Jefferson Davis

President of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865

Jefferson Finis Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American statesman. A member of the Democratic Party, he led the Confederacy during the American Civil War. He was President of the Confederate States of America for its entire history, from 1861 to 1865.

Jefferson Davis
President of the Confederate States
In office
February 18, 1861 – May 10, 1865
acting: February 18, 1861 – February 22, 1862
Vice PresidentAlexander H. Stephens
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
23rd United States Secretary of War
In office
March 7, 1853 – March 4, 1857
PresidentFranklin Pierce
Preceded byCharles Conrad
Succeeded byJohn Floyd
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
March 4, 1857 – January 21, 1861
Preceded byStephen Adams
Succeeded byAdelbert Ames
In office
August 10, 1847 – September 23, 1851
Preceded byJesse Speight
Succeeded byJohn McRae
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's At-large district
In office
December 8, 1845 – June 1, 1846
Preceded byTilghman Tucker
Succeeded byHenry Ellett
Personal details
Born(1808-06-03)June 3, 1808
Fairview, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedDecember 6, 1889(1889-12-06) (aged 81)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Resting placeHollywood Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Sarah Knox Taylor (June–September 1835)
Varina Banks Howell (1845–1889)
Alma materTransylvania University
United States Military Academy
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
AllegianceUnited States United States
Confederate States of America Confederate States
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1828–1835
Rank Colonel
Unit1st Dragoons
Mississippi Rifles
Battles/warsBlack Hawk War
Mexican-American War

Early life


Davis was born on June 3, 1808 in Christian County, Kentucky, the last child of ten of Jane (née Cook) and Samuel Emory Davis. Both of Davis' paternal grandparents had immigrated to North America from the region of Snowdonia in the North of Wales; the rest of his ancestry can be traced to England. Davis' paternal grandfather, Evan, married Lydia Emory Williams. Samuel Emory Davis was born to them in 1756. Lydia had two sons from a previous marriage. Samuel 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 (also born in Christian County, in 1759 to William Cook and his wife Sarah Simpson). Samuel died on July 4, 1824, when Jefferson was 16 years old. Jane died on October 3, 1845.[1]



In 1811 he moved to St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, and later to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. In 1813 Davis began his education at the Wilkinson Academy, near the family cotton plantation in the small town of Woodville. Two years later, Davis entered the Catholic school of Saint Thomas at St. Rose Priory. 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.[2] In 1828 he graduated from the United States Military Academy. He was an officer in the United States Army until 1835.

Later political career


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).[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, and neglect of civil matters in favor of military ones all worked against him.[4]

Later life


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 later lifted this restriction in 1978, 89 years after his death.[5] Many Southerners felt bad with his arrest, 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] By the late 1880s, Davis began to encourage reconciliation, telling Southerners to be loyal to the Union.[7][8][9] He was helped in the last decade of his life by the generosity of Sarah Anne Ellis Dorsey, a rich widow. First she invited him to her plantation in 1877 near Biloxi, Mississippi, at a time when he was sick, and gave him a cottage to use for working on his memoir. She gave Davis her plantation before her death in 1878, and she also gave him a fund for his support. This made him to live in some comfort with his wife until his death on December 6, 1889 in New Orleans, Louisiana from bronchitis. He was 81 years old.


  1. Strode 1955, pp. 4–5
  2. Strode 1955, pp. 11–27.
  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. Archived from the original on May 15, 2012. Retrieved July 17, 2011.
  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. "Jefferson Davis' Loyalty". The Meriden Daily Journal. May 14, 1887. p. 1.
  9. "Jeff Davis Coming Around". New York Times. May 14, 1887. Retrieved June 10, 2011.

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