President Jefferson Davis, Confederate States of America


Jefferson Davis (1808-89) was the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, the nation formed in 1861 by the secession from the Union of 11 southern states. Born on the Mississippi frontier, Davis graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point and became a slaveholding landowner on a plantation given to him by a wealthy older brother. He served in Congress and the Senate in the 1840s, fought with distinction in the Mexican War of 1846‒48, and in 1853 was appointed secretary of war by President Franklin Pierce. He returned to the Senate in 1857, where he advocated the spread of slavery to new territories. He was the unanimous choice of the seceding states to head the Confederacy. Davis worked hard at his presidential duties, but he was far less successful than his northern rival, Abraham Lincoln, either in inspiring the public or in mastering the enormous military and political challenges brought by the long Civil War. After the war, Davis was charged with treason, although not tried for it, and served two years in prison at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: January 8, 2018