Jefferson Davis was an American soldier and a politician. He is known for leading Confederate states as their president during the civil war. Davis was born on June 3, 1808 in Kentucky. His father was a small farm owner. Davis was the youngest of 10 children. He was raised on cotton plantations of his elder brother in rural Mississippi.
He attended Transylvania University to study law but later joined US Military Academy, West Point to pursue a career in military. He graduated from West Point at a young age of 16 in 1824. In 1835 he left army after marrying daughter of his commanding officer Zachary Taylor, a future president of United States. His wife unfortunately contracted malaria and died after just 2 months of marriage.
Career in Politics:
After leaving military, Davis spent 10 years working on his plantation. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1845. During his short stint in house he made a name for himself by vociferously advocating states’ rights. In 1846, when Mexican American war started, Davis resigned from his political position and rejoined military.
He raised a volunteer infantry regiment and fought the war under his former father-in-law Zachary Taylor. Davis displayed outstanding leadership during the war and was commended for his personal bravery. He was offered a rank of Brigadier General and command of a militia brigade by the federal government. However, Davis reaffirmed his support for states’ rights by declining the officer over the argument that only state government had the authority to appoint militia commanders.
After the war, in recognition of his war services, Governor of Mississippi appointed him as US Senator on a vacant seat from Mississippi. During this term he served as the chairman of senate’s Military Affairs Committee. He resigned from the Senate in 1851 and ran unsuccessfully for the governorship of Mississippi.
He continued to rally for various democratic candidates’ electoral campaigns all over the country. Davis was appointed as US Secretary of War in 1853 by President Franklin Pierce. He continued to serve in this capacity till the end of Pierce’s term in 1857, after which he was re-elected to US Senate in 1857. He remained a US senator till January, 1861 and resigned only after his home state, Mississippi announced secession from union. He returned to his home state after resigning from senate.
Presidency of Confederation:
Davis was appointed as provisional president of Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861 and was elected to a full six year term on February 22, 1862. Davis wanted to serve as the commander in chief of Confederate forces but accepted his appointment as president. Davis did not want to resolve the issue of secession militarily; however, he was later on convinced that Lincoln would never recognize Confederation.
Ironically, it was not Lincoln but Davis who triggered the start of civil war by deciding to bombard Fort Sumter. He led Confederate states during the civil war and appointed many of his West Point batch mates as military commanders, including Robert E Lee. Despite some early military success, Davis is criticized by historians for his flawed military strategy and appointment of close friends as military commanders. He is also criticized for ignoring home front problems and paying too much time to military and war matters. This cost him popularity and favorable public opinion in South.
After the end of civil war, Davis was imprisoned for two years. He was indicted for treason but was never tried. After getting released from the prison he ran an insurance company and wrote a book called ‘Rise and fall of the Confederate Government’. He died on December 6, 1889.