Jefferson Davis Inaugurated as Provisional President of the Confederacy
The delegates from six seceding states who met in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 4, 1861, for the Provisional Confederate Congress moved quickly to address the monumental task at hand: the formation of a new country. In four days they adopted a provisional constitution; the next day they unanimously elected their provisional president: Jefferson Finis Davis.
Davis, the 52-year-old ex-senator from Mississippi, had resigned his Senate seat on Jan. 21, 1861, upon being informed that Mississippi had seceded from the Union (Davis opposed secession, but his first allegiance was to his home state). Returning to Mississippi, he received a commission as a Major General of his state’s troops. He had a wealth of experience that made him well qualified to become the Confederacy’s first—and, as it turned out, only—president. A West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican-American War, Davis had been Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce as well as both a Representative and Senator from Mississippi. Well liked and respected, he was almost the Democratic candidate for the 1860 presidential election.
The inauguration of Jefferson Davis as provisional president took place on Feb. 18, 1861. His inaugural address contained this passage:
“We have entered upon a career of independence which must be inflexibly pursued through many years of controversy with our late associates of the northern states. We have mainly endeavored to secure tranquility and obtain respect for the rights to which we are entitled as a matter of necessity, and not choice. We have resorted to the remedy of a separation, and henceforth our energies must be directed to conduct our own affairs and promote the perpetuity of the confederacy we have formed. If a just perception of mutual interests shall permit us peacefully to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled.
“But, if this be denied us, and the integrity of our territory and jurisdiction be assailed, it will but remain for us to appeal to arms and invoke the blessing of Divine Providence upon a just cause as a consequence of our new condition…”
His tone was firm, but not warlike. He seemed to earnestly hold out the prospect for peace and a working relationship with the Northern states. One Northern newspaper, at least, was impressed by the man and his words: the N.Y. Express published an editorial stopping just short of praising Davis’s inaugural address, but nonetheless showing its admiration.
Interestingly enough, in its own coverage of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis, a Southern paper reprinted the editorial from the N.Y. Express. In fact, the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) put that Northern editorial on the front page of its Feb. 25, 1861, issue:
The Montgomery Inaugural
(From the N.Y. Express)
The Inauguration of a President of a Southern (U.S.) Republic sounds strangely in one’s ears, but there is the Inauguration, and there is the Inaugural, to speak for themselves. The dispatches from Montgomery report the pageant on the occasion as the most imposing ever witnessed in the Southern States, and we cannot discover that any incident transpired to show the slightest break in the wonderful and impressive unanimity which seems to have characterized this extraordinary revolution from its commencement, on through all its several stages, to the induction, now, into office of its chosen Provisional Chief.
It is impossible for a man of ordinary intelligence to contemplate that Montgomery spectacle, and to read over that Montgomery inaugural, without realizing that these Cotton Confederacy people are fearfully in earnest, and that every word in their President’s address bears the indelible impress of those rare merits in the public addresses of most public men—straightforwardness, sincerity, and candor. It manifestly means what it says.
The tone of the inaugural throughout is firm, dignified, decided. Mr. Jefferson Davis does not seem to be a statesman of the circumlocution office—nor yet a disciple of that vicious school of diplomacy which teaches that language was made to conceal one’s thoughts. What he has to say, he says in such a manner as not to be misapprehended or misunderstood. Soldier-like, as well as statesman-like, he goes straight to the mark, and every mark he makes tells.
We are afraid, however, that it will scarcely do for the Express to say another word in commendation even of the literary style of this arch “Traitor” of a confederacy of “Traitors and Rebels,” all of whom, if the lamb-like suggestions of our good friends of the Tribune and Courier are to be carried into effect, are but preparing their necks for the halter. Yet we cannot forget that these traitors and rebels were once our countrymen; we cannot forget that the arch traitor and rebel, the Provisional President, has a name and a fame which we cannot, as lovers of our once glorious Republic, give up an interest in without some betrayal of weakness. We cannot forget that this same Jefferson Davis bore aloft the star spangled banner in the hottest of the fight at Buena Vista [during the Mexican-American War—ed.], and did more, perhaps, than any other gallant heart on that hotly contested field, to turn the conflict to the right side, when all seemed to be lost. We cannot forget that this man’s blood was shed there to uphold the glory of our country, while many who are now denouncing him as a rebel or a traitor were at a safe distance—and while these memories of the past are crowding upon us, we must be forgiven an indisposition to join our Republican friends in placing the halter around his neck, and the necks of his fellow-conspirators, rebels, traitors, etc., etc.
In one respect we must confess we are sadly disappointed with this address. It affords little encouragement for the hope that its author will favor the policy of reconstruction.
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.