The inauguration of Jefferson Davis

It was February 22nd, George Washington’s birthday, and the day Jefferson Davis was to be inaugurated as president of the Confederate States of America.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve had one heck of a pleasant winter here in Richmond this year. If that’s no longer the case on the date this is published, I suggest blaming Weather Dan. The reason I bring up the weather is that 150 years ago in 1862 it was downright dreadful. Rain. Non-stop rain. While this would be a minor inconvenience in our era of paved roadways, it turned 1862 Richmond into a muddy mess.

Despite all of this, Jefferson Davis had no intention of changing his plans due to the weather. It was February 22nd, George Washington’s birthday, and the day Jefferson Davis was to be inaugurated as president of the Confederate States of America. In this instance, symbolism outweighed practicality. Giving his inaugural address directly in front of the statue of George Washington on the capitol grounds, Davis hoped to be seen in the same light as our country’s first great leader: a “rebel” fighting for independence from tyranny.

Before I elaborate any further on symbolism or the weather, I owe a brief explanation to those who thought Jefferson Davis had already been president for a while now. Davis was inaugurated as a provisional president and chosen by the Confederate Congress to lead until a formal election could be held. When that election took place in November 1861, Davis ran unopposed and was elected to a six-year term.

Now, back to the weather:

Great was the disappointment of the multitude congregated in this city, as they, severally, arose Saturday morning, and discovered that the sky was o’ercast by dark, leaden clouds, from which the rain was dripping copiously. Richmond Whig, 2/24/1862

But, of course, that didn’t stop the citizens of Richmond:

As early as 10 o’clock, A.M., people began to assemble at the Capitol and in the Square. Undaunted by the “dreadful weather,” or innumerable mud puddles and trickling streamlets “under foot,” crowds of ladies repaired to the Capitol to gratify their natural curiosity. The stairways leading to the galleries of the Hall of the House of Delegates were soon occupied by the ladies, who patiently maintained their position until the gallery doors were opened. The galleries were speedily filled, but hundreds of other ladies presented themselves, only to be turned away with the announcement that there was “not an inch of room.”

Several thousand persons were assembled in the Square, protected from the rain by umbrellas until the commencement of the ceremonies, when the order was given to “lower umbrellas.” Those nearest the Monument promptly heeded the request, and for nearly three-quarters of an hour braved the watery element with patriotic devotion.

Davis spoke for about forty-five minutes in a speech that invoked the spirit of Washington, rebuked the Northern government, and praised the sacrifice of the soldiers fighting for their cause. At the close of the speech, the crowd responded with great enthusiasm and a military band struck up “Dixie,” which drew even more cheers.

Interestingly, one of Davis’ harshest criticisms lobbed at the Northern government in his speech was their disregard for the civil liberties of their citizens. This was a reference to Lincoln’s decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, giving the U.S. government the ability to arrest suspected Southern sympathizers and secessionists without due process.

Just a few weeks later, Davis would take similar measures to the ones he railed against in his speech.

  • error

    Report an error

Phil Williams

In addition to being an amateur Civil War enthusiast, Phil is a musician, beard owner, dance party enthusiast, technology geek, and spends whatever time is left over working in the advertising industry.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Mark Douglas on said:

    I used to believe the whole 9 yards about an honorable South, with brave leaders who were against slavery, and just “wanted to be left alone”. Supposedly, they were going to end slavery anyway

    But then I discovered Southern books, Southern newspapers, and Southern documents from that time. Not what some historian or spin doctor said. But what Davis said THEN, for example, in his Macon speech in 64. And what Lee wrote in his own account books.

    Why wasn’t I taught this stuff in school? The Southern leaders giving Ultimatums to the NOrth to spread slavery — or face war? It’s in headlines in SOUTHERN papers bragging about it, at the time! Jefferson Davis himself saying over and over that the SPREAD of slavery was the “intolerable grievance”.

    Lee saying God intended slavery to be painful for blacks to learn their place? Vice President Stephens saying the Confederacy was based on God’s will that white men enslave black men throughout the world — that the Confederacy was FOUNDED on the principle of enslaving the inferior blacks because God was punishing them?

    Southern governors saying officially that Lincoln’s desire to stop the spread of slavery — just the spread — was the reason for the war?

    I found Southern newspapers so outlandish, you wonder if people made them up to make the Confederacy look like Nazi nut jobs, or Islamic lunatics.

    Then I found out from 1820 on, the South outlawed free speech about slavery — essentially became Taliban like, telling religions what they could preach. Even preachers could be — and were — arrested for QUESTIONING slavery. Very harsh laws against free speech were common in the South.

    Why isn’t that taught? It’s in SOuthern newspapers — its in Southern books. It’s in Southern speeches.

    And much more.

    Your whole Southern Honor stuff is a myth. Your leaders were just men, and vile cruel men at that.

  2. schlep on said:

    Heritage of foolishness.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).

Or report an error instead