Articles/Biographies/Politicians/Davis, Jefferson

Jefferson Davis was born on June 3, 1808 in Kentucky. His parents, Samuel and Jane, were farmers and had nine other children, all of whom were older than Jefferson. They moved to Louisiana in 1811, but finally settled in Mississippi in 1812.

In 1813, he began attending classes at a small log cabin school. In 1815, he was accepted into a private Catholic school in Kentucky. Three years later, he moved on to Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi and Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky in 1821. After spending another three years there, he moved to New York to join the military academy at West Point.

At West Point, Jefferson was very successful and graduated after four years as a second lieutenant. He immediately joined the 1st infantry division and was given a post at Fort Crawford. There he was given command of construction operations that primarily involved the expansion of the fort's structure. He was reassigned to Fort Winnebago in Wisconsin later that year and later to a location along the Yellow River. At the Yellow River he was in charge of the construction of a sawmill, but he contracted a case of pneumonia and had to return to Fort Crawford.

In 1832, he was placed in charge of removing settlers from land claimed by Native Americans in Illinois. When the Black Hawk War started, he was placed on the front lines and even had the honor of escorting Black Hawk, the leader of the rebels, to prison. In 1833, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant and transferred to Fort Gibson. He remained there until June 17, 1835, when he married a woman named Miss Knox Taylor and resigned from his position in the US Army.

Tragically, the newlyweds caught a case of malaria and his wife died only three months after their wedding. Jefferson recovered from the ailment and traveled for a while before returning to a plantation in Mississippi in 1836. He spent the next several years relaxing on his cotton plantation and reading about political science.

In 1843, Jefferson ran for a position in the Mississippi House of Representatives on the Democratic ticket. He lost the election, but continued his political work by campaigning for James Polk in the 1844 presidential election. Despite having lost his bid for state representative, Jefferson was successful in a campaign for a place in the national House of Representatives, making it his first political victory.

In 1845, he remarried to a woman named Varina Howell. The next year, the Spanish-American war started and Jefferson was pleased since it would provide the US with an opportunity to gain more land. To help with the war effort, he resigned from his political post to join the Army once again.

Jefferson joined the first regiment of Mississippi riflemen as a colonel and sailed with them for Texas. His first major battle was the one at Monterrey, Mexico. On February 22, 1847 he was wounded in the battle of Buena Vista, but the wounds were minor and he was promoted to to the rank of brigadier general. However, he declined the position on the grounds that it violated the right of the states to appoint militia officers.

In 1847, he left the war to join the United States Senate as a replacement for Senator Jesse Speight. That same year he was also given a position on the regency at the Smithsonian Institution. In the Senate, he was made chairman of the Committee of Military Affairs and was reelected at the end of his term.

In 1851, he resigned from the Senate to run in the election for governor of Mississippi. He was defeated by his competitor, Henry Foote, leaving him without any political positions. He continued campaigning for other Democratic candidates in other states, including Franklin Pierce and William King.

When Pierce won the presidential election, he appointed Jefferson his Secretary of War. When Pierce's term expired, the Democratic Party decided not to support him for reelection, instead placing James Buchanan on their ticket. Jefferson took the opportunity to run for the Senate once again and was elected in 1857.

After surviving an illness that almost made him lose sight in his left eye, Jefferson continued serving in the Senate. A growing secessionist movement was rising in the federal government at that point, but he refused to join them. He gave numerous speeches demanding that the union be preserved, but was forced to join the movement after Abraham Lincoln was elected and South Carolina withdrew from the United States to form the Confederate States of America. He officially announced the secession of Mississippi in a farewell speech to the Senate on January 21, 1861. It is said that after his speech he retreated to his desk and began crying, showing just how disappointed he was that the union was being divided.

Jefferson was initially appointed as a major general in Mississippi's army, but he was named president of the CSA on February 9, 1861. His first action as president was to form a Peace Commission to serve as delegates to the Union and negotiate terms of peace. As a contingency plan, he made sure that the South had an organized army and appointed P.G.T. Beauregard as the commander.

In May of 1861, the CSA government was relocated to Richmond, Virginia and he was reelected to a six year term as president in November of 1861. In 1862, he appointed Robert E. Lee to command the main body of the Confederate Army. After a string of failed attacks by the Northern Army, it appeared that the Confederacy would be able to defend itself successfully, but as the years passed by it became clear that a loss was inevitable.

In April of 1865, Jefferson was forced to flee Richmond after Ulysses S. Grant's troops encircled the city to prepare an offensive. He rejoined with his cabinet in the city of Danville, but they were once again forced to flee, this time to Greensboro, North Carolina. As the Northern Forces further penetrated the South, Jefferson fled yet again to Mississippi, but he was captured on May 10, 1865 in Irwinville, Georgia.

Jefferson was initially placed under heavy guard at Fortress Monroe while a case was being prepared against him. He was indicted a year later in May of 1866, but he was released on bail shortly after. He took the opportunity to travel the world, visiting Canada, Cuba, and Europe. The charges against him were dropped in February of 1869, making him a free man in the reunited states.

After being acquitted, Jefferson became the president of the Carolina Life Insurance Company in Tennessee. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1875, but could not accept the appointment since he was barred from any federal office by law. He spent the rest of his years promoting trade with South America and writing books about the Confederacy. He died on December 6, 1889 in New Orleans, Louisiana.