Establishing Political Legitimacy
S hortly after the election of Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens as provisional president and vice- president of the Confederate States of America, the Florida General Assembly rejoiced over the "burial of former political differences which is so much to be desired by all true lovers of their country."1 These words reaffirmed the antiparty character of the secession movement, and for once even fire-eaters were pleased. Edmund Ruffin applauded selections made "without any previous electioneering...difficulty or opposition." The Montgomery delegates had avoided even the appearance of political jobbery. Stephens and Davis, Ruffin claimed, were men "who for intellectual ability and moral worth are superior to any President and Vice President elected together...since Madison's administration." Ruffin hoped that the Confederacy could eventually "get rid of the baleful influence of universal suffrage and popular election."2 Although this reactionary gloss was not widespread, Southerners clearly expected Davis to become both a national statesman and a revolutionary hero.
Perhaps Jefferson Davis could be the Confederate George Washington, a man of unbending integrity and unquestionable rectitude who could rise above the partisan squabbling that had weakened the old Union. Revolutions require charismatic leadership, and although Davis by instinct and personality could hardly be a Lenin, or a Ho Chi Minh, he possessed the quiet dignity if not quite the commanding presence that had made Washington a natural leader. But even though the secession conventions had wrestled with the question of political legitimacy, Davis's task remained