Becomes president of the Confederate States of America

Davis and the other Southern lawmakers resigned their seats in the U.S. Congress in January 1861. Then Davis went home to his plantation in Mississippi. He told his family and friends that he did not want to play a role in the political leadership of the Confederacy, but that he would accept a military command if the North and South went to war. In February 1861, however, a messenger arrived at Davis's home and informed him that he had been selected as president of the new nation. He was stunned by the news, but felt it was his duty to accept the position. Davis became provisional (temporary) president of the Confederacy on February 9,

Jefferson Davis served as secretary of war during the administration of President Franklin Pierce (above).

(Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Jefferson Davis served as secretary of war during the administration of President Franklin Pierce (above).

(Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

^^ The Two Civil War Presidents: Davis and Lincoln

Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln never met. But the two men are forever linked in history as the presidents of the opposing sides in the American Civil War. They share a number of striking similarities, but also some notable differences.

Both men were born in Kentucky, separated by only one hundred miles in distance and eight months in age. But Davis moved south to Mississippi as a boy, while Lincoln moved north to Illinois. Davis's family grew prosperous by using slaves to work on their cotton plantation. As a result, Davis became a strong supporter of slavery. In the meantime, Lincoln raised himself from poverty through education and hard work. He strongly opposed slavery.

When the Civil War began in 1861, Davis seemed to be more qualified to lead his country's war effort. After all, he had graduated from West Point, proven himself as a military leader during the Mexican War, and served the U.S. government as secretary of war. In contrast, Lincoln had very limited military experience. Although he had joined the Illinois militia during the Black Hawk War (a war between the Sauk tribe and the U.S. government in 1832), he later joked that he had "fought mosquitoes and led a charge on an onion patch."

Although Davis had more military training, Lincoln possessed many other traits that made him a great commander in chief. For example, he was able to analyze situations quickly and make good decisions. He was also better at dealing with difficult people than Davis and more able to handle the extreme pressure of the job. Both men faced well-organized and vocal opposition to their policies during their time in office. In fact, both are more highly regarded and popular now than they were during the Civil War.

Since the two men played opposite roles during a crucial period in American history, historians have often drawn comparisons between them. In most cases, these comparisons reflect negatively on Davis. But as William C. Davis, Brian C. Po-hanka, and Don Troiani noted in Civil War Journal: The Leaders, "It is unfair in many ways to criticize Davis because he was not Abraham Lincoln; nobody else has been Abraham Lincoln either."

1861, and then was elected to a six-year term as president on November 6, 1861.

Despite Davis's protests, many people in the South believed that he was the most qualified man for the job. "Few men in the United States in 1861 seemed better prepared by training and experience to undertake the leadership of a nation at war than Jefferson Davis," Steven E. Woodworth wrote in Jefferson Davis and His Generals. "Davis had graduated from West Point, managed a large plantation, commanded an entire regiment in battle . . ., and been an unusually active secretary of war and an effective senator. He was honest, courageous, determined, and completely devoted to his duty as he understood it."

For six weeks, Davis tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the North. He still wanted to avoid a war if possible. One of the issues he hoped to resolve was the presence of federal troops at Fort Sumter, located in the middle of the harbor at Charleston, South Carolina. He viewed these troops as a symbol of Northern authority and asked Lincoln to remove them. When negotiations failed, Davis ordered Confederate forces to open fire on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. The Confederacy gained control of the fort, but the Civil War had begun.

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