the chief liked Davis because of the kind treatment he had shown.[14]

Marriage, plantation life, and early political career

First wife, Sarah Knox Taylor

Davis served under Zachary Taylor starting in 1832. That same year, Taylor's family, including his daughter Sarah Knox Taylor, joined him at Fort Crawford, and Jefferson and Sarah became friends and fell in love. At first her father had nothing against Davis personally, but he did not want Sarah to be an army wife, having had first-hand experience with the combination of family and military life. Later, Taylor developed a dislike for Davis, but the couple continued to see each other and intended to marry. When Davis left Fort Crawford in 1833, he did not see Sarah for over two years. During this time he decided to leave the army and become a cotton planter with his brother Joseph; this may have been partly due to Zachary Taylor's concerns. Sarah and Jefferson were married on June 17, 1835, at the house of her aunt near Louisville, Kentucky. The newly weds settled at the groom's brother Joseph Davis' plantation at Davis Bend in Warren County, Mississippi, but the marriage proved to be short. While visiting Davis' oldest sister near Saint Francisville, Louisiana, both newlyweds contracted malaria, and Sarah died three months after the wedding on September 15, 1835.[12][15]

Second wife, Varina Howell

Joseph gave his brother 900 acres of land adjoining his property where Davis built Brierfield Plantation. At the time Davis had only one slave, James Pemberton. Clearing the land and growing cotton required slave labor and by early 1836 Davis had purchased 16 slaves. The number increased to 40 by 1840 and 74 by 1845. Pemberton served as Davis' overseer, an unusual position for a slave in Mississippi.[16]

For the next eight years, Davis was reclusive, studying government and history and engaging in private political discussions with his brother Joseph. In 1840 he attended a Democratic meeting in Vicksburg and, to his surprise, was chosen as a delegate to the party's state convention in Jackson. In 1842 he once again attended the Democratic convention, and in 1843 became a candidate for the state House of Representatives but lost his first election. The following year, 1844, Davis was sent to the party convention for a third time and his interest in politics deepened. He was selected as one of six presidential electors for the 1844 presidential election and campaigned effectively throughout Mississippi for the Democratic candidate, James K. Polk[17][18]

That same year, Davis met Varina Howell, the granddaughter of the late New Jersey Governor Richard Howell. Within a month of their meeting, Davis had asked her to marry him. They married on February 26, 1845. His political activity continued. On July 8, 1845 he received the party's nomination for one of the at-large seats in United States House of Representatives and in November he was elected. He was sworn into office on December 8, 1845.[19]

Jefferson and Varina Howell Davis had six children; three died before reaching adulthood. Their first son, Samuel Emory, was born July 30, 1852, and was named after his grandfather; he died June 30, 1854, of an undiagnosed disease at less than two years old.[20] Margaret Howell was born the following year on February 25, 1855.[21] She married Joel Addison Hayes Junior (1848–1919) and moved to Colorado Springs. They had five children; Margaret was the only child of Jefferson and Varina to marry and raise a family. She died on July 18, 1909 at the age of 54.[22]

Their third child, Jefferson Davis Junior, was born on January 16, 1857. He died of yellow fever at age 21 on October 16, 1878, during an epidemic that swept the Mississippi river valley and claimed the lives of 20,000 people.[23] Joseph Evan was born on April 18, 1859, and died at five years old as the result of an accidental fall on April 30, 1864.[24] William Howell was born on December 6, 1861, and died of diphtheria on October 16, 1872, before reaching the age of 11.[25] Varina Anne "Winnie" Davis was born on June 27, 1864, several months after Joseph's death. She died on September 18, 1898, at age 34.[26]

Daughter Winnie Davis

Second military career

In 1846 the Mexican-American War began. Davis resigned his house seat in June and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, becoming its colonel.[27] On July 21, 1846, they sailed from New Orleans for the Texas coast. Davis armed the regiment with the M1841 Mississippi Rifle and trained the regiment in its use, making it particularly effective in combat.[28] In September 1846 Davis participated in the successful siege of Monterrey.[29]

