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Another President's Day -- for Jefferson Davis

February 18, 2011 |  6:22 pm

Jefferson Davis inauguration 2-18-1861

While a few Yankees will nationally celebrate Presidents' Day Monday as the combined birthdays of notorious good guy George Washington and an early Illinois president named Abraham Lincoln. But a real celebration occurs Saturday.

That's actually a day late for the 150th anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as head of the Confederate States of America. The celebratory day has fallen into considerable disuse since roughly Appomattox Court House.

But, hey, it's almost spring and any chance to dress up in period outfits, as long as they're not those tent-sized hoopskirts.

Born in Kentucky, Davis was a U.S. Senator from Mississippi both before and after he was, appropriately enough, Secretary of War in the Democratic administration of New Hampshire's only native-born president, Jefferson DavisFranklin Pierce (1853-57). Pierce, a lifelong alcoholic, is widely considered one of the worst presidents in American history.

Davis actually argued against secession, though he never questioned a state's right to depart the Union.

On Feb. 18, 1861, Davis began a six-year term as president of the Confederate States (see top photo). Like Jimmy Carter from Georgia some years later, Davis was a one-termer; actually, a less-than-one-termer, as he was arrested for treason by Union troops on May 10, 1865, a day that passes now without notice.

From the Union point of view, Davis was ideally suited as confederate president, being without a political party, popular appeal, anything resembling a diverse economy, foreign recognition, a strong currency, an ability to delegate or any skills for thinking beyond the moment.

Davis also possessed a keen talent for alienating others and was superb at igniting and prolonging feuds with confederate governors, who thought they possessed some political importance. That and Davis' side was totally outgunned by the industrial North.

Anyway, Saturday they'll have a march and play "Dixie" and fire off muskets and old cannons down in Montgomery, Alabama, which now has a 55% African American population.

As noted by our colleague, Richard Fausset, the 150th anniversary of Davis' inauguration is attracting much less notice than the 100th back in the civil rights era, which had some key events in Montgomery, including Rosa Parks' bus ride.

Local authorities today are more focused now on reviving economic development.

President Davis himself will not be attending, having passed away in 1889 after being superseded in the romantic South's humid glow of heroic loser status by Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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 -- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Library of Congress

 

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