Jefferson Davis was the first, last and only President of the Confederate States of America. He was born on June 3, 1808 in Christian (later Todd) County, Kentucky. He was the last of ten children of Samuel and Jane Cook Davis. By 1812 his family had moved to Wilkinson County, Mississippi where they bought a plantation. Davis graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in June 1828, placing 23rd out of 33 graduates. He was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment in Wisconsin. During the Black Hawk War in 1832 he was home in Mississippi. He was assigned by his colonel, Zachary Taylor, to escort Black Hawk to prison.
Davis met and fell in love with Taylor’s daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor. Taylor did not approve of the match so Davis resigned his commission and married Sarah on June 17, 1835. Three months later after they had both contracted malaria, Sarah was dead. Davis in despair became a recluse in Mississippi for the next eight years.
In 1844 Davis was elected to the United States House of Representatives. A year later Davis met and married Varina Howell, whose grandfather had been the governor of New Jersey. The Davis’ had six children: Samuel, Margaret, Jefferson Jr., Joseph, William and Varina.
In 1846 Davis resigned from the House and raised a regiment named the Mississippi Rifles. He was the regiment’s colonel. He took part in the siege of Monteray and the battle of Buena Vista, where he was wounded in the foot.
Returning from the war he was appointed to fill out the term of a senator who had died in office. The following year (1848) he was elected to complete the term. Davis was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs. He was reelected to a full term but in 1851 he resigned to run for Governor of Mississippi. He was defeated by his fellow senator and was without any political office until 1853 when he was appointed Secretary of War by President Franklin Pierce. Pierce was not renominated so Davis successfully ran for for the Senate and took office on March 4, 1857.
Davis believed that each state had the right to secede. However, due to his service as Secretary of War he knew that the South lacked the military means to leave the Union successfully. He counseled his fellow Southerners to remain in the Union. After Lincoln was elected South Carolina voted to secede on December 20, 1860, and Mississippi did so on January 9, 1861. Jefferson gave a farewell speech in the Senate and returned to his home in Mississippi. 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 Feb.18, 1861. 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 immediately appointed a Peace Commission to resolve the Confederacy’s differences with the Union. In March 1861, before the bombardment of Fort Sumter, the commission was to travel to Washington, D.C., to offer to pay for any Federal property on Southern soil, as well as the Southern portion of the national debt; but it was not authorized to discuss terms for reunion. He appointed Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to command Confederate troops in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina. He approved the cabinet decision to bombard Fort Sumter, which started the Civil War. When Virginia switched from neutrality and joined the Confederacy, he moved his government to Richmond, Virginia in May 1861. Davis and his family took up his residence there at the White House of the Confederacy in late May.
The rest of Jefferson Davis’ public life was inextricably tied to the Confederacy. As the story of the war unfolds so to will his life.