This Day in the Law
February 18

Jefferson Davis Inaugurated President of Confederacy (1861)

On February 18, 1861, the states that seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America inaugurated Jefferson Davis as the first (and only) president of the new Confederacy. In particular, Davis was unanimously elected and inaugurated on the steps of the statehouse at the then-capital of the Confederacy in Montgomery, Alabama. (In April 1861, the Confederacy moved its capital to Richmond, Virginia where it remained until the end of the Civil War.)

President Abraham Lincoln had just recently been elected as the United State’s sixteenth president. Lincoln won around 40% of the popular vote, but his name did not even appear on the ballots in many southern states. Shortly thereafter, many southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America (commonly called the Confederacy).

One of the main contentions between the Confederacy and Union dealt with states’ rights. In particular, the Confederacy believed that the U.S. Constitution granted too much power to the federal government and that individual states should have more power. Jefferson Davis, a strong states’ rights proponent, adamantly believed in stronger states’ rights and promoted his beliefs as a Senator for Mississippi.

On February 18, 1861, around one week after President Lincoln left his home in Illinois for the White House in Washington, D.C, the Confederacy inaugurated Davis on the steps of the statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama and a band played the song “Dixie” for the first time in an official arrangement.

After the Civil War, Jefferson Davis was eventually captured by Union troops in Georgia. The Union accused Davis of treason and other crimes, but he was never brought to trial. Davis served two years in prison for his conduct as the President of the Confederacy and was later paroled.

Davis returned to Mississippi after prison where he spent the rest of his life. He never asked for nor was granted a pardon and defended his beliefs until his death in 1889. Finally, in 1978, Congress posthumously restored Davis the full rights of his U.S. citizenship.