Jefferson Davis, Confederate President

Herman Hattaway and Richard E. Beringer

He was one of the most embattled heads of state in American history. Charged with building a new nation while waging a war for its very independence, he accepted his responsibilities reluctantly but carried them out with a fierce dedication to his ideals. Those efforts ultimately foundered on the shoals of Confederate defeat, leaving Davis stranded in public memory as both valiant leader and desolate loser.

Now two renowned Civil War historians, Herman Hattaway and Richard Beringer, take a new and closer look at Davis's presidency. In the process, they provide a clearer image of his leadership and ability to handle domestic, diplomatic, and military matters under the most trying circumstances-without the considerable industrial and population resources of the North and without the formal recognition of other nations.

“Succeeds in bringing this unusual American to life for contemporary readers. Particularly recommended for buffs of the Civil War.”

Profile (National Portrait Gallery)

“This thoughtful and well-written analysis, strongly grounded in quality recent studies and primary sources on Jefferson Davis, is a welcome addition to the emerging scholarly literature on the relationship between the way in which the nature of Confederate society and beliefs affected the conduct of the war.

—Louisiana History
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Hattaway and Beringer examine Davis's strengths and weaknesses as president in light of both traditional evidence and current theories of presidential leadership. They show us a man so respected that northern colleagues regretted his departure from the U.S. Senate, but so bent on Southern independence he was willing to impose unthinkable burdens on his citizens-an apologist for slavery who was committed to state rights, even while growing nationalism in his new country called for a stronger central government.

In assessing Davis's actual administration of the Confederate state, the authors analyze the Confederate government's constitution, institutions, infrastructure, and cabinet-level administrators. They also integrate events of Davis's presidency with the ongoing war as it encroached upon the South, offering a panoramic view of military strategy as seen from the president's office. They tell how Davis reacted to the outcomes of key battles and campaigns in order to assess his leadership abilities, his relations with civilian and military authorities, and—his own personal competency notwithstanding—his poor judgment in selecting generals.

Rich in detail and exhilaratingly told with generous selections from Davis's own letters and speeches, Hattaway and Beringer provide the most insightful account available of the first and only Confederate presidency-suggesting that perhaps it was the Confederate government, rather than Davis himself, that failed. More than that, it shows us Jefferson Davis as an American leader and offers a new appreciation of his place in our country's history.

About the Author

Herman Hattaway is professor of history and religious studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an ordained Anglican priest. He is author of six other books, including How the North Won and Shades of Blue and Gray. Richard E. Beringer is Chester Fritz Professor Emeritus of History at the University of North Dakota. He is coauthor with Hattaway of Why the South Lost the Civil War and editor of The Papers of Jefferson Davis.