On this day 150 years ago, the Montgomery Convention selected Jefferson Davis to serve as the President of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America. In less than a week, the new Southern nation had acquired a name, a constitution, and a leader. A telegram and a special messenger were dispatched, summoning Davis to Montgomery.
Davis was a complicated man with many strengths and many flaws. In many respects he was the best the South had to offer--certainly he represented the ideal of the planter aristocracy that had engineered the secession crisis in order to protect slavery from the rising tide of abolitionism in the North. On the downside, Davis was combative and thought of himself as a soldier as much as a statesman. Davis was a hammer, and to him, every problem tended to look like a nail.MONTGOMERY, ALA., February 9, 1861.
Hon. JEFFERSON DAVIS,
We are directed to inform you that you were this day unanimously elected President of the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America, and to request you to come to Montgomery immediately. We send also a special messenger. Do not wait for him.
R. TOOMBS.R. BARNWELL RHETTJACKSON MORTON.
The convention's choice for vice president was more complicated. Three Georgians were considered for the position, indeed, they had been considered for the presidency but the inability of the Georgia delegation to settle on just one of them made Davis' selection inevitable. Robert Toombs had departed from the U.S. Senate with the following words on his lips: “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship; we want no negro race to degrade our own; and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.” Toombs wrecked his chances for the vice presidency by turning up drunk every night at the convention. Toombs then threw his support behind Alexander Stephens, crowding Howell Cobb out of the vice presidency.Like Davis, a message was dispatched summoning Stephens:
Stephens was an odd choice. He had been sickly all his life and his weight frequently dipped below one hundred pounds, but his frail body housed a powerful intellect. Stephens was highly regarded in the South, and he represented, almost personified, the Southern ideological case for secession. Things that Davis chose to conceal with genteel innuendo, Stephens willingly addressed in plain language.MONTGOMERY, ALA., February 9, 1861.
Hon. ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS:
SIR: The Congress for the Provisional Government for the Confederate States of America have this day unanimously elected you to the office of Vice-President of the Confederate States, and we have been appointed to communicate the fact, and to respectfully invite your acceptance. In performing this pleasing duty, allow us to express the hope that you will accept, and we beg to suggest that it would be most agreeable to the body we represent, as you are a member of the Congress, that you should signify to it in person your consent to serve the country in the high position to which you have been called.
We have the honor to be, very respectfully, yours,
JOHN PERKINS, JR.W.P. HARRIS.JNO. GILL SHORTER.
While Davis and Stephens were each exceptional in their own way, it remained to be seen how they would work together. Although Davis had his own health issues, he nevertheless considered himself a soldier and a planter: someone who lived a vigorous outdoor life. Stephens was an intellectual with strongly held views on what was right and what was wrong, and very little capacity for compromise of those beliefs under difficult circumstances. For better or worse, Jefferson Davis was now president of the Confederacy and he would have to rely on Stephens for the support of his policies.