Comparison Between Abraham Lincoln And Jefferson Davis

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The lives and leadership styles of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis

The lives and leadership styles of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis as American President and Confederate President respectively shaped the American history in significant ways during the 1861-1865 civil war era.[1] The two were born in Kentucky, and though their adulthood lives would be manifested in remarkable differences and approach to leadership strategies, they literary enjoyed the same culture regarding economic, social, and political environments. The primary aspect of contention that created differences between the two and hence sparked the would be a civil war is the issue of white supremacy and black American slaves, as well as the social, political, and economic disparity between the two races.[2]

Consequently, the Confederacy would come to existence.

The proponents of the Confederacy were individuals who fell out with the government Union after failing to agree on the contentious yet controversial subject of slavery and racial disparity. Consequently, President Lincoln would lead the government Union while Jefferson became the president of the Confederate states. On the one hand, President Lincoln experienced hardship in his leadership because the Republicans were opposed to his local and foreign policy for the country. Moreover, the president had not served in the capacity of either senator or cabinet minister before assuming the presidency; hence he suffered extreme logistical challenges. On the other, the Confederate president Davis was intolerant, a culture he adopted from West Point as a graduate army man, and he ended up creating more enemies among his friends than foes in the opposed camps. Hence he weakened his government from within.[3] While Davis had trouble with those close to him including his deputy, one Alexander Stephens, because of his warlike tactics; President Lincoln despised the rule of law on some incidences, for example when he increased his army and resisted the Supreme Court's order to release military prisoners of war.[4]

Nevertheless, Davis was a better leader because of his oratory and communication skills, and Lincoln was similarly insightful in his political approaches despite his lack of military exposure.

This paper compares the backgrounds, political experiences, and leadership styles of President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Moreover, the paper evaluates their styles of leadership for strengths and weaknesses and explains how those styles contributed to each man's successes and failures during their respective presidencies.

The Backgrounds

Both President Lincoln and the Confederate president Davis hailed from Kentucky. However, their social backgrounds were dissimilar, and though they had diverse goals in their political career, the two enjoyed multiple commonalities in their approach to leadership. On the one hand, Davis fought in the Mexican war, and he was a graduate of West Point. Consequently, he had experience on the battlefield, and this would give him an edge in the civil war.[5] Davis was an optimist that remained stubbornly convinced of his perception despite contrary opinions from those close to him. Most of the failure Davis suffered during the civil war is because he was adamant and self-centered in his decision making.[6] Davis would become an icon in the American politics at the national arena later in the 1950s, immediately he left the army, and he enjoyed influential positions like secretary of war and a senator in the Congress. The secession politics of the south and he north came in place when Davis was already ripe for the White House as an American president, and not the leader of the Confederacy. However, the circumstances compromised his stance, and he yielded to serve as a major general for the Mississippi command during the civil war in 1961.[7]

Davis embraced an authoritarian style of leadership.

On the contrary, the Confederacy and secession politics were adopted because of the tyrannical government Union, meaning, Davis was not in tandem with the wishes of the people, hence lost intimate supporters and attracted more enemies in the public space than he needed. The authoritarian style of leadership was a weakness Davis suffered, and it cost his administration.

President Lincoln was born and raised in the same state with Davis, the Confederacy president.

Nevertheless, he did not attend a military college, as was the case with Davis. Consequently, Lincoln had little insight into warfare and the army operations, except that he excelled significantly in militia tactics during the civil war.[8] Moreover, President Lincoln had lesser warring academic exposure. Thus he lacked the sophistication regarding knowledge and philosophical perceptions Davis enjoyed. On the contrary, rather than being an authoritarian leader, Lincoln used his skills he gained in at the law school to convince his subjects and challenged his friends to find reason his arguments and he garnered their support in hundreds of thousands. The social and academic background of Lincoln, therefore, prepared him to be a charismatic leader, and his leadership style made him stronger politically and more influential than Davis.[9] President Lincoln served one term in Congress, and he was a resolute debater. In his arguments, he was famous for using the analogy of favoring and empathizing with his listeners while convincing fellow debaters to find sense in what he says. Therefore, the social, cultural, and political backgrounds of the two great leaders in the American history manifest that while Lincoln built and thrived on consensus, Jefferