Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 8 >> Dance Of Death to Dean >> Davis_2


south, army, southern, congress, war, mississippi, union, secession, senate and president

DAVIS, Henry Winter, American states man and orator: b. Annapolis, Md., 16 Aug. 1817; d. Baltimore, Md., 30 Dec. 1865. He was a member of Congress for three terms (1856 65), and took a leading part in advocating emancipation and loyalty to the Union. His published works are The War of Ormuzd and Ahriman in the 19th century> (1853) ; and Addresses in Congress' (1867).

Jefferson, American statesman: b. in Christian County, Ky., 3 June 1808; d. New Orleans, La., 6 Dec. 1889. A year or two after the birth of Davis the family removed to Wilkinson County, Miss., a new and pros perous cotton region. Young Davis was sent to various private schools in Mississippi and Ken tucky before he became a student at Transyl vania University in 1822. From Transylvania he went as a cadet to West Point in 1824, where Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston and Joseph E. Johnston were his friends or class mates. After his graduation 1828 Davis served seven years as an officer in the United States army along the Northwestern frontier, that is, in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Cot Zachary Taylor was for a part of this period his commander. In 1835 he was married to Miss Taylor and the same year he resigned from the army and settled as a cotton planter in Warren County, Miss., where he quickly rose to the position of a wealthy and influential citizen and owner of slaves. An older brother, a leading public man of the State, contributed much to this easy success and was in consider able measure responsible for the entry of Jef ferson Davis into politics, 1843, as a candidate for a seat in the House of Representatives. Meanwhile the first Mrs. Davis had died and he married Miss Varina Howell, a daughter of a well-to-do planter of the State. Hence the connections and social ties of the young political aspirant•were such as to advance him rapidly. issue which drew him into public affairs was the proposed repudiation of a great debt which the State of Mississippi had contracted with Nicholas Biddle, the Philadelphia capital ist. The older counties, those along the Mis sissippi River, were prevailingly Whig and op posed to repudiation on both moral and political grounds. Davis was a Democrat who broke with his party on the issue and offered himself as candidate for the legislature with the purpose of preventing the Democrats from carrying out their plans. Although he was defeated, he be came an elector on the Polk ticket in 1844. As such he canvassed the State and became widely known as an effective speaker and ardent ex pansionist. The next year he was elected a member of Congress, but he resigned to take command of a regiment of Mississippi volun teers in 1846. He played a conspicuous part under Gen. Zachary Taylor at Monterey and Buena Vista, for which his name became famil iar to the whole country. On his return from Mexico in 1847 he was appointed by the gover nor of Mississippi to a •vacancy in the United States Senate. When the legislature met he was unanimously chosen for a full term. When he appeared in Congress he was promptly made chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs and as such he labored constantly for a larger army and for the conquest and retention of that part of Mexico which borders on the Gulf of Mexico. To the disgust of Davis, John C. Calhoun lent his influence to the party of opposition and the extreme expansionists were defeated. Nevertheless Davis was an avowed follower of Calhoun and upon the death of the latter he became the accepted leader of the South in national affairs. In the critical strug gle of 1850, when there was imminent danger of a disruption of the Union, Davis was an ex tremist who urged secession on the part of the South rather than submission to the compromise measure which allowed California to enter the Union as a free State. He demanded the extension of the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific which would have made southern California a slave State and left New Mexico, Arizona and Utah open to slave colonization. Failing to secure the adoption of his plan, he signed, with most of the other Southern delegates in Con gress, a protest against the compromise, re signed his seat in the Senate and went home to lead a party of protest there. As candidate for the governorship he waged a vigorous campaign, but was defeated by the Unionists on a margin of less than 1,000 votes. Davis was now a discredited politician, for not only Mis sissippi but every other Southern State, save South Carolina, repudiated the idea of seces sion. He retired to his plantation, but he soon began to take an active part in public discus sions and when his friend, Franklin Pierce, was nominated for the presidency by the Democrats in 1852, he made an active canvass in hjs be half both in Mississippi and Louisiana. After the election of Pierce, Davis was asked to be come a member of the Cabinet. The offer was declined, but the President-elect prevailed on him finally to enter the Administration as Secre tary of War. Although the avowed purpose of the Democrats was never to disturb the Compro mise of 1850, Davis the bitterest opponent of that measure two years before was now one of the first advisers of the Administration. There was uneasiness in the country, but Davis Shad changed his mind. He never again urged the South to secede but insisted on fighting for the South and slavery within the Union. As Secretary of War Davis was a vigorous and resolute reorganizer. He undertook to reform and enlarge the Military Academy at West Point ; he enlarged the army and tried to abolish the rule of seniority which he considered a handicap to any military organization; and he brought camels from Arabia to be used as car riers on the dusty plains of the Far West. But his greatest work was the survey of the Rocky Mountain region with a view to building a Pacific railroad. Five routes were surveyed and an elaborate report in 12 octavo volumes was laid before Congress at the end of his term. Engineers, geologists and botanists had contributed their work and the value of the great West was made plain to the country. He recommended the building of a road by the southernmost route, that is, from Memphis to southern California. The government should give public lands and bonds and aid in financing the scheme, the war powers of the President be ing called into use in support of these national ist recommendations. Although nothing was done at that time, these surveys were the beginning of a new agitation for a railway to the Pacific. When Pierce's term closed, Davis returned to the Senate where he continued to represent and press Southern interests upon Congress and the country. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854, which he had favored, had set the sections to fighting each other as fiercely as before 1850. He now took the view that Kansas should be kept open to slavery and he saw in the Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court full justification for his contention. The new President, Buchanan, was not in the beginning in sympathy with the ex treme pro-slavery demand and he sent Robert J. Walker, whom Davis and most other leading Southerners distrusted, as governor to Kansas. When the Lecompton constitution was defeated in Kansas, Davis denounced Walker as a traitor to the South. Buchanan removed Walker in obedience to the entreaties of Davis and others. Stephen A. Douglas, the Northern leader of the Democratic party, denounced the President for his treatment of Walker and for his acceptance of the Lecompton constitution. Douglas im mediately regained the popularity he had lost in 1854. The issue was joined and Davis became the irreconcilable opponent of Douglas and of his candidacy. The Senate was made the scene of their maneuvers. Douglas was °read* out of the party by Davis which only added to the followers of the former at the North. Davis procured the adoption of a series of resolutions in April which was made the platform of the re actionary or Southern element in the convention which was about to meet in Charleston. Davis gave instructions to the national committee while the convention was in session. Douglas directed the conduct of the majority of the dele gates. The unyielding attitude of the two leaders caused the break-up of the convention and the nomination of two Democratic candi dates, Breckinridge and Douglas. But when it became increasingly clear that Abraham Lin coln, the candidate of the Republicans, would be elected, Davis, who had remained in Wash ington all summer, endeavored, in September 1860, to bring about a reconciliation between the angry sections of the party. Unable to find a leader who could unite the followers of Dou glas and Breckenridge, he gave up and let events take their own course. He was in Mis

