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Jefferson Davis was born on this date in 1808. He was a white-American slave owner and president of the Confederacy.
Davis was the tenth son of Samuel Emory Davis, a plantation owner from Mississippi. At seven, he was sent to a boarding school in Kentucky, and six years later entered Transylvania College in Lexington. In 1824, Davis entered the United States Military Academy at West Point. After graduating in 1828, he served as a lieutenant in the Wisconsin Territory and took part in the Black Hawk War. Davis resigned his commission in 1835 and became a planter in Vicksburg. He served in the Mexican War and entered Congress in 1845 from Mississippi.
A member of the Democratic Party, he successfully won the election to the Senate in 1848. His father-in-law, Zachary Taylor, had been elected president and supported the admission of California as a free state. Davis disagreed and led the pro-slavery group in Congress. After the death of Taylor, Davis served as Secretary of War. In 1860, after Lincoln was elected president of the USA, seven states seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Representatives from these seven states quickly established the Confederate States of America; more states followed.
On February 8, 1860, the Confederate States adopted a constitution and elected Davis as its president. Montgomery, AL, became its capital and the Stars and Bars were adopted as its flag. Davis also authorized 100,000 troops and believed that after a state seceded, federal forts became the property of the state. On April 12, 1861, Confederate troops fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and the Civil War began. On January 15, 1865, Fort Fisher, North Carolina, the last port under the control of the Confederate Army, fell to the Union Army and the U. S. Navy.
William Sherman removed all resistance in the Shenandoah Valley and then marched to Southern Carolina. In March 1865, Davis, his family, and government officials were forced to flee from Richmond, Virginia (their new capital). The Union Army took control of Richmond on April 4, and Lincoln entered the city. Protected by ten seamen, he walked the streets and when one Black man fell to his knees in front of him, Lincoln told him: "Don't kneel to me. You must kneel to God only and thank him for your freedom."
Lincoln traveled to the Confederate Executive Mansion and sat for a while in the former leader's chair before heading back to Washington. When his government finally collapsed in May 1865, Davis was arrested and imprisoned for two years in Fortress Monroe. Although indicted for treason, he was not brought to trial and was released in 1867. Davis returned to Mississippi where he wrote: “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” (1881). Jefferson Davis died in New Orleans on December 6, 1889.
The World Book Encyclopedia.
Copyright 1996, World Book, Inc.