Jefferson Davis was born in Christian County, Kentucky, on June 3, 1808. After a distinguished military career, Davis served as a U.S. senator and as Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce before his election as the president of the secessionist Confederate States of America. He was later indicted for treason, though never tried, and remained a symbol of Southern pride until his death in 1889. Quotes
"I regarded the separation of the States as a great, though not the greater evil." – Jefferson Finis Davis
Military leader and statesman Jefferson Davis was born Jefferson Finis Davis on June 3, 1808, in Christian County, Kentucky (now called Fairview). One of 10 children born into a military family, his birth took place just 100 miles from and eight months earlier than President Abraham Lincoln’s. Davis's father and uncles were soldiers in the American Revolutionary War, and all three of his older brothers fought in the War of 1812. His grandfather was a public servant to the U.S. southern colonies. Though born in Kentucky, Davis primarily grew up on a plantation near Woodville, Mississippi, eventually returning to Kentucky to attend boarding school in Bardstown. After completing his boarding school education, Davis enrolled at Jefferson College in Mississippi, later transferring to Transylvania University in Kentucky. In 1824, when Davis was 16 years old, President James Monroe requested that Davis become a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point (New York). One of Davis’s fellow cadets later described the burgeoning young leader as "distinguished in his corps for manly bearing and high-toned and lofty character." In 1828, Davis graduated from West Point, 23rd in his class. Early Military Service (1828–1835)
Upon graduating from West Point, Davis was assigned to the post of second-lieutenant of the First Infantry. From 1828 to 1833, he carried out his first active service with the U.S. Army. Davis fought with his regiment in the Blackhawk War of 1831, during which they captured Chief Blackhawk himself. The Indian chief was placed under Davis’s care, with Davis winning Blackhawk over through his kind treatment of the prisoner. In March 1833, Davis was promoted to first lieutenant and transferred to the First Dragoons, a newly formed regiment. He also served as the unit’s staff officer. Until the summer of 1835, Davis continued his service on the battlefield against Indian tribes, including the Comanche and Pawnees. In June 1835, Davis married his commanding officer’s daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor. Because his commanding officer, none other than future president Zachary Taylor, was opposed to the marriage, Davis abruptly resigned his military post to take up civic duties prior to the wedding. Sadly, Sarah died of malaria just a few months later, in September 1835. Early Politics (1835–'46)
After leaving the military, Davis became a cotton farmer while preparing for a career in politics as a Democrat. In 1843, he participated in the gubernatorial campaign and served as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. His powerful speeches there placed him in high demand. One year later, he became an elector for Pork and Dallas, taking the stance of state protection against federal interference and supporting Texas’ annexation in the process. In December 1845, Davis won election to the U.S. House of Representatives and claimed a seat in Congress, which caused him to gain more public attention. Additionally, he remarried, this time to a woman named Varina Howell. The marriage helped further forge his connection with Mississippi planters, as Varina’s family was of that class. As a congressman, Davis was known for his passionate and charismatic speeches, and he quickly became actively involved in debates about Texas, Oregon and tariffs. Davis’s congressional accomplishments include orchestrating the conversion of forts into military training schools. Throughout his congressional term, his...