Today is the one-hundred and fifty-second anniversary of Jeff Davis learning that he was president of the Confederacy.
Jefferson Davis, a former US Senator from Mississippi, was at home trimming his rose bushes when he learned that he’d been selected by the Confederate States of America’s constitutional convention. Up until then the thing he was best known for was designing a hat for the cavalry (the Davis Hat, worn by both sides during the Civil War) while he was Secretary of War.
Jeff hadn’t sought the honor, though he had written to the Governor of Mississippi, “Judge what Mississippi requires of me and place me accordingly.” My guess is that he was hoping to be appointed a general in the Mississippi militia. Davis’s wife, Varina, said later, “Reading that telegram he looked so grieved that I feared some evil had befallen our family. After a few minutes he told me like a man might speak of a sentence of death.”
He was an odd choice for Confederate president given that he had spent most of his Senatorial career arguing against secession. He was, however, a plantation owner and slave holder, which made him a logical choice.
Davis himself had no confidence in his ability to carry out the duties of the office. And he saw clearly the difficulties that lay ahead. “Upon my weary heart was showered smiles, plaudits, and flowers, but beyond them I saw troubles innumerable. We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by powerful opposition but I do not despond and will not shrink from the task before me.”
He was right about being without machinery and means: What kind of a country starts a war when it doesn’t own a single cannon factory? His wisest move might have been to make his first act in office to sue for peace while begging for readmission to the Union.
Some years ago I recall (but cannot now find on the Google-indexed web), a cereal company had a US Presidents word-search puzzle printed on the back of the box. And, seemingly by chance, the name “Davis” appeared in the puzzle (though not on the official list of answers). While looking for documentation on that event I did discover that you can get a picture jigsaw puzzle of Jeff Davis dancing on an American flag.
While Davis was charged with treason he was never tried. He was stripped of US citizenship and ability to run for public office, though it was eventually returned to him by congress in 1978. A pity he didn’t run in ‘80; he was a Democrat and might have beaten Reagan.
It is not true that Jeff attempted to avoid capture by Union troops by dressing in women’s clothing. He was wearing Varina’s shawl because it was cold.