Question of the Week: 5/14-5/20/18

In your opinion, would John C. Breckinridge have been a better choice for Confederate president than Jefferson Davis? Why or why not?

5 Responses to Question of the Week: 5/14-5/20/18

  1. This is an intriguing question. That Breckinridge was not considered is a function of timing. When the CS government first meets in Montgomery, Breckinridge is still Vice President of the USA. Then Kentucky’s neutrality and late entry into the war (Sep/Oct 1861) essentially shuts him out of any political post in the new government and sends him to the field.

    You could argue Breckinridge should have been appointed Secretary of War (or another cabinet post) much earlier. But among the candidates available in February 1861, and without the benefit of hindsight, Davis was the choice. Had there been a second Confederate presidential election, Breckinridge may have been a strong candidate.

    1. Definitely. Historically, speaking it was impossible for Breckenridge to be selected because he stayed in Washington much longer, waiting to see what Kentucky would do.

      Still, I wonder if Breckinridge would have had better charisma than Davis if it had been possible for him to be president. Ah, the “what-ifs” of history…

  2. As complex and accomplished an individual John Breckinridge was, I believe that he would have lacked the administrative and physical stamina to be a first class president. There were too many instances both before and during the Civil War where he would suddenly descend into an apathetic funk. This was a trait noted of him by his relatives from his youngest years. For all Davis’ shortcomings, executive indecision was rarely one of them. Breckinridge remains one of my heroes, and not just because he and I share the same alma mater! His work at the end of the War with Johnston against the mule headedness of an exhausted Davis, and his moderateness after the War earned him the praise of many Kentuckians on both sides of the conflict.

  3. I do not know if Breckinridge could have done better, but it is difficult to imagine doing worse. For instance, Davis & Stephens never forgot to focus on slavery as a cornerstone of the Confederacy. This was one of the reasons Europe found it a problem to support the new nation. Economically, Davis’s decision to embargo southern cotton (2/3rds of the Confederate export economy) was not encouraging to Europe either. Judah Benjamin urged Davis to offer generous trade deals to countries in Europe, softening the Confederate stance a lot and encouraging France as well as England to engage in trade. Davis refused to let this happen.

    I have always been surprised that the South decided to elect a president in the first place. I think Breckinridge would have been a much better leader, had he been available.

  4. So many things ‘killed’ the Confederacy. chief among them was the lack of a practical strategy to wage the war and a lack of cooperation among the Confederate states. How many troops were held back by southern governors to defend their states when the campaigns and battles that could have determined the outcome were not fulfilled for lack of troops and other means to fight them? Would Breckinridge have alleviated that? At least the North had a comprehensive strategy (the Anaconda Plan), and finally, with Grant being appointed Lt. General, had a unified vision and strategy to make all the far flung, various campaigns work towards a single end. The South’s best hope had always been to secure foreign recognition and assistance. Could, or would, Breckinridge have accomplished that? Obviously we can never know. But unless he had some personal friends in the European high courts and councils, it is doubtful he could have pulled that off. INHO of course. That’s all I can offer here…

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