Monday, February 19, 2007

Honoring President Jefferson Davis on America's Presidents Day!

As this is President’s Day in the US, a date set aside to honor America’s Presidents, I have chosen to honor an American President much maligned and little understood: President Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America.

We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we ask no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. President Jefferson Davis, Confederate States of America… April 29th, 1861

Please see the Biography of President Davis below:

Jefferson Davis was born in 1808, in Kentucky. His father and uncles all served in the American Revolution. Three of his older brothers fought in the war of 1812. Two of them served with Andrew Jackson and were especially mentioned for their gallantry in the battle of New Orleans.

After the Revolution the Davis family moved to Kentucky. They remained there for a few years before moving again to Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Jefferson Davis was educated at home before being sent to Transylvania University in Kentucky, where he remained until he was appointed as a cadet to West Point by President Monroe in 1824. He graduated in 1828 and assigned to the First Infantry with the rank of second lieutenant.

Davis saw active service in the Black-hawk war in 1831 when his regiment was engaged in several of its battles. When the Indian chieftain, Blackhawk when captured he was placed in the charge of Lieutenant Davis.

In 1833, Lieutenant Davis was transferred to the newly formed First Dragoons and was promoted to the rank of first-lieutenant. He was also appointed regimental adjutant. In this capacity he served for approximately two years on active service which included various encounters with the Pawnees, Comanches and other Indian tribes.

In 1835 he resigned from the army and returned to civil life. He married Miss Sallie Knox Taylor, daughter of Zachary Taylor and settled down to the life of a cotton planter in Warren County, Mississippi. Davis's marriage was cut short by his wife's sudden death three months later of malaria. He married again in 1845, this time to socially prominent Varina Howell. His plantation, Brierfield, prospered and he began to devote much of his time to the studies that would prepare him for his future public life. His first appearance in the political arena occurred during a gubernatorial canvass in 1843. He was sent as a delegate to the Democratic convention that year and, through his speeches, made a very favorable impression. In 1844 he took a firm position for a strict construction of the Constitution, the protection of the States from Federal encroachment, and advocated the annexation of Texas. He made such an impression as a spokesman for States’ Rights that he was elected to the United States Congress as the representative of Mississippi from his congressional district.

Davis claimed his seat in Congress in 1845 and began to take a prominent part in the discussions. The Oregon question and the tariff were important issues before the Congress, and he virulently supported the annexation of Texas.

With the outbreak of the Mexican War, Davis was elected colonel of the First Mississippi Regiment of Riflemen. He resigned his place in Congress in June of 1846, and took command of his regiment at New Orleans. From there he joined the army of General Taylor on the Rio Grande. He had managed to arm his regiment with percussion rifles and prepared a manual of tactics and drill for the new arm. When he joined Taylor's force his thoroughly drilled unit was, perhaps, the most effective regiment in that little army. He led his well-disciplined command in a gallant and successful charge at Monterey in September of 1846. His regiment, along with a regiment of Tennesseeans, gallantly and drove the Mexicans from their redoubts. Davis won considerable renown throughout the army for this action.

At Buena Vista the Mississippi riflemen and Indiana volunteers under Davis sealed the American victory by making a bold charge against a larger body of Mexicans troops. During the last charge of the day, Colonel Davis was severely wounded, but remained on the field until the victory was won. General Taylor's dispatch of March 6, 1847, makes special mention of the courage and coolness of Colonel Davis and his command. The Mississippi regiment served out its term of enlistment, and was ordered home in July of 1847.

In August 1847, the governor of Mississippi appointed Jefferson Davis to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate that had opened upon the death of Senator Speight. He took his seat in the Senate in December of 1847. The legislature confirmed him in his seat by electing him in January for the remainder of the unexpired term. He was subsequently re-elected for a full term.

His senatorial career extended over the eventful period of 1849 and 1850. The country was beginning to face questions arising from the disposition of the newly acquired territory and its relation to slavery. Henry Clay’s Missouri Compromise proposal was advanced in an attempt to settle some of the dangerous controversy that had arisen. Senator Davis advocated the division of the western territory by an extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific ocean as a settlement of the sectional question. The majority in the Senate refused to accept this proposal as a final settlement. Davis regarded this rejection of an extension of the Missouri Compromise line in 1849-50 by Northern votes in Congress as dangerous to the peace of the country. He stated that, “My devotion to the Union of our fathers had been so often and so publicly declared; I had on the floor of the Senate so defiantly challenged any question of my fidelity to it; my services, civil and military, had now extended through so long a period and were so generally known, that I felt quite assured that no whisperings of envy or ill-will could lead the people of Mississippi to believe that I had dishonored their trust by using the power they had conferred on me to destroy the government to which I was accredited. Then, as afterward, I regarded the separation of the States as a great, though not the greater evil.”"

Senator Davis entered upon his full term as senator from Mississippi March of 1851. The election for governor of the State was to occur later in the same year. When incumbent Governor Quitman refused the renomination for the position, Senator Davis was called on by the executive committee to take his place. The acceptance of the nomination required his resignation from the Senate. Nevertheless he accepted the trust, resigned the senatorial office, but was defeated by less than one thousand votes. Mr. Davis once again retired to private life.

President Franklin Pierce had been elected to the presidency in 1852, and Jefferson Davis was prevailed upon to accept the office of Secretary of War in the new administration. Mr. Davis had supported Pierce in the race of the previous year. He ably discharged his duties at the war office with energy and ability.

In March of 1857, Davis went from the cabinet of President Pierce to reenter the United States Senate, having been elected to the post by the legislature of Mississippi. He was assigned to the chairmanship of the committee on military affairs. He opposed the French spoliation measures, advocated the Southern Pacific railroad bill, and antagonized Senator Douglas on the question of popular or “squatter” sovereignty in the territories.

On the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency he, with others, sought some remedy other than secession to relieve the ensuing crisis. His speeches in the Senate were distinguished for their frankness in portraying the dangers of sectionalism.

Mississippi adopted an ordinance of secession January 9, 1861. Accordingly, Davis immediately took leave of the United States Senate after receiving the official notice of the Mississippi’s secession, and hoped to receive a prominent military command. Indeed, Mississippi did elect him to the command of her State forces, a position he desired, but a few weeks later he was called by election to the Presidency of the Confederacy.

As President he faced a nearly impossible task. His reserved and often severe manner alienated many who came in contact with him. Included were some of his highly placed commanders, P.G.T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston being prominent among them. He could be at once stubborn and indecisive. Often inflexible and humorless, he remained personally loyal to certain individuals and subordinates whom he favored. His handling of the Confederate high command was extremely controversial, even at the time. Davis also came, over time, to regard the establishment of a strong central authority to be important to the survival of the Confederacy, in spite of his virulent States’ Rights rhetoric before the war. This gradual change of position brought him increasingly into conflict with States’ Rights advocates throughout the Confederacy.

Through it all, Davis remained passionately committed to the cause of the Confederacy, and advocated continuing the struggle right up until his capture near Irwinville, Georgia while fleeing capture by the Federal authorities on May 10, 1865.

Following his capture he was imprisoned in Fortress Monroe for a period of two years, but was eventually released on bail. He was never brought to trial. Retiring to Beauvoir Plantation, near Biloxi, Mississippi, he worked on his memoirs, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government and made infrequent public appearances in the South.

Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans on December 5, 1889. Elaborate funeral ceremonies in New Orleans, and the flags on Southern State capitols were lowered to half-mast. Subsequently his remains were moved to Richmond.

Please see:

We hope this has enlightened you concerning one of America's Presidents you will, most likely, hear nothing about today.

Deo Vindici!


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