Question of the Week: 9/2-9/8/19

An ECW fan sent us this thought-provoking question:

What would have changed for the Confederacy if Jefferson Davis had become an army general and John Breckinridge had become President?

7 Responses to Question of the Week: 9/2-9/8/19

  1. Interesting question, because no one was more involved in the pre-secession intrigue than John Breckinridge… except, perhaps, Jefferson Davis. And both “did time” as generals: Breckinridge in the field, and Davis from his armchair, or desk, or bed. And this last is why Jefferson Davis could not enjoy field command: his health was fragile (worse than Beauregard’s). And President Davis was jealous of his position as Leader of the Confederate States: when PGT Beauregard appeared to challenge for that position (even if it was sometime well in the future) Jefferson Davis crushed him. So, in my opinion: the only way Jefferson Davis was NOT going to be President was if they carried him out in a body bag.
    As for John Breckinridge becoming President: the exposure to military affairs “rounded him out,” making a competent, crafty (some would say “charismatic”) politician a force to be reckoned with. His elevation to Confederate Cabinet may be considered the next step in his apprenticeship to become the President (after Jefferson Davis.) Although, if Robert E. Lee was ultimately victorious…

  2. It is my understanding that situation he preferred. From a book I read about Varina Howell Davis, it seemed that the Davis’s were not liked by those from the eastern part of the Confederacy not to mention the Joseph Johnstons’

  3. Davis had his faults as President, particularly the ability to smooth over personality disputes with those he viewed as more concerned with personal advancement than with Southern independence. But he also had a core of steel in him far superior than the more mercurial Breckinridge. And I say that as an alumni of Breckinridge’s college!

  4. An interesting question that flows from the original question is what would have happened if Breckinridge became the Confederate president and the Confederates lost. Davis had served in the pre-war cabinet, but Breckinridge had been vice president of the United States immediately before and even during secession. Would a victorious United States feel obligated to execute him?

  5. Probably nothing would have ultimately changed. The Confederacy still loses. The only thing that I question is whether Breckenridge’s prior position of Veep might have brought some more opportunity for foreign recognition and support? But, regardless, the Union had too many resources on its side.

  6. If Davis was a general, presumably he would have commanded in the West and not have invaded Kentucky. That would have changed the direction of the war for sure.

    Breckinridge couldn’t have ever been the President of the Confederacy, could he? He didn’t join the Confederacy in time, I don’t think. He would have had like a month to campaign for it. He didn’t leave the Senate until October of 1861.

    However, let’s say he could and did. Jefferson Davis commanding in the West has better control of Polk and there is no threat of Confederate troops moving into Kentucky. It’s possible Breckinridge can swing more Kentuckians to the Confederate cause especially as it becomes more clear that the war is going to be a fight over slavery.

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