On February 22, 1847, Davis fought bravely at the Battle of Buena Vista and was shot in the foot, being carried to safety by Robert H. Chilton. In recognition of Davis' bravery and initiative, commanding general Zachary Taylor is reputed to have said, "My daughter, sir, was a better judge of men than I was."[12] On May 17, 1847, President James K. Polk offered Davis a Federal commission as a brigadier general and command of a brigade of militia. Davis declined the appointment arguing that the United States Constitution gives the power of appointing militia officers to the states, and not to the Federal government of the United States.[30]

Return to politics


Because of his war service, Governor Brown of Mississippi appointed Davis to fill out the senate term of the late Jesse Speight. He took his seat on December 5, 1847, and was elected to serve the remainder of his term in January 1848.[31] The Smithsonian Institution appointed him a regent at the end of December 1847.[32]

In 1848 Senator Davis introduced the first of several proposed amendments to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo; this one would annex most of northeastern Mexico and failed with a vote of 44 to 11.[33] Regarding Cuba, Davis declared that it "must be ours" to "increase the number of slaveholding constituencies."[34] He also was concerned about the security implications of a Spanish holding lying a few miles off the coast of Florida.[35]

A group of Cuban revolutionaries led by Narciso López intended to forcibly liberate Cuba from Spanish rule. In 1849, López visited Davis and asked him to lead his filibuster expedition to Cuba. He offered an immediate payment of $100,000,[n 1] plus the same amount when Cuba was liberated. Davis turned down the offer, stating that it was inconsistent with his duty as a senator. When asked to recommend someone else, Davis suggested Robert E. Lee, then an army major in Baltimore; López approached Lee, who also declined on the grounds of his duty.[37][38]

The senate made Davis chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. When his term expired he was elected to the same seat (by the Mississippi legislature, as the constitution mandated at the time). He had not served a year when he resigned (in September 1851) to run for the governorship of Mississippi on the issue of the Compromise of 1850, which Davis opposed. He was defeated by fellow Senator Henry Stuart Foote by 999 votes.[39] Left without political office, Davis continued his political activity. He took part in a convention on states' rights, held at Jackson, Mississippi, in January 1852. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election of 1852, he campaigned in numerous Southern states for Democratic candidates Franklin Pierce and William R. King.[40]

Secretary of War

Franklin Pierce won the presidential election, and in 1853 he made Davis his Secretary of War.[41] In this capacity, Davis gave Congress four annual reports (in December of each year), as well as an elaborate one (submitted on February 22, 1855) on various routes for the proposed Transcontinental Railroad. He promoted the Gadsden Purchase of today's southern Arizona from Mexico. He also increased the size of the regular army from 11,000 to 15,000 and introduced general usage of the improved guns which he had used successfully during the Mexican–American War.[42]

The Pierce administration ended in 1857 with the loss of the Democratic nomination to James Buchanan. Davis' term was to end with Pierce's, so he ran successfully for the Senate, and re-entered it on March 4, 1857.[43]

Return to Senate

His renewed service in the senate was interrupted by an illness that threatened him with the loss of his left eye. Still nominally serving in the senate, Davis spent the summer of 1858 in Portland, Maine. On the Fourth of July, he delivered an anti-secessionist speech on board a ship near Boston. He again urged the preservation of the Union on October 11 in Faneuil Hall, Boston, and returned to the senate soon after.[44]

As Davis explained in his memoir The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, he believed that each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union. He counseled delay among his fellow Southerners, because he did not think that the North would permit the peaceable exercise of the right to secession. Having served as secretary of war under President Franklin Pierce, he also knew that the South lacked the military and naval resources necessary to defend itself if war were to break out. Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, however, events accelerated. South Carolina adopted an ordinance of secession on December 20, 1860, and Mississippi did so on January 9, 1861. Davis had expected this but waited until he received official notification; then on January 21, the day Davis called "the saddest day of my life",[45] he delivered a farewell address to the United States Senate, resigned and returned to Mississippi.[46]

President of the Confederate States of America

Jefferson Davis is sworn in as President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861, on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol.

Anticipating a call for his services since Mississippi had seceded, Davis had sent a telegraph message to Governor Pettus saying, "Judge what Mississippi requires of me and place me accordingly."[47] On January 23, 1861, Pettus made Davis a major general of the Army of Mississippi.[12] On February 9, a constitutional convention at Montgomery, Alabama, considered Davis, Howell Cobb, Alexander Stephens, and Robert Toombs for the office of provisional president. Davis was unanimously elected and was inaugurated on February 18, 1861.[48][49] He was chosen partly because he was a well-known and experienced moderate who had served in a president's cabinet. In meetings of his own Mississippi legislature, Davis had argued against secession; but when a majority of the delegates opposed him, he gave in.[50] Davis wanted to serve as a general in the Confederate States Army and not as the president, but accepted the role for which he had been chosen.[51]

Several forts in Confederate territory remained in Union hands. Davis sent a commission to Washington with an offer to pay for any Federal property on Southern soil, as well as the Southern portion of the national debt. Lincoln refused to meet it. Informal discussions did take place with Secretary of State William Seward through Supreme Court Justice John A. Campbell, an Alabamian who had not yet resigned; Seward hinted that Fort Sumter would be evacuated, but nothing definite was said.[52]

On March 1, Davis appointed General P. G. T. Beauregard to command all Confederate troops in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, where state officials chafed to take possession of Fort Sumter; Beauregard was to prepare his forces but avoid an attack on the fort. When Lincoln moved to resupply the fort, Davis and his cabinet directed Beauregard to demand its surrender or else take possession by force. Major Anderson did not surrender, Beauregard bombarded the fort, and the Civil War began.[53]

When Virginia joined the Confederacy, Davis moved his government to Richmond in May 1861. He and his family took up his residence there at the White House of the Confederacy later that month.[54] Having served since February as the provisional president, Davis was elected to a full six-year term on November 6, 1861 and was inaugurated on February 22, 1862.[55]

In June 1862, in his most successful move, Davis assigned General Robert E. Lee to replace the wounded Joseph E. Johnston in command of the Army of Northern Virginia, the main Confederate army in the Eastern Theater. That December he made a tour of Confederate armies in the west of the country. Davis largely made the main strategic decisions on his own, or approved those suggested by Lee. He had a very small circle of military advisers. Davis evaluated the Confederacy's national resources and weaknesses and decided that in order to win its independence the Confederacy was going to have to fight mostly on the strategic defensive. Davis maintained mostly a defensive outlook throughout the war, paying special attention to the defense of his national capital at Richmond. He attempted strategic offensives when he felt that military success would shake Northern self-confidence and strengthen the peace movements there. The campaigns met defeat at Antietam (1862) and Gettysburg (1863).[56]

Administration and Cabinet

The original Confederate Cabinet. L-R: Judah P. Benjamin, Stephen Mallory, Christopher Memminger, Alexander Stephens, LeRoy Pope Walker, Jefferson Davis, John H. Reagan and Robert Toombs

Since the Confederacy was founded on states’ rights, one important factor in Davis’ choice of cabinet members was representation from the various states. He depended partly upon recommendations from congressmen and other prominent people, and this helped maintain good relations between the executive and legislative branches. As more states joined the Confederacy, though, this also led to complaints when there were more states than cabinet positions.[57]

When Davis became the provisional president in 1861, he formed his first cabinet. Robert Toombs of Georgia was the first Secretary of State, and Christopher Memminger of South Carolina became Secretary of the Treasury. LeRoy Pope Walker of Alabama was made Secretary of War after being recommended for this post by Clement Clay and William Yancey (both of whom declined to accept cabinet positions themselves). John Reagan of Texas became Postmaster General, and Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana became Attorney General. Although Stephen Mallory was not put forward by the delegation from his state of Florida, Davis insisted that he was the best man for the job of Secretary of the Navy, and he was eventually confirmed.[58]

Once the war began, there were frequent changes to the cabinet. Robert Hunter of Virginia replaced Toombs as Secretary of State on July 25, 1861. On September 17 Walker resigned as Secretary of War; Benjamin left the Attorney General position to take his place, and Thomas Bragg of North Carolina (brother of General Braxton Bragg) took Benjamin’s place.[59]

