San Francisco Community School Ellena Weldon

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Jomar Villagracia

May 8, 2011

8th Grade

San Francisco Community School

Ellena Weldon

Lincoln and Davis: The Wartime Presidents

It was a war of bloodshed, hatred, and change. It was the American Civil War. The United States was split into two, the Union, who wanted to keep the United States together, and the Confederacy, who wanted to secede from the United States. In the end, two people were chosen to lead these two opposing sides. Abraham Lincoln was chosen to be the president of the Union, and Jefferson Davis was chosen to lead the Confederacy. Both of these men needed to be strong enough to lead their nation through the war. They both faced numerous challenges as presidents of their nations. Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln faced many difficulties as wartime presidents, but in the end, only Abraham Lincoln combated them well.

If the Confederacy fails, there should be written on its tombstone: Died of a Theory.”

- Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis faced numerous political challenges during wartime. The biggest problem was the Confederacy’s theory of giving states sovereign rights. The Confederacy was a nation that wanted to give a lot more power to the states and thus would have a weak central government. The states could not decide on the powers of the central government. The war effort was weakened by the states, which could withhold military power because of “state’s rights.” The Confederate Congress ended up being a terrible mess. They argued amongst themselves constantly and could never reach important decisions regarding the Confederacy. Davis’ Vice President, Alexander Stephens, wasn’t very supportive of Davis’ leadership and publicly criticized many of his decisions, including his strategy and financial policies. The very basis of the Confederacy was an enemy to the process of war and Jefferson Davis’ efforts. Davis had to unite his people to defeat the Union invaders, but as it was a state-driven Confederacy, a strong, central government was a very hard thing to obtain. The policies of the states and the Confederacy’s stubborn need to uphold them weakened the already weak powers of Davis.

Davis also failed at being a good leader and role model in general to the public. He was pretty open and considerate to the military and politicians, but he did not really care too much about the general public. He did no great deeds for them and largely ignored them. This caused anyone who wasn’t rich to turn against him, which lost him support from the general public. Jefferson Davis faced many troubles, many of which were too hard for even a good leader to handle, but his inconsiderate personality and bad social skills made him very terrible in politics. He acted distant to most of the people who weren’t rich and never gained the support of the majority of the people he wanted to lead.

Jefferson Davis also had to face many military issues as the General of the Army. The South had no army, hardly any materials, and the North created a blockade of materials. Davis had to deal with creating new resources while fighting off the Union invaders. He also had to appoint military leaders good enough to win the war for him. Davis had to be able to manage all of his forces and make sure his generals were all doing the things he needed them to be doing. Davis definitely had his work cut out for him in regards to military preparations.

Jefferson Davis was not able to fulfill his military responsibilities and failed at his task. He was able to create new factories and trade with England, but his military leadership cost him the war. He could not manage his generals well at all. His circle of commanding officers mostly consisted of close friends, and even when they weren’t doing their jobs well, Jefferson hesitated in firing them. He also quarreled a lot with his other commanding officers and always fought over their military decisions. The Confederate Generals might have been able to defend the South until the end of the war, but Davis wanted them to follow his agenda of defending important strongholds, which overwrote most of their plans.

At times, Jefferson appointed the right leaders, but his bickering personality made their appointing a moot point. General Robert E. Lee was the only real general that Davis trusted and took advice from. Jefferson Davis’ biggest failing was in his overstressing of protecting Richmond. All of the other strongholds in the South had weakened defenses and made capturing them easy. The one time that Davis went on the offensive at Gettysburg was a failure, and sending his troops north weakened the defenses of Vicksburg, allowing Ulysses S. Grant to control the Mississippi river. Jefferson Davis was a total failure in the war effort, and his terrible strategies cost him the war.
I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.

- Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, president of the Union, had many political trials, too. He had to gain the support of all the many political groups that comprised the North. He also had to face the opposition of the Democrats or “Copperheads” as they called them. He had to deal with the opposing press and their slandering articles in the newspapers. Even his own party of Republicans was fragmented. Lincoln had to deal with the conflicting ideas of the Conservatives and Radicals of the Republican Party. The Conservatives wanted to preserve everything if they won the war, but the Radicals wanted large change in things regarding slavery and wanted to reduce former Confederates’ rights if the Union won the war.

Probably the biggest political challenge was the issue on slavery. He himself did not take measures on slavery, until the Emancipation Proclamation, which resulted in many people criticizing his leadership and inability to make a decision on slavery prior to the Proclamation. Lincoln tried his best to remain neutral on the matter, despite his personal hatred of slavery, not allowing slaves to be freed even when rescued from the clutches of Confederate homes. This resulted in a lot of heat from Republic Radicals as all of them were against slavery. Lincoln had to face many political enemies during his presidential term, and faced lots of criticism.

Lincoln, unlike Davis, was able to overcome his political troubles and successfully gained the support of the people and politicians. He was good at smooth talking with others and was good at resolving conflicts between others. His charisma allowed political enemies work together with Lincoln towards common goals like the preservation of the Union. He also made a few arrests, which sparked controversy, but helped to stem opposition and keep support for his cause. Lincoln handled the Radicals and Conservatives by keeping parts of both in his cabinet and by not completely choosing one side too much over the other, though he did lean towards the Conservatives. Lincoln, after pressure from fellow politicians and some time thinking to himself, was able to come to a decision about slavery. He implemented the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863, which freed slaves, and later proposed the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. Despite criticism, political enemies, and political disputes, Lincoln was able to use his great charisma as a leader and brilliant ideas to settle them all, allowing him to overcome political trials where Davis could not.

The military troubles that plagued Abraham Lincoln were numerous. Abraham Lincoln had to stop a seceding Confederacy and make sure that they returned to the Union. Preserving the Union was Lincoln’s goal, and he had to be able to do anything to do it. Causing their surrender was a large priority, unlike the Confederacy’s priority of defense. Lincoln had to choose the right military leaders, so the war could be stopped quickly and efficiently. Lincoln had to be able to fight offensively and have leaders ready to end the conflict quickly.

Lincoln triumphed over Jefferson Davis in military leadership, as well. At first, Abraham Lincoln had General McClellan lead his armies. This was a mistake on his part because as he put it, McClellan had “the slows,” and was far too slow in attacking the Confederacy, which prolonged the war by a few years. Later, Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General. Grant mounted the offensive just like Lincoln wanted, and ended up creating an unending offensive assault. This caused many deaths but it did weaken the Confederacy a lot over time. General Ulysses S. Grant made General Robert E. Lee surrender on April 9, 1865, effectively ending the war and allowing Lincoln and the Union to succeed over the Confederacy. Without Lincoln’s firm resolve and offensive strategy, the Union would have never won the war, proving his strength to overcome adversity.

Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis faced many military problems and political problems as presidents of their respective sides, but as you can see, Abraham Lincoln succeeded in overcoming the problems while Jefferson Davis could not. Lincoln’s charisma and coordination with his military leaders succeeded over Jefferson Davis’ uninspiring, quarrelsome, and indecisive character. Their differences in leadership ability truly made a large difference in their power to overcome adversity. People should take after Lincoln, as his charisma and smart ability allowed him to overcome his problems and succeed as a wartime president.


  1. "Abraham Lincoln." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 9 May 2011. .

  2. "Jefferson Davis." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 9 May 2011. .

  3. Stoddard, Brooke C., and Daniel P. Murphy. The Everything Civil War Book, 2nd Edition. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2009.

  4. Wikipedia contributors. "Abraham Lincoln." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 May. 2011. Web. 9 May. 2011.

  5. Wikipedia contributors. "Jefferson Davis." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 May. 2011. Web. 9 May. 2011.

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