5 February 1997
Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis
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 55-57).
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 stress.
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 that they would hail his assassin as a national hero. He was aroused by the prospect of votes for blacks, and he was determined to carry out his assassination scheme. Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. on April 14, 1865. The president died the next day (Sandburg 522).
Davis was a suspect in the murder of Lincoln. The Northerners, not knowing of any details of the assassination, made him a suspect. Davis was captured and became very unpopular in the Confederacy; he was called a despot. But his cruel treatment as a prisoner by the U.S. Government made him a martyr after a time and restored him to immerse popularity in the South (Eaton 490).
These men gave many positive historical contributions. Lincoln was elected with the bipartisan support and was reelected as a Whig to three successive terms, Lincoln supported a system of improved transportation for the state and creation of a state bank. Whig Congressman Lincoln served on the post Roads Committee and the War Department Expenditures Committee. Lincoln had intense opposition to the extension of slavery into the territories which prompted him to abandon the Whig party and join the new Republican Party in 1856. Lincoln issue toward slavery grew stronger. Lincoln once quoted "There is no reason in the world why the Negro is not entitled to all the natural rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence- the right to live, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Lincoln was elected as president and continued there to contribute to the U.S. Soon the President would have his hands full with the Civil War. Eleven states seceded from the Union in 1861 to form the Confederate States of America. In September 1862 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln is praised for his excellence in leading the troops to fight for the independence of slaves. The Civil War marked the end of slavery forever. Lincoln ranked first of 31 presidents: best of the 5 "great" presidents, he ranked above George Washington(DeGregorio 232-240).
No man in American history had to face heavier odds and greater discouragement's than Jefferson Davis. He had been called the man who symbolized the solemn convictions and tragic fortunes of millions of men. The people of the South didn't agree with everything Davis believed, which made him unpopular, but he won their respect and affection after the war through his suffering in prison and through his lifelong defense of the Southern cause (Canfield 129-131). In my opinion both Lincoln and Davis had an extreme impact on American history. Lincoln had the largest problem in ending slavery. He, in my opinion, had the greatest impact on America. In that harsh period of time, being in favor for the black equality race was dangerous yet courageous. Lincoln had have been one of the stronger presidents with all the difficulties he ran into. The decisions were very critical and were thought out with extreme care. By Lincoln serving as president, we prospered in many ways. His actions brought about great challenges that he, and the following fathers of our country would go through. The combining of both races and more freedoms would stir troubles for many years to come. Although his actions stopped slavery, it didn't stop the harsh treatment of the black race which carried out for decades. Lincoln's Presidency was dominated by the war. The country was going through major changes socially and economically. Though Davis led the South through dramatic changes, no change has ever had more importance than the abolishment of slavery. Both the North and the South gained knowledge from this horrid experience of war. Lincoln's achievements-saving the Union and freeing the slaves-and his martyrdom just at the war's end assured his continuing fame. Both men have made their historical marks due to their great deeds, and ways they both sacrificed their devotion to shape our country. I agree with most historians that Lincoln had qualities that made him a great American statesman. His keen intellect, humor and boldness, and compassion all contributed to his presidency in unifying the nation and extending freedom.