If Not Jefferson Davis …. Then Who?

A good number of scholars and other folks have been critical of the performance of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederate States of America. David M. Potter went so far as to suggest that the outcome of the war would have been different had the United States and the Confederacy swapped presidents.

But talk is cheap. Who would have done a better job, and why?

13 thoughts on “If Not Jefferson Davis …. Then Who?

  1. Lyle Smith July 22, 2013 / 11:41 am

    I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other, but Donald Stoker in his Civil War strategy book argues that the Confederacy should have adopted what Robert Toombs advised and that was to not attack Fort Sumter when the Confederacy did. Stoker believes the Confederacy should have waited to attack Ft. Sumter until the Fall of ’61 cotton crop had been picked and used to buy arms from Britain. Toombs apparently just didn’t want the Confederacy to attack first.

    Toombs was almost the President of the Confederacy before Jefferson Davis was, was Davis’ first Secretary of State, and became one of Davis’ harshest critics during the war. He was a viable alternative for better or worse.

    You’ve written on this blog that it was possibly smart of Jefferson Davis to move against Ft. Sumter when he did so to get Virginia and the upper South states to join the Confederacy.

    Who is right I don’t know.

    I saw William C. Davis say that a Louisianian, I believe Charles Magill Conrad, was the next choice for President of the Confederacy if Davis declined. Magill had been a Congressman and former Secretary of War, just like Davis.

  2. neukomment July 22, 2013 / 5:17 pm

    Or was the whole experiment so fundamentally flawed that it was bound to fail no matter who was the CSA president?

  3. Joshism July 22, 2013 / 8:09 pm

    Would John C. Breckenridge have been any good at the job? As the outgoing Vice President and the Southern Democrat nominee in 1860 he seems the obvious choice. Of course, he was from Kentucky and the CSA selected a president before the upper south seceded. I’m not sure how long after that the CSA claimed Kentucky as one of their states – was it not until the 1862 invasions of Bragg & EKS? It seems impossible that the CSA could have ever picked a president who wasn’t properly a citizen.

  4. Michael Confoy July 22, 2013 / 8:35 pm

    He should have been Secretary of War only. Or president that let his Secretary of War do their job instead of driving each one to quitting.

  5. Patrick Young July 23, 2013 / 8:30 am

    There was only one man who could have tapped into the unmobilized mass of Southern men, Frederick Douglass.

    • TF Smith July 23, 2013 / 8:20 pm

      Varina Davis?

  6. Bert July 23, 2013 / 10:00 am

    Judah Benjamin; but it would have been essentially impossible for it to happen.

    In an amazing coincidence (from my perspective, anyway), I finally got around to reading “Why the North Won the Civil War” right before you posted this. And as you know, Potter makes that statement about exchanging presidents in the last chapter of that book.

    I think Potter addresses the issue of why your question is so tough to answer in the final pages of that chapter. Lack of a 2-party system in the Confederacy prevented the growth of any real alternative leadership. While the “other Chamberlain” (Neville) was the wrong leader for the UK in 1939, there was a system that replaced him with the far more effective Churchill.

  7. SF Walker July 23, 2013 / 1:55 pm

    The only other Southerner I can think of with the experience and the resume is Howell Cobb, who served as U.S. Speaker of the House, Secretary of the Treasury, Governor of Georgia, and as the provisional president of the CSA until the selection of Jefferson Davis. But, like many other Southern leaders including Davis, Cobb wanted a field command.

    • Lyle Smith July 24, 2013 / 9:31 am

      William C. Davis has said that nobody in Georgia delegation liked Howell Cobb and that cancelled him out as a choice for President of the Confederacy.

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