Saturday, November 6, 2010

November 6, 1861 – Howell Cobb Elected CSA President

A misspoken word about the wisdom of secession in a speech by former US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis turned sentiment against him and caused former US Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb to be elected to the presidency of the newly formed Confederate States of America. The past years had been full of strife for the nation: economic turmoil, cultural diversion, and, especially, the growing political sentiment among Northern states that slavery was an all-out evil. Fearing suppression by the election of the Republican Abraham Lincoln, the South moved to secede.

Native Georgian Howell Cobb had been a leader throughout his life. After a career as a lawyer, he moved onto politics, serving as Congressman from Georgia from 1843 to 1851, as well as a stint as Speaker of the House from ’49 to ’51. He moved into the executive branch, serving as governor of Georgia, before returning to Washington as Secretary of the Treasury. Cobb had long been a supporter of the right of slavery, campaigning for its allowance into any territory before becoming a strong adherent to the Compromise of 1850. In 1860, it became obvious that states’ rights would lose against federal tyranny, and so Cobb gave up Unionism and campaigned for secession.

Davis, meanwhile, had been a soldier working his way through the ranks until being appointed as senator from Mississippi. A capable administrator, he moved forward as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. When the notion of secession arose, Davis fought against it, though he finally gave way when the majority ruled. Cobb, one of the greatest leaders of the movement, had served as president of the provisional Confederacy government, and Davis was given the official head of state soon after. With reiterated words from his warnings about secession, however, public opinion turned against Davis, and Cobb would be inaugurated February 22, 1862.

Cobb reportedly admired Davis’s skills and affirmed his loyalty to the South, making him general-in-chief of the Southern armies. While Davis worked to defend the homeland, Cobb rallied his people and relied on his talents in diplomacy. Campaigns of “Let Us Go” circulated throughout the South and into the North (where they were attempted to be contained). Davis and Lee argued to be allowed to march north to scare the Yankees into peace, but Cobb refused, saying it would undermine their position as innocents. Instead, he reinforced defenses particularly in the west, giving way to the bloody victory at Vicksburg in 1863, taking some 50,000 Union troops captive and securing the Mississippi.

Cobb also worked to win international recognition, which he was able to gain from Napoleon III in France, exchanging support for Maximilian I in Mexico. In 1864, Lincoln would lose the election to General George B. McClellan, and the Democrat’s peace platform would put into works the Treaty of Washington in 1866 that would end the War of Secession. While provisions would invite the Confederacy to rejoin the Union, or vice-versa, the two became politically disunited. Having successfully ended the war within his six-year term, Cobb retired, endorsing Lee in the election of 1867.

The two Americas would go separate ways with the North focusing on industrial growth while the South hoped for imperialism. Over the latter part of the nineteenth century, slavery would give way to fiscal sense of large-scale machine farming in an industrial economy. When France collapsed in 1870, the CSA pushed southward for new colonial influence, but the resulting wars would prove to dishearten and weaken the South. In the push for New Nationalism in the 1890s, fueled by newspapermen such as Hearst, a revolution rose up to rejoin the USA. In the Organic Act of 1899, the Confederacy (with the exception of the Republic of Texas) voted to return to citizenship under the US Constitution and officially ending slavery.

In reality, Jefferson Davis won the election. Cobb went on to become a brigadier general in Northern Virginia, working his diplomacy to exchange prisoners. He later served as major general in Georgia and Florida, where he fought a desperate defense against Sherman until surrendering at Macon on April 16, 1865. After the war, Cobb worked until his death in 1868 to oppose Reconstruction.


  1. What was Davis's "misspoken word about the wisdom of secession"?

    1. "My friends, my brethren, my countrymen...I feel an ardent desire for the success of States' Rights Democracy...alone I rely for the preservation of the Constitution, to perpetuate the Union and to fulfill the purpose which it was ordained to establish and secure." as per the National Park Service:


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