sissippi when the election of Lincoln was an nounced and his opinion was at once sought by secession and anti-secession men. He wrote The Charleston Mercury on 10 November that he was opposed to breaking up the Union and advised that Mississippi would probably not fol low South Carolina. Later the governor of Mississippi called a conference of the State's delegation in Congress in which Davis again advised against secession. This led to a reac tion against him and he was charged with being simply an ambitious candidate for the presi dency of the United States. But the shaping of events had alreadypassed beyond the con trol of the leaders. South Carolina was al most a unit in favor of immediate secession. The cause had long been apopular one in that State. And if South Carolina left the Union and should then be coerced by the Federal gov ernment nothing could prevent the secession of the other Southern States. South Carolina se ceded. Davis, again in Washington, urged Bu chanan to recognize the act as the right of any State. Buchanan refused to follow this advice and when Mississippi withdrew Davis gave up his place in the Senate with the greatest reluc tance. He returned to Mississippi warning the people along the way that there would be a long and bitter struggle. In so far as he had any plans for the new regime, he wished to be come the commander of an army in the field. But his election to the presidency of the Con federacy on 9 Feb. 1861 placed him at the head of the movement which he had, to be sure, fa vored in the beginning but which he had cer tainly not urged in recent years. He now en deavored to reconcile all elements of the South. The radicals he thought would be satisfied to remain in private stations or fight in the ranks. Conservatives who had opposed secession were placed in Cabinet positions. Charles G. Mem minger of the Treasury, L. Pope Walker of the War Department and Robert E. Lee of the army were all of this group; and Alexander H. Stephens, the Vice-President, had always been opposed to secession and he was a personal op ponent of Davis. This conciliatory program of Davis was adopted by the States when they chose opponents of the secession movement to seats in the Confederate Senate. Radicals like William L. Yancey and Robert Barnwell Rhett, who had fought for a Southern Confederacy for 20 years, scarcely obtained recognition—a policy which brought Davis many of his greatest prob lems as the war wore on. Seeking to enlist the conservatives of the South on his side, he also sought to conciliate the conservatives of the North and thus isolate the radical Republicans who urged the prompt coercion of the seceded States. To this end Davis labored consistently to prevent bloodshed at Charleston where a Southern army was gathering to compel the surrender of Fort Sumter. William H. Seward, the most influential man of the North before the inauguration of Lincoln, likewise endeav ored to prevent an outbreak. The policy of conciliation was so publicly and openly culti vated that Southern leaders of the radical type insisted that there would be no war, that Davis and Seward had an understanding between them whereby the Union was to be restored. When, therefore, General Beauregard telegraphed from Charleston that Fort Sumter would be repro visioned by order of the Federal government, Davis still hesitated and advised against attack if by delay any sort of assurance were given that the fort would be given up peacefully. When the order to begin firing was finally given it was done hurriedly by subalterns of Gen eral Beauregard who feared that otherwise there would be no war and a reconstruction of the Union would follow. But the firing on Major Anderson on the night of 12 April 1861 stirred the martial spirit of the whole South, as well as of the North, and the border States of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Ar kansas joined the Confederacy. Davis became the President of all the seceded States and the capital was removed from Montgomery to Rich mond. The constitution of the new group of commonwealths was in many respects the work of Davis and the moderate attitude of the Con federacy toward the foreign slave trade and the tariff was due to his influence. Although presidents of republics are not held rigidly to the strict letters of constitutions, Davis was most careful not to overstep the bounds set him save in the gravest emergencies. He set aside the writ of habeas corpus only in rare instances and then for limited districts and for limited periods. He allowed the greatest freedom of the press, even when most of the leading papers insisted upon denouncing him every day. I be lieve no newspaper office was closed by his or der during the whole period of the war. One of the weaknesses of his administration was due to the fact that he was definitely elected in 1861 for a term of six years after the expiration of which he could not be a candidate for re election. This gave the Confederate Congress a freer hand than any other American Congress has ever had. But an equally difficult problem for Davis consisted in choosing the command ers of the armies. The high officers who re signed from the Union army all expected high: er commands from the Confederate government. Davis hoped to appoint men according to what he prematurely called a merit system; but they insisted each, save Lee, upon the old seniority rule of the Federal government. Dissatisfac tion began when the first list of generals was sent in; it grew steadily to the end. Davis be lieved in the volunteer system for the begin ning of the struggle; but in the winter of 1861 62 he became convinced that conscription alone would keep the army units full. Congress op posed him constantly on this issue. He be lieved the lines of State sovereignty should be partially obliterated during the war; but Con gress and the legislatures of the States opposed him bitterly. He urged that appointments to all the responsible military positions should be made by the President upon recommendation of the army chiefs; but the governors of the States opposed and the judges of State courts inter vened in military matters with contrary opinions and with habeas corpus proceedings. In spite of all these and other difficulties, he did create great armies and a considerable navy; he set up arsenals and built salt works, laid railroad tracks and encouraged all sorts of domestic manufac tures. Zeal and energy characterized his adminis tration from the start and the positive blunders of serious magnitude of which he was guilty were few. With a population of less than 7,000,000 white people, the Confederacy raised armies which numbered near a million men and it required the work of 2,000,000 soldiers and four .years of time to suppress them. But the pressure of the blockade which President Lin coln increased with every month and the fail ure of every European power to recognize the Confederacy finally brought Davis and his gen erals to expect defeat. Moreover the railroads wore out; rolling stock failed and the plentiful supplies in the country districts could not be transported to the armies or the centres of pop ulation. Bread riots occurred in Richmond and the army of Lee while it guarded the lines about Petersburg had no meat and little bread. The people lost heart. Lee's army surrendered on the 9th of April 1865. Davis was already hastening south in flight. He was captured at Irwinsville, Ga., on the 10th of May following and he was promptly imprisoned at Fort Mon roe. There he remained until 15 May 1867 when he was released on bail signed by Horace Greeley and other life-long opponents. Broken in body and fortune, he visited New Orleans, his former home near Vicksburg, England and France; but settled down to work as the presi dent of a life insurance company in Memphis in 1870. The panic of 1873 caused the business to fail. He then endeavored to promote some large commercial enterprises in New Orleans but these never materialized and he took up his residence at Beauvoir in 1878, a pretty home on the Gulf coast which was presented to him by a friend, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died in New Orleans where he had gone on a business journey. His remains were buried there, but removed to Richmond in 1893.

Bibliography.— Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government> (New York 1881) ; Davis, Varina Howell, 'Jefferson Davis : a Memoir' (New York 1890) ; Dodd, William E., 'Jefferson Davis' (in 'American Crisis Biographies,' Philadelphia 1907) ; Pol lard, E. A., The Life of Jefferson Davis, with the Secret History of the Southern Confed eracy' (New York 1869).