American Civil War for Kids - Who was Jefferson Davis? Illustration

American Civil War for Kids - Who was Jefferson Davis?

In 1861, representatives from the Southern states who had seceded from the Union met in Atlanta, Georgia. They called themselves the Confederate Convention. They named their new country the Confederate States of America. They selected Jefferson Davis to be president. Jefferson Davis did not want to be president. He wanted to be put in charge of an army unit and fight Northern aggression. But he finally agreed. He was a wonderful president. He was a good judge of men. He selected his generals well. He also kept an eye on the law. He did not want the Confederacy to be accused of being out of control, but rather to be recognized as a new country. Under his direction, the Confederacy wrote a Constitution, established a treasury, built a military, voted on laws, and sent representatives to England and France seeking financial assistance for the war effort. The Civil War raged for four years.

In May 1865, at the end of the Civil War, Jefferson David was captured by Union soldiers. He was placed in chains and brought to Fort Monroe, Virginia, and thrown into a dungeon, where he spent the next 133 days. The dungeon was cold and damp. He was under constant watch. The guards were not allowed to speak to him. He could not leave the cell for any reason. He was finally moved to more spacious quarters and allowed a short daily walk, but still, he was not allowed to see his wife for over a year. When she visited these "improved conditions", she found a bug invested bed and a horse bucket for water. She demanded to be allowed to bring her husband clean water, food, and clothing. She was allowed to do so. Gradually his health improved.

Jefferson Davis spent a total of 720 days in prison. The Union wanted to bring him to trial for treason, but they were afraid to do so. They knew Davis wanted a trial, and that he would argue that the Southern states had a legal right to secede. Jefferson Davis believed he could use the U.S. Constitution to prove the Northern states had no right to attack the South. Andrew Johnson, who took over as president after Lincoln was assassinated, kept pushing Jefferson Davis to apply for a pardon for his role in the Civil War. If would apply, he would be immediately released. But Jefferson Davis refused. He needed no pardon. He had done nothing wrong. Congress finally gave up. They let Davis go after his supporters paid a $100,000 bond.

After he was released from prison, Jefferson Davis and his family traveled to Canada, where they stayed for quite a while, long enough for Davis to recover his health. They lived in a community composed of other high-ranking Confederate patriots who had moved to Canada. When Jeff Davis and his family came home to their beloved South, they settled finally in Mississippi. The state of Mississippi wanted Jefferson to reenter politics as the U.S. Senator from Mississippi. Jefferson pointed out he was not legally eligible to serve in Congress because he had never applied for a pardon. That was a law Congress had passed soon after the Civil War. But Davis did speak on occasion, and encouraged the young men of Mississippi, and all young men in the South, to put aside their anger and help heal the country.

 Like Grant, and other Civil War leaders, Jefferson Davis wrote a book about his experiences in the Civil War. It was published in two volumes in 1881, and entitled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

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