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Davis, 1849

Davis, circa 1859

Davis, circa 1860

Jefferson Davis and His Generals, circa 1861

Our First President, 1861

Jeff Davis, On His Own Platform, circa 1861

Jeff Davis, After the Fall of Fort Sumter 1861/1863




Jefferson Davis (1808–1889)

“The man and the hour have met,” announced the Alabama fire-eater William L. Yancey, when Jefferson Davis was inaugurated President of the Confederate States of America. Davis was a reluctant secessionist, hoping that the South would remain loyal to the Union. But when the secession movement gained momentum in early 1861, he dedicated himself to the cause of independence. Davis brought more experience to his presidency than Abraham Lincoln did to his. A graduate of West Point, he fought honorably in the Mexican War and had been nominated for brigadier general; he had served as a United States senator from Mississippi; and he had been an able secretary of war under Franklin Pierce. As President of the South’s hastily formed government, he faced the twin difficulties of repelling invading Northern armies and appeasing Southern states’ rights advocates who challenged his efforts to build a unified Confederate nation. After an interview with Davis in late 1864, a Northern writer for the Atlantic Monthly attributed the South’s ability to endure to the “sagacity, energy and indomitable will of Jefferson Davis.” “Without him,” wrote Edmund Kirke, “the rebellion would crumble to pieces in a day.”

The strain of office as President of the Confederacy debilitated Davis’s already weak body; he suffered from nervous tension and a facial paralysis that impaired his vision. Imprisoned for two years after the war, Davis was indicted for treason but was never tried. He did not apply for a pardon and was thus ineligible to hold office again. Davis spent his last years on a plantation in Mississippi, writing the Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881).

Unidentified photographer
Daguerreotype, circa 1858
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


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