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President Davis' Cabinet: Members & Dynamics

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  • 0:07 The Confederate States…
  • 0:49 Jefferson Davis
  • 2:28 President Davis
  • 3:36 Davis's Cabinet
  • 5:24 Cabinet Problems
  • 7:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was the only leader the short-lived Confederacy ever had. His Cabinet members struggled to provide him with advice and help during the difficult struggle to keep the Confederacy alive during the Civil War.

The Confederate States of America

In the short-lived Confederate States of America, politics was a tricky game. During the Civil War, both the North and the South faced new situations and trying times. For the Union, there was the benefit of having an established government. For the Confederacy, a government was being built while a war was being fought to defend it.

That meant that Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, had a very difficult task. He had to rely on his Cabinet members for assistance, which did not always help the difficult problems that Davis and the Confederacy faced. Let's learn more about Jefferson Davis and his Cabinet.

Jefferson Davis

In early 1861, as various southern states were seceding from the Union to join the Confederacy, a movement to establish a national government for these southern states began. As a leading statesman, Jefferson Davis was held in high esteem by many throughout the South.

Davis's political career began in the military years earlier. He graduated from West Point in 1828 and began a military career that lasted for several years. In the 1830s, he left the army and worked on his plantation. He reentered the army during the War with Mexico from 1846-1848.

After the war, he became a U.S. senator for his home state of Mississippi. As a senator, Davis was engaged in national politics, gaining fame and reputation. By 1853, he became the secretary of war for President Franklin Pierce. He reentered the Senate in 1857, where he remained until early 1861.

With secession sweeping the South, Davis resigned his Senate seat. In February 1861, he was elected the provisional president of the nascent Confederacy. This initial post was a temporary one until an election for a full presidential term could be held. Yet, the acclamation given to Davis stated clearly that he was the leader of the Confederacy. On February 18, 1861, he began his new job as the Confederate president. Alexander Stephens of Georgia was elected as Davis's vice president.

President Davis

The young Confederacy was formed by an assortment of southern states that left the Union over numerous issues, with the institution of slavery being the primary one. Many southern states were afraid that a strong national government led by newly elected Republican President Abraham Lincoln would threaten slavery in southern states. The rallying cry of 'states' rights' went out, and the Confederacy was formed in defiance to what many saw as a centralized government in Washington.

This created major problems for Jefferson Davis, who was the head of a brand new national government in the South. Davis needed the southern states to band together if the Confederacy was to survive.

Once war began with the North in April 1861, Davis became a military leader. Much like Abraham Lincoln, he needed to rely on the central power of the government to win the war. Unfortunately, the Confederacy had been founded on the theory of opposing central government. This was a major problem that plagued Davis and the Confederacy for years to come.

Davis's Cabinet

Davis's Cabinet was formed with an eye toward maintaining loyalty to the Confederacy and overcoming regional differences. Davis selected men from different parts of the South to ensure representation by various Confederate states in the Confederate Cabinet.

The original secretary of state, Robert Toombs, was a fire-breathing pro-slavery secessionist leader from Georgia. Toombs had eyed the Confederate presidency for himself, and thus, there was tension between him and Davis.

For secretary of war, Davis selected LeRoy Pope Walker from Alabama, where the Confederate capital was located in Montgomery. From South Carolina, the state that seceded first, Christopher Memminger became the first secretary of the treasury. Judah Benjamin from Louisiana became Davis's attorney general, and John Reagan of Texas was the first postmaster general.

With this initial Cabinet, Davis had representation from most of the original seven Confederate states.

With the firing on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and the outbreak of war, four more states seceded and joined the Confederacy. The Confederate capital was then moved to Richmond, Virginia, and the government began its work in earnest.

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