Following the November 1861 election, Davis did not announce the permanent government’s cabinet until March 1862. Benjamin moved again, to Secretary of State; George W. Randolph of Virginia had been made the Secretary of War. Mallory continued as Secretary of the Navy and Reagan as Postmaster General; both men kept their positions throughout the war. Memminger was still Secretary of the Treasury, while Thomas Hill Watts of Alabama was made Attorney General.[60]

In 1862, Randolph resigned from the War Department, and James Seddon of Virginia was appointed to replace him. In late 1863, Watts resigned as Attorney General to take office as the Governor of Alabama, and George Davis of North Carolina took his place. In 1864, Memminger withdrew from the treasury post due to opposition from the congress and was replaced by George Trenholm of South Carolina. In 1865, congressional opposition likewise caused Seddon to withdraw, and he was replaced by John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky.[61]

Strategic failures

Most historians sharply criticize Davis for his flawed military strategy, his selection of friends for military commands, and his neglect of the homefront crises.[62][63] Until late in the war he resisted efforts to appoint a general-in-chief, essentially handling those duties himself. On January 31, 1865, Lee assumed this role, but it was far too late. Davis insisted on a strategy of trying to defend all Southern territory with ostensibly equal effort, which diluted the limited resources of the South and made it vulnerable to coordinated strategic thrusts by the Union into the vital Western Theater, such as the capture of New Orleans in early 1862. He made other controversial strategic choices, such as allowing Lee to invade the North in 1862 and 1863 while the Western armies were under very heavy pressure. Not only did Lee lose at Gettysburg but simultaneously Vicksburg fell and the Union took control of the Mississippi River, splitting the Confederacy. At Vicksburg, the failure to coordinate multiple forces on both sides of the Mississippi River rested primarily on the inability of Davis to create a harmonious departmental arrangement or to force such commanders as generals Edmund Kirby Smith, Earl Van Dorn, and Theophilus H. Holmes to work together.[64]

Davis has been faulted for poor coordination and management of his generals. This includes his reluctance to relieve his personal friend, Braxton Bragg, defeated in important battles and distrusted by his subordinates. He did relieve the cautious but capable Joseph E. Johnston and replaced him with the reckless John Bell Hood, resulting in the loss of Atlanta and the eventual loss of an army.[65]

Davis gave speeches to soldiers and politicians but largely ignored the common people and thereby failed to harness Confederate nationalism by directing the energies of the people into winning the war. More and more, the plain folk resented the favoritism shown the rich and powerful.[66] Davis did not use his presidential pulpit to rally the people with stirring rhetoric—he called instead for people to be fatalistic and to die for their new country.[67] Apart from two month-long trips across the country where he met a few hundred people, Davis stayed in Richmond where few people saw him; newspapers had limited circulation and most Confederates had little favorable information about him.[68] In April 1863, food shortages led to rioting in Richmond, as poor people robbed and looted numerous stores for food until Davis cracked down and restored order.[69] Davis feuded bitterly with his vice president. Perhaps even more serious, he clashed with powerful state governors who used states' rights arguments to withhold their militia units from national service and otherwise blocked mobilization plans.[70]

Final days of the Confederacy

William T. Sutherlin Mansion, Danville, Virginia, temporary residence of Jefferson Davis and dubbed Last Capitol of the Confederacy

On April 3, 1865, with Union troops under Ulysses S. Grant poised to capture Richmond, Davis escaped for Danville, Virginia, together with the Confederate Cabinet, leaving on the Richmond and Danville Railroad. Lincoln sat in his Richmond office 40 hours after Davis' departure. On about April 12, he received Robert E. Lee's letter announcing surrender.[71] Davis issued his last official proclamation as president of the Confederacy, and then went south to Greensboro, North Carolina.[72]

After Lee's surrender, there was a public meeting in Shreveport, Louisiana, at which many speakers supported continuation of the war. Plans were developed for the Davis government to flee to Havana, Cuba. There, the leaders would regroup and head to the Confederate-controlled Trans-Mississippi area by way of the Rio Grande.[73] None of these plans was put into practice.

