Jefferson Davis

A photograph of Jefferson Davis taken in 1860 by Matthew Brady

Courtesy: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-DIG-cwpb-06098.

Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), photographed around 1860 by Matthew B. Brady, was the first and only president of the Confederacy. Born in Kentucky, he graduated from West Point and served in various military posts before settling with his family in Mississippi in the 1830s. In 1845 he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives but resigned his seat the next year to take command of a Mississippi volunteer regiment during the Mexican-American War. Davis was wounded in combat and after returning home was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate. In 1853 President Franklin Pierce appointed him as secretary of war, and he served in that capacity until the end of the Pierce administration, when he again won election to the Senate. Although Davis always believed that states had the absolute right to secede, he spoke out against secession during the 1850s because he did not think that the North would allow the southern states to leave. In January 1861, when he received word that Mississippi had seceded, he resigned from the Senate—a day he called the saddest of his life. Because of his military and political experience, Davis was unanimously elected by the Confederate Provisional Congress as president of the Confederacy in November 1861.