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Lesson Plan for History: The Inauguration Speech of President Jefferson Davis

written by: Curt Smothers • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

On February 18, 1861, President Jefferson Davis, the first (and only) President of the Confederacy, spoke before the provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Alabama. This lesson plan focuses on a defense of Southern Secession from the perspective of a prominent Confederate.

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    Jefferson Davis 

    In his inauguration speech before the provisional Confederate Congress (and before the capital of the Southern Confederacy was moved to Richmond, VA), Jefferson Davis seem to emulate another southerner, George Washington, in his humble acceptance of his new role as president of a new country. A close reading of the President Jefferson Davis' speech shows how Davis felt that secession was a renewal and as well as a vindication of the principles stated in the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

    Behind Southern secession were “true believers" like Jefferson Davis. He believed that the South must go its separate way and that it could be done peacefully. The Union, President Jefferson Davis believed, was like a "marriage" between the States, who entered into the agreement voluntarily and should be allowed to end that agreement in an amicable “divorce."

    This lesson plan will encourage students to read and critically evaluate a primary source that states the Southern reasons for secession, as articulated by the Confederacy’s most prominent citizen.

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    Learning Objectives

    After completing this lesson plan, students should be able to understand Davis' views that Southern secession; was:

    ♦ no different than the original movement for American Independence from the British;

    ♦ a “withdrawal from the voluntary compact" between the states in the original union;

    ♦ "a new “alliance" between sovereign states.

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    Class Activities

    Print the annotated excerpt of Jefferson Davis’ Inaugural Speech for use either as:

    An in-class handout and discussion,


    A homework reading and short-answer writing assignment.

    Click on the images below to see a preview of the speech excerpt:

    Davis Speech, Page 1 

    Davis Speech - Page 2 

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    Download the speech Excerpt and Answer Key

    Download a Word file of the speech, followed by an answer key to the questions at "Excerpts from President Jefferson Davis's Inaugural Speech" posted on the public media gallery.

US Civil War Lesson Plans

Use these lesson plans to enrich your students' understanding of America's greatest conflict. Students will research, collaborate and critically examine the political, cultural, social and moral issues underlying the US Civil War.
  1. US Civil War Lesson Plan: Should Robert E. Lee Have Been Tried for Sedition?
  2. History Lesson Plan: Civil War Prison Camps
  3. Lesson Plan for History: The Inauguration Speech of President Jefferson Davis
  4. Civil War Lesson Plan: Confederate VP Alexander Stephens' "Cornerstone Speech"