Jefferson Finis Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889) was an American politician who served as President of the Confederate States of America for its entire history from 1861 to 1865 during the American Civil War. During his presidency, Davis was never able to find a strategy that would defeat the larger, more industrially developed Union. Davis' insistence on independence even in the face of crushing defeat prolonged the war, and while not exactly disgraced, he was displaced in Southern affection after the war by the leading general, Robert E. Lee. After Davis was captured in 1865, he was charged but not convicted with treason and was stripped of his eligibility to run for public office. This disability was removed in 1978, 89 years after his death. A West Point graduate, Davis prided himself on the military skills he gained in the Mexican-American War as a colonel of a volunteer regiment, and as U.S. Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce.
Davis was the youngest of the ten children of Samuel Emory Davis (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1756 – 4 July 1824) and wife (married 1783) Jane Cook (Christian County, (later Todd County), Kentucky, 1759 – 3 October 1845), daughter of William Cook and wife Sarah Simpson, daughter of Samuel Simpson (1706 – 1791) and wife Hannah ... (b. 1710). The younger Davis' grandfather Evan Davis (Cardiff, County Glamorgan, 1729 – 1758) immigrated from Wales and had once lived in Virginia and Maryland, marrying Lydia Emory. His father, along with his uncles, had served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War; he fought with the Georgia cavalry and fought in the Siege of Savannah as an infantry officer. Also, three of his older brothers served during the War of 1812. Two of them served under Andrew Jackson and received commendation for bravery in the Battle of New Orleans.
Marriage, plantation life, and early political career
Davis fell in love with Colonel Taylor's daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor. Her father did not approve of the match, so Davis resigned his commission and married Miss Taylor on June 17, 1835, at the house of her aunt near Louisville, Kentucky. The marriage, however, proved to be short. While visiting Davis' oldest sister near Saint Francisville, Louisiana, both newlyweds contracted malaria, and Davis' wife died three months after the wedding on September 15, 1835. In 1836, he moved to Brierfield Plantation in Warren County, Mississippi. For the next eight years, Davis was a recluse, studying government and history, and engaging in private political discussions with his brother Joseph.
Second military career
The year 1846 saw the beginning of the Mexican-American War. He resigned his House seat in June, and raised a volunteer regiment, the Mississippi Rifles, becoming its colonel. On July 21, 1846 they sailed from New Orleans for the Texas coast. Davis armed the regiment with percussion rifles and trained the regiment in their use, making it particularly effective in combat.
Return to politics
Because of his war service, the Governor of Mississippi appointed Davis to fill out the Senate term of the late Jesse Speight. He took his seat 5 December 1847, and was elected to serve the remainder of his term in January 1848. In addition, the Smithsonian Institution appointed him a regent at the end of December 1847.
Secretary of War
Pierce won the election and, in 1853, made Davis his Secretary of War. In this capacity, Davis gave to Congress four annual reports (in December of each year), as well as an elaborate one (submitted on February 22, 1855) on various routes for the proposed Transcontinental Railroad. The Pierce Administration ended in 1857. The President lost the Democratic nomination, which went instead to James Buchanan. Davis' term was to end with Pierce's, so he ran successfully for the Senate, and re-entered it on March 4, 1857.
Return to Senate
His renewed service in the Senate was interrupted by an illness that threatened him with the loss of his left eye. Still nominally serving in the Senate, Davis spent the summer of 1858 in Portland, Maine. On the Fourth of July, he delivered an anti-secessionist speech on board a ship near Boston. He again urged the preservation of the Union on October 11 in Faneuil Hall, Boston, and returned to the Senate soon after.
President of the Confederate States 1861-1865
Four days after his resignation, Davis was commissioned a Major General of Mississippi troops. On February 9, 1861, a Constitutional convention at Montgomery, Alabama named him provisional President of the Confederate States of America and he was inaugurated on February 18. In meetings of his own Mississippi legislature, Davis had argued against secession; but when a majority of the delegates opposed him, he gave in. Davis was not opposed to secession in principle; he counseled delay because he did not believe the North would agree to the peaceable exercise of the claimed right, and he knew that the South was not prepared for war.
Imprisonment and retirement
On May 19, 1865, Davis was imprisoned in a casemate at Fortress Monroe, on the coast of Virginia. He was placed in irons for three days. Davis was indicted for treason a year later. While in prison, Davis arranged to sell his Mississippi estate to one of his former slaves, Ben Montgomery. Montgomery was a talented business manager, mechanic, and even an inventor who had become wealthy in part from running his own general store.