The Inauguration of Jefferson Davis

Monday the 18th was mild and sunny in Montgomery, Alabama, as some 10,000 people came out to witness the inauguration of the first president of the new Confederate States of America. An elaborate ceremony had been prepared in an incredibly short time, as Jefferson Davis had been elected to the presidency just nine days prior. He had arrived at Montgomery from Mississippi just two days prior.

Decorations throughout the small city reflected the festive mood. Militia in bright uniforms led the procession of carriages to the state capitol. The carriage bearing the president-elect was pulled by a six-horse team of impressive grays. The carriage stopped at a platform that had been built in front of the capitol portico, and a band played the “Marseillaise” as Davis stepped out. The spectators who had watched the procession now gathered near the platform to hear Davis deliver his inaugural address:

“I enter upon the duties of the office to which I have been chosen with the hope that the beginning of our career as a Confederacy may not be obstructed by hostile opposition to our enjoyment of the separate existence and independence which we have asserted, and, with the blessing of Providence, intend to maintain. Our present condition, achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations, illustrates the American idea that governments rest upon the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish governments whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established…

“The impartial and enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct, and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with which we labored to preserve the Government of our fathers in its spirit. The right solemnly proclaimed at the birth of the States, and which has been affirmed and reaffirmed in the bills of rights of States subsequently admitted into the Union of 1789, undeniably recognize in the people the power to resume the authority delegated for the purposes of government…

“We have entered upon the career of independence, and it must be inflexibly pursued. Through many years of controversy with our late associates, the Northern States, we have vainly endeavored to secure tranquillity, and to obtain respect for the rights to which we were entitled. As a necessity, not a choice, we have resorted to the remedy of separation; and henceforth our energies must be directed to the conduct of our own affairs, and the perpetuity of the Confederacy which we have formed. If a just perception of mutual interest shall permit us peaceably to pursue our separate political career, my most earnest desire will have been fulfilled. But, if this be denied to us, and the integrity of our territory and jurisdiction be assailed, it will but remain for us, with firm resolve, to appeal to arms and invoke the blessings of Providence on a just cause…

“Obstacles may retard, they cannot long prevent the progress of a movement sanctified by its justice, and sustained by a virtuous people. Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us in our efforts to perpetuate the principles which, by his blessing, they were able to vindicate, establish and transmit to their posterity, and with a continuance of His favor, ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity.”

Howell Cobb, president of the provisional Confederate Congress, then stepped forward and administered the oath of office. Davis placed his hand on the Bible and was clearly heard among the spectators when he said, “So help me God.” A 100-gun salute was fired as the people cheered in near unanimity for their new president. This dispelled northern predictions that this would be a “gloomy phantom of an inauguration.” The reporter covering the event for the New York Herald wrote: “God does not permit evil to be done with such earnest solemnity, such all-pervading trust in His Providence, as was exhibited by the whole people on that day.”

Celebrations took place throughout Montgomery that night, as fireworks lit up the sky and people cheered, wept, and sang songs like “Dixie’s Land” and “Farewell to the Star-Spangled Banner.” President Davis attended a reception at Estelle Hall and met with thousands of people in the receiving line. The Montgomery Weekly Advertiser asserted that “if, after this, our enemies at the North shall persist in representing that the seceded states are not in earnest, they will fully entitle themselves to be recorded among those who having ears hear not and having eyes see not.”

The Confederate States of America may have been born from a revolution, but it was a different kind of revolution in that it sought not to bring about change, but rather to maintain the status quo. It began as optimistically as any nation had begun, but Davis knew the future would be uncertain. He wrote to his wife Varina, who had stayed behind at their home, about the inauguration:

“The audience was large and brilliant. Upon my weary heart were showered smiles, plaudits, and flowers; but beyond them, I saw troubles and thorns innumerable… We are without machinery, without means, and threatened by a powerful opposition; but I do not despond, and will not shrink from the task imposed upon me… As soon as I can call an hour my own, I will look for a house and write you more fully.”


Bibliography

  • Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
  • Crocker III, H. W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008.
  • Holzer, Harold, Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-1861. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, Reprint Edition, 2008.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (facsimile of the 1866 edition). New York: Fairfax Press, 1990.
  • RiceUniversity.com, Jefferson Davis’s First Inaugural Address. Jefferson Davis Papers.
  • Stanchak, John E. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
  • Thomas, Emory M., The Confederate Nation. HarperCollins e-books, Kindle Edition, 1976.
  • Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

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