Davis, Jefferson


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Davis, Jefferson,

1808–89, American statesman, President of the Southern Confederacy, b. Fairview, near Elkton, Ky. His birthday was June 3.

Early Life

Davis's parents moved to Mississippi when he was a boy. He was given a classical education at Transylvania Univ. and was appointed to West Point, where he was graduated in 1828. He spent the next seven years in various army posts in the Old Northwest and took part (1832) in the Black Hawk WarBlack Hawk War,
conflict between the Sac and Fox and the United States in 1832. After the War of 1812, whites settling the Illinois country exerted pressure on the Native Americans.
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. In 1835 he married the daughter of Zachary TaylorTaylor, Zachary
, 1784–1850, 12th President of the United States (1849–50), b. Orange co., Va. He was raised in Kentucky. Taylor joined the army in 1808, became a captain in 1810, and was promoted to major for his defense of Fort Harrison (1812) in the War of 1812.
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, but she died three months later. Davis spent the next 10 years in the comparative quiet of a Mississippi planter's life. In 1845 he married Varina Howell.

Early Political Career

Elected (1845) to the House of Representatives, he resigned in June, 1846, to command a Mississippi regiment in the Mexican War. Under Zachary Taylor he distinguished himself both at the siege of Monterrey and at Buena Vista. Davis was appointed (1847) U.S. Senator from Mississippi to fill an unexpired term but resigned in 1851 to run for governor of Mississippi against his senatorial colleague, Henry S. FooteFoote, Henry Stuart,
1804–80, U.S. senator (1847–52) and governor of Mississippi (1852–54), b. Fauquier co., Va. An able criminal lawyer, he practiced in several different states. In the U.S.
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, who was a Union Whig. Davis was a strong champion of Southern rights and argued for the expansion of slave territory and economic development of the South to counterbalance the power of the North. He lost the election by less than a thousand votes and retired to his plantation until appointed (1853) Secretary of War by Franklin PiercePierce, Franklin,
1804–69, 14th President of the United States (1853–57), b. Hillsboro, N.H., grad. Bowdoin College, 1824. Admitted to the bar in 1827, he entered politics as a Jacksonian Democrat, like his father, Benjamin Pierce, who was twice elected governor of
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. Throughout the administration he used his power to oppose the views of his Northern Democratic colleague, Secretary of State William L. Marcy. Davis favored the acquisition of Cuba and opposed concessions to Spain in the Black Warrior and Ostend Manifesto difficulties, and he also promoted a southern route for a transcontinental railroad, therefore favoring the Gadsden PurchaseGadsden Purchase
, strip of land purchased (1853) by the United States from Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) had described the U.S.-Mexico boundary vaguely, and President Pierce wanted to insure U.S.
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. Reentering the Senate in 1857, Davis became the leader of the Southern bloc.

The Confederacy and After

Davis took little part in the secession movement until Mississippi seceded (Jan., 1861), whereupon he withdrew from the Senate. He was immediately appointed major general of the Mississippi militia, and shortly afterward he was chosen president of the Confederate provisional government established by the convention at Montgomery, Ala., and inaugurated in Feb., 1861. Elected regular President of the Confederate States (see ConfederacyConfederacy,
name commonly given to the Confederate States of America
(1861–65), the government established by the Southern states of the United States after their secession from the Union.
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), he was inaugurated at Richmond, Va., in Feb., 1862. Davis realized that the Confederate war effort needed a strong, centralized rule. This conflicted with the states' rights policy for which the Southern states had seceded, and, as he assumed more and more power, many of the Southern leaders combined into an anti-Davis party.

Originally hopeful of a military rather than a civil command in the Confederacy, he closely managed the army and was involved in many disagreements with the Confederate generals; arguments over his policies raged long after the Confederacy was dead. Lee surrendered without Davis's approval. After the last Confederate cabinet meeting was held (Apr., 1865) at Charlotte, N.C., Davis was captured at Irwinville, Ga. He was confined in Fortress Monroe in Virginia for two years and was released (May, 1867) on bail. The federal government proceeded no further in its prosecution of Davis. After his release he wrote an apologia, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (1881). He was buried at New Orleans, but his body was moved (1893) to Richmond, Va.

Bibliography

See his papers, ed. by H. M. Monroe, Jr., et al (13 vol., 1972–); biographies by W. E. Dodd (1907, repr. 1966), H. Strode (4 vol., 1955–66), W. C. Davis (1991), and W. J. Cooper, Jr. (2000); V. H. Davis, Jefferson Davis: A Memoir (1890); B. J. Hendrick, Statesmen of the Lost Cause (1939); M. B. Ballard, Long Shadow: Jefferson Davis and the Final Days of the Confederacy (1986); W. C. Davis, Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour (1992); J. T. Glatthaar, Partners in Command (1994); J. M. McPherson, Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief (2014).

Davis, Jefferson

 

Born June 3, 1806, in Kentucky; died Dec. 6, 1889, in New Orleans. United States political figure, plantation owner, and slaveholder.

From 1853 to 1857, Davis was minister of war. During the Civil War (1861-65) he was president of the confederation of southern slaveowning states, which had rebelled and declared their independence from the USA. He was taken prisoner by the North in 1865. After he was freed in 1867, Davis no longer participated actively in politics.

Davis, Jefferson (Finis)

(1808–89) president of the Confederate States of America, U.S. senator, cabinet member, soldier; born in Fairview, Ky. After graduating from West Point (1828) he served on the frontier for seven years. Then, shattered by the death of his wife of three months (she was the daughter of Zachary Taylor), he secluded himself on his Mississippi plantation. He married Varina Howell in 1845. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives (Miss., Dem.; 1845–46), but resigned to volunteer for service in the Mexican War and was credited with securing the victory at Buena Vista. He returned to serve in the U.S. Senate (1847–51) and then as U.S. secretary of war (1853–57). He returned to the U.S. Senate in 1857 but resigned in 1861 when Mississippi seceded from the Union. Expecting to be given command of the Confederate armies, he was instead chosen president of the Confederate government (provisional, 1861–62; elected, 1862–65). He drew much criticism for intervening in the military's policies and for assuming near-dictatorial executive powers. His intolerance of disagreement, inability to build a national consensus, and failure to select quality subordinates further handicapped his effectiveness as a war president. Nevertheless, historians have judged him the best candidate for a difficult if not impossible job, for he constantly found himself opposed by Southerners who embraced extreme states' rights positions. He fled the capital, Richmond, rather than surrendering, but was captured in Georgia on May 10, 1865; after two years' imprisonment (the first months in shackles), he was released without trial. He retired to his Mississippi plantation, traveled some in Europe, and failed at various business ventures. Refusing to request amnesty, he resolutely defended the Southern cause in speeches and books including The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (2 vols. 1878–81).
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