Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky to a moderately prosperous farmer and grew up on his brother’s large cotton plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana.
His brother Joseph secured his appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; after he graduated he served six years as a lieutenant in the United States Army.
He fought in the first Mexican–American War (1846-1848), as the colonel of a volunteer regiment.
He served as the U.S. Secretary of War, 1853 to 1857, under President Franklin Pierce, and as a Democratic U.S. senator from Mississippi.
An operator of a large cotton plantation in Mississippi with over 100 slaves, he was well known for his support of slavery in the Senate.
He argued against secession, but did agree that each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union. Davis lost his first wife, Sarah Knox Taylor, to malaria after three months of marriage, and the disease almost killed him as well.
He suffered from ill health for much of his life.
He had six children with his second younger wife, Varina Howell Davis, but only two survived him.
Jefferson F. Davis (June 3, 1807/1808– December 6, 1889) was an American soldier and politician who was the President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (1861–1865).
He took personal charge of the Confederate war plans but was unable to find a strategy to defeat the more populous and industrialized Union.
In 1813, Davis began his education at the Wilkinson Academy in the small town of Woodville, near the family cotton plantation.
Two years later, Davis entered the Catholic school of Saint Thomas at St. Rose Priory, a school operated by the Dominican Order in Washington County, Kentucky.
At the time, he was the only Protestant student at the school.
Davis returned to Mississippi, studying at Jefferson College at Washington in 1818.
Three years later in 1821, he returned to Kentucky, where he studied at Transylvania University in Lexington.
(At the time, these colleges were like academies, roughly equivalent to high schools.) His father Samuel died on July 4, 1824, when Jefferson was 16 years old. In February 1861 he was elected president of the Confederacy.
Davis faced difficulties throughout the war as he struggled to manage the Southern war effort, maintain control the Confederate economy and keep a new nation united.
Davis’ often contentious personality led to conflicts with other politicians as well as his own military officers.
He became a staunch states’ rights Democrat and champion of the unrestricted expansion of slavery into the territories.
He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1845-his only successful electoral campaign-and then was appointed to the Senate after he became a hero while serving in the army during the Mexican War.
In the Senate he opposed the Compromise of 1850, particularly the admission of California as a free state.
In 1851 he resigned from the Senate to run unsuccessfully for the Mississippi governorship.
In 1853, President Franklin Pierce appointed Davis secretary of war.