Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis

Sunny Herren
American History
5 February 1997

In this report I compare two great historical figures: Abraham Lincoln,
the 16th president, steered the Union to victory in the American Civil War and
abolished slavery, and the first and only president of the Confederate States of
America, Jefferson Davis. Abraham Lincoln was the President of the Union, and
Jefferson Davis struggled to lead the Confederacy to independence in the U.S.
Civil War. Lincoln was treasured by the African Americans and was considered an
earthly incarnation of the Savior of mankind (DeGregorio 20-25). On the other
hand, Davis was both admired and hated. Lincoln had a different view of how the
U.S. should be in abolishing slavery. Davis was a politician, president of the
Confederate States of America, and also a successful planter. He had beliefs
for the South to continue in the old ways with slavery and plantations. Both
Lincoln and Davis had strong feelings for the protection of their land (Arnold
Both Abraham and Jefferson Davis shared several differences and
similarities. Lincoln was known to have an easy going and joking type attitude.
In contrast, Davis had a temper such that when challenged, he simply could not
back down (DeGregorio 89). Davis had been a fire-eater before Abraham Lincoln's
election, but the prospect of Civil War made him gloomy and depressed. Fifty-
three years old in 1861, he suffered from a variety of ailments such as fever,
neuralgia, and inflamed eye, poor digestion, insomnia, and stress. Lincoln also
suffered from illnesses during the war. He had severe cases of headaches and
Both presidents had a lot of pressure of them due to the fact of
defending their region. Lincoln had difficulties growing up because of the
deaths early in his childhood, poverty, and little education. Davis; however,
studied at a Roman Catholic school in Kentucky and at Transylvania University,
and entered West Point in 1824. Davis seemed to have had an outreaching
environment to his success. The major difference, personality wise, was Davis's
weakness in his inability to get along with other people where Lincoln was a
well liked and easygoing man.
Both men shared a common bond in their education towards war. Davis
served at frontier military posts and in the Black Hawk War before resigning in
1835. Lincoln gained the respect of his fellow townspeople and was elected
captain of his company in the Black Hawk War. Lincoln started his political
career running unsuccessfully for the Illinois legislature in 1832. Tow years
later he was elected to the lower house for the first of four successive terms
as a Whig. Davis moved to Mississippi where he managed a plantation and studied.
In 1845, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat. He
soon had to leave due to the Mexican War. Wanting to be made the commander of
the Southern army, he was instead elected president of the Confederacy on
February 8, 1861. In 1860 Republicans nominated Lincoln for the presidency on a
platform of slavery restriction, internal improvements, homesteads, and tariff
reform. He took oath of office on March 4, 1861. The Civil War started after
Lincoln took oath, and the battle at Fort Sumpter occurred. The upper South had
not yet seceded and when Lincoln took action to defend Ft. Sumpter, the
Confederates opened fire starting the Civil War. The South, lead by Davis,
suffered due to his poor health, which didn't make him an ideal chief executive.
Davis became increasingly unpopular as the war continued. Both President Davis
and President Lincoln still had to deal with Congress- in Davis's case with a
weak one, in Lincoln's case with a much stronger one (Eaton 160-163).
During the last year of the war, Jefferson Davis's speeches were in fact
inspiring that spring of 1865. Davis was in poor health under the strain of war,
he changed noticeably. He developed a closed sphinx like personality. The
finally of the war happened at Appomattox. Lee, Davis's army commander,
surrendered to Grant's army under Lincoln. When Jefferson Davis heard about
Lee's surrendered he wept, but refused to admit defeat. The combined Union and
Confederate casualties amounted to 33 to 40 percent of the forces involved. The
northerners had lost 359,000 dead, the Southerners, 258,000 (Canfield 85-87). At
the second inaugural, Lincoln summed up his attitude in the famous phrase "with
malice toward none, with charity for all." Lincoln publically announced his
support for black suffrage. This act sparked, the evil, John Wilkes Booth to
take action on which he had been plotting for an attack against the president.
John Wilkes Booth was a prominent Shakespearean actor with militant Confederate
sympathies. He believed that most Americans hated Lincoln so adamantly