President Jefferson Davis met with his Confederate Cabinet for the last time on May 5, 1865, in Washington, Georgia, and the Confederate government was officially dissolved. The meeting took place at the Heard house, the Georgia Branch Bank Building, with 14 officials present. Along with a hand-picked escort led by Given Campbell, Davis was captured on May 10, 1865, at Irwinville in Irwin County, Georgia.[74] In the confusion, Davis put his wife's overcoat over his shoulders and attempted to flee the Union soldiers, leading to caricatures of him being captured while disguised as a woman.[75] Meanwhile, Davis' belongings continued on the train bound for Cedar Key, Florida. They were first hidden at Senator David Levy Yulee's plantation in Florida, then placed in the care of a railroad agent in Waldo. On June 15, 1865, Union soldiers seized Davis' personal baggage, together with some of the Confederate government's records, from the agent. A historical marker now stands at this site.[76][77][78]

Imprisonment and later years

Contemporary sketch of Davis imprisoned in Ft. Monroe

On May 19, 1865, Davis was imprisoned in a casemate at Fortress Monroe, on the coast of Virginia. He was placed in irons for three days. Davis was indicted for treason a year later. While in prison, Davis arranged to sell his Mississippi estate to one of his former slaves, Ben Montgomery. While he was in prison, Pope Pius IX sent Davis a portrait of himself on which were written the Latin words "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus", which comes from Matthew 11:28 and translates as, "Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest, sayeth the Lord." A hand-woven crown of thorns associated with the portrait is often said to have been made by the Pope himself,[79] but in fact it may have woven by Varina Davis.[80]

After two years of imprisonment, he was released on bail of $100,000 which was posted by prominent citizens of both Northern and Southern states, including Horace Greeley, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Gerrit Smith (a former member of the Secret Six who had supported John Brown). Davis visited Canada, Cuba and Europe. In December 1868 the court rejected a motion to nullify the indictment, but the prosecution dropped the case in February 1869. That same year, Davis became president of the Carolina Life Insurance Company in Memphis, Tennessee. He turned down the opportunity to become the first president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University).[81]

During Reconstruction, Davis remained silent; however, he privately expressed opinions that federal military rule and Republican authority over former Confederate states was unjustified. He considered "Yankee and Negroe" rule in the south oppressive. Davis held contemporary beliefs that Blacks were inferior to the White race. Historian William J. Cooper stated that Davis believed in southern social order that included "a democratic white polity based firmly on dominance of a controlled and excluded black caste."[82] In 1876, Davis promoted a society for the stimulation of U.S. trade with South America. He visited England the next year, returning in 1878 to Beauvoir. Over the next three years there, Davis wrote The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.[83]

Jefferson Davis at his home c.1885

Davis' reputation in the South was restored by the book and by his warm reception on his tour of the region in 1886 and 1887. In numerous stops he attended "Lost Cause" ceremonies, where large crowds showered him with affection and local leaders presented emotional speeches honoring his sacrifices to the would-be nation. The Meriden Daily Journal stated that Davis, at a reception held in New Orleans in May, 1887, urged southerners to be loyal to the nation. He said, "United you are now, and if the Union is ever to be broken, let the other side break it." Davis stated that men in the Confederacy had successfully fought for their own rights with inferior numbers during the Civil War and that the northern historians ignored this view.[8] Davis, however, firmly believed that Confederate secession was constitutional. The former Confederate president was optimistic concerning American prosperity and the next generation.[84]

Davis completed A Short History of the Confederate States of America in October 1889. On November 6 he left Beauvoir to visit the plantation at Brierfield. On the steamboat trip upriver, he became ill; on the 13th he left Brierfield to return to New Orleans. Varina, who had taken another boat in order to reach Brierfield, met him on the river, and he finally received some medical care. They arrived in New Orleans on the 16th, and he was taken to the home of Charles Erasmus Fenner, an Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Though he remained in bed, he was stable for the next two weeks, but took a turn for the worse in early December. Just when he appeared to be improving, he lost consciousness on the evening of the 5th; he died at age 81 at 12:45 AM on Friday, December 6, 1889, in the presence of several friends and with his hand in Varina's.[85][86]

His funeral was one of the largest in the South, and included a continuous cortège, day and night, from New Orleans to Richmond.[87] Davis was first entombed at the Army of Northern Virginia tomb at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans. In 1893, Mrs. Davis decided to transport his remains for burial at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.[88] After the remains were exhumed in New Orleans, they lay for a day at Memorial Hall of the newly organized Louisiana Historical Association, with many mourners passing by the casket, including Governor Murphy J. Foster, Sr. The body was then placed on a Louisville and Nashville Railroad car and transported to Richmond.[89]

Postwar portrait of Jefferson Davis by Daniel Huntington


Many memorials to Jefferson Davis have been made throughout the United States. One notable example is the 351-foot (107 m) concrete obelisk located at the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site in Fairview, Kentucky, which marks the site of his birth (which was part of Christian County at that time). Construction on the monument began in 1917 and was finished in 1924.[90] Another example is the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library at Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was dedicated in 1998, suffered heavy damage during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and reopened in 2008.[91]

Based at Rice University in Houston, Texas, The Papers of Jefferson Davis is an editing project that has been gathering and publishing documents related to Jefferson Davis since the early 1960s and has published 12 volumes, the first in 1971 and the most recent in 2008; 3 more volumes are planned. The project has roughly 100,000 documents in its archives.[92]

The birthday of Jefferson Davis is commemorated in several states. His actual birthday, June 3, is celebrated in Florida,[93] Kentucky,[94] Louisiana[95] and Tennessee;[96] in Alabama, it is celebrated on the first Monday in June.[97] In Mississippi, the last Monday of May (Memorial Day) is celebrated as "National Memorial Day and Jefferson Davis' Birthday".[98] In Texas, "Confederate Heroes Day" is celebrated on January 19, the birthday of Robert E. Lee;[96] Jefferson Davis’ birthday had been officially celebrated on June 3 but was combined with Lee's birthday in 1973.[99]

In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy conceived the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, a transcontinental highway that would travel through the South.[100] Portions of the highway's route in Virginia, Alabama and other states still bear the name of Jefferson Davis.[100] On September 20, 2011, the County Board of Arlington County, Virginia voted to change the name of "Old Jefferson Davis Highway" (the original route of the road in the County) after the chairman of the Board, who was originally from the Northeast, stated: "I have a problem with 'Jefferson Davis' ... There are aspects of our history I'm not particularly interested in celebrating".[101]


  1. ^ $100,000 in 1849 would be worth more than $2,000,000 in 2010.[36]


  1. ^ Foote, Shelby (1958). The Civil War: A Narrative, Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Random House. p. 3.
  2. ^ Strode 1955, p. 230.
  3. ^ Cooper 2008, pp. 1–5.
  4. ^ Wiley, Bell I. (January 1967). "Jefferson Davis: An Appraisal". Civil War Times Illustrated 6 (1): 4–17. 
  5. ^ "Restoration of Citizenship Rights to Jefferson F. Davis Statement on Signing S. J. Res. 16 into Law". The American Presidency Project. Retrieved 2011-07-17. 
  6. ^ Strawbridge, Wilm K. (December 2007). "A Monument Better Than Marble: Jefferson Davis and the New South". Journal of Mississippi History 69 (4): 325–347. 
  7. ^ Collins 2005, p. 156.
  8. ^ a b "Jefferson Davis' Loyalty". The Meriden Daily Journal: p. 1. May 14, 1887. 
  9. ^ "Jeff Davis Coming Around". New York Times. May 14, 1887. Retrieved 2011-06-10. 
  10. ^ Strode 1955, pp. 4–5.
  11. ^ Strode 1955, pp. 11–27.
  12. ^ a b c d Hamilton, Holman (1978). "Jefferson Davis Before His Presidency". The Three Kentucky Presidents. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813102464. 
  13. ^ U.S. Military Academy, Register of Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy from March 16, 1802 to January 1, 1850. Compiled by Capt. George W. Cullum. West Point, N.Y.: 1850, p. 148.
  14. ^ Strode 1955, p. 76.
  15. ^ Cooper 2000, pp. 64–72.
  16. ^ Cooper 2000, pp. 75-79. Davis 1991, p. 89.
  17. ^ Strode 1955, pp. 136–137.
  18. ^ Cooper 2000, pp. 84–88, 98-100.
  19. ^ Cooper 2000, pp. 90–115.
  20. ^ Strode 1955, pp. 242, 268.
  21. ^ Strode 1955, p. 273.
  22. ^ "Margaret Howell Davis Hayes Chapter No. 2652". Colorado United Daughters of the Confederacy. Retrieved 2011-07-20. 
  23. ^ Strode 1964, p. 436.
  24. ^ Cooper 2000, p. 480.
  25. ^ Cooper 2000, p. 595.
  26. ^ Strode 1964, pp. 527–528.
  27. ^ Strode 1955, p. 157.
  28. ^ Strode 1955, pp. 161–162.
  29. ^ Strode 1955, pp. 164–167.
  30. ^ Strode 1955, p. 188.
  31. ^ Dodd 1907, pp. 12, 93.
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Secondary sources

  • Allen, Felicity (1999). Jefferson Davis: Unconquerable Heart. Columbia: The University of Missouri Press.
  • Ballard, Michael B. (1986). Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Collins, Donald E. (2005). The Death and Resurrection of Jefferson Davis. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Cooper, William J. (2000). Jefferson Davis, American. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
  • Cooper, William J. (2008). Jefferson Davis and the Civil War Era. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Current, Richard, et al. (1993). Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Davis, William C. (1991). Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Dodd, William E. (1907). Jefferson Davis. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs and Company.
  • Eaton, Clement (1977). Jefferson Davis. New York: The Free Press.
  • Escott, Paul (1978). After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Hattaway, Herman and Beringer, Richard E. (2002). Jefferson Davis, Confederate President. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
  • Neely Jr., Mark E. (1993). Confederate Bastille: Jefferson Davis and Civil Liberties. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.
  • Patrick, Rembert W. (1944). Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
  • Rable, George C. (1994). The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Stoker, Donald, "There Was No Offensive-Defensive Confederate Strategy," Journal of Military History, 73 (April 2009), 571–90.
  • Strode, Hudson (1955). Jefferson Davis, Volume I: American Patriot. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
  • Strode, Hudson (1959). Jefferson Davis, Volume II: Confederate President. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
  • Strode, Hudson (1964). Jefferson Davis, Volume III: Tragic Hero. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company.
  • Swanson, James L. (2010). Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse. New York: HarperCollins.
  • Thomas, Emory M. (1979). The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865. New York: Harper & Row.

Primary sources

  • Davis, Jefferson (2003). Cooper, Jr., William J. ed. Jefferson Davis: The Essential Writings. 
  • Davis, Jefferson (1881). The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. 
  • Rowland, Dunbar, ed (1923). Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers, and Speeches. Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History. 
  • Monroe, Jr., Haskell M.; McIntosh, James T.; Crist, Lynda L., eds (1971–2008). The Papers of Jefferson Davis. Louisiana State University Press. 

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William H. Hammett
Robert W. Roberts
Jacob Thompson
Tilghman M. Tucker
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's At-large congressional district

March 4, 1845 – June, 1846
Served alongside: Stephen Adams, Robert W. Roberts and Jacob Thompson
Succeeded by
Henry T. Ellett
United States Senate
Preceded by
Jesse Speight
United States Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
August 10, 1847 – September 23, 1851
Served alongside: Henry S. Foote
Succeeded by
John J. McRae
Preceded by
Stephen Adams
United States Senator (Class 1) from Mississippi
March 4, 1857 – January 21, 1861
Served alongside: Albert G. Brown
Succeeded by
Adelbert Ames(1)
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Magill Conrad
United States Secretary of War
Served under: Franklin Pierce

March 7, 1853 – March 4, 1857
Succeeded by
John Buchanan Floyd
Preceded by
Office established
President of the Confederate States of America
February 18, 1861 – May 5, 1865
Succeeded by
Office abolished
Notes and references
1. Because of Mississippi's secession, the Senate seat was vacant for nine years before Ames succeeded Davis.

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