Davis, Jefferson (1808–1889)

By: Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell and Curtis Bishop

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: July 31, 2020

Jefferson Davis, representative and senator from Mississippi in the United States Congress and later president of the Confederate States of America, was born in Todd County, Kentucky, on June 3, 1808. He graduated at the United States Military Academy in 1828 and served seven years in the army before resigning in 1835. After spending nearly ten years as a planter in Mississippi, he became active in Democratic Party politics and won a seat in the United States House of Representatives, which he took he December 1845. He supported the annexation of Texas to the United States.

Davis came to Texas first in 1846, when the volunteer regiment from Mississippi that he commanded was assigned to Zachary Taylor's army on the Rio Grande. He served with distinction in the Mexican War and was elected to the United States Senate in 1847. He resigned from the senate in 1851, but when his friend Franklin Pierce became president in 1853, Davis received an appointment as Secretary of War. In this position, he recommended in 1854 the Texas or thirty-second-parallel route for construction of a railroad to the Pacific Ocean and in 1856 sent camels to Camp Verde in a project to use the animals for army supply and overland transportation.

Davis returned to the United States Senate in 1857 and consistently supported the pro-southern positions that led to secession four years later. When Mississippi seceeded in January 1861, Davis came home and soon thereafter became president of the Confederate States of America. When the Confederacy collapsed in the spring of 1865, Davis evacuated the capital in Richmond, Virginia, where he had spent the war years and sought to escape across the South and into Texas. However, he was captured in southern Georgia in May 1865. Although indicted for treason, Davis never faced trial. He was released on bond in 1867 and, after traveling for several years, spent most of the remainder of his life in Mississippi. After Reconstruction a movement was launched in Dallas to purchase a homestead for Davis and invite him to move to Texas. On June 14, 1875, he was offered the presidency of the newly established Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas. When he declined the appointment on July 8, 1875, he wrote of his hopes of revisiting Texas. He died in New Orleans on December 6, 1889, and his ashes were eventually buried in Richmond, Virginia. Davis is memorialized in Texas on three monuments placed by the Texas Centennial Commission and by the name of Jeff Davis County (formed in 1887).

C. F. Arrowood, "The Election of Jefferson Davis to the Presidency of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 49 (October 1945). Mary Lois Blair, Jefferson Davis and His Interest in the West (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1929). Joseph E. Chance, Jefferson Davis's Mexican War Regiment (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991). Clement Eaton, Jefferson Davis (New York: Free Press, 1977). L. B. Leslie, "The Purchase and Importation of Camels by the United States Government, 1855–1857," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 33 (July 1929). S. S. McKay, "Texas and the Southern Pacific Railroad, 1845–1860, " Southwestern Historical Quarterly 35 (July 1931). Harold Schoen, comp., Monuments Erected by the State of Texas to Commemorate the Centenary of Texas Independence (Austin: Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations, 1938). Hudson Strode, Jefferson Davis (3 vols., New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955–64).

Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Randolph B. "Mike" Campbell and Curtis Bishop, “Davis, Jefferson,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 29, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/davis-jefferson.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

July 31, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: