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Portrait of Jefferson Davis, McClee's Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives, and Delegates of the 35th Congress, 1859

Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, who had served as a Representative and as the U.S. Secretary of War (1853-1857), was one of five senators to withdraw from Congress on January 21, 1861. In a moving farewell speech, he said he carried “no hostile remembrance.” On February 9, Jefferson was elected provisional President of the Confederacy.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Portrait of Jefferson Davis, McClee's Gallery of Photographic Portraits of the Senators, Representatives, and Delegates of the 35th Congress, 1859

Congress, Secession, and the Confederacy

With the secession of eleven Southern states in 1860 and 1861, the House and Senate lost more than 85 members. Congress quickly acted to ensure that it could continue to fulfill its legislative responsibilities to the Union. One of the first issues members addressed was whether to recognize secession and withdrawal from Congress as legitimate under the Constitution, or simply to declare the Southern congressional seats vacant. Meanwhile, Southerners who departed drew on their experience in Congress to establish a government for the Confederacy.