Lincoln's, Davis' Dueling Inaugural Addresses

On this day in 1861, former U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis took to a podium for his presidential inaugural and gave an impassioned speech about the Constitution. Three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln did likewise, with different results.

Davis_Inauguration-536Davis had been a highly visible figure in Washington, D.C. as a pro-slavery and states' rights advocate from Mississippi. Earlier his life, Davis was the son-in-law of future President Zachary Taylor. After graduating from West Point, Davis served in the military and Congress, and he was Secretary of War for President Franklin Pierce.

Davis returned to the Senate after his time in the Pierce administration, where he was a vocal supporter of states’ rights. But he quit after Lincoln’s election, saying “we are about to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us.”

On February 4, 1861, six states that had left the Union called their own constitutional convention in Montgomery, Alabama. A dozen delegates at the Confederate Congress quickly wrote a provisional constitution and proclaimed Davis as provisional president of the Confederate States of America, with Alexander Stephens as vice president. Both would serve for one year until the permanent constitution took effect in February 1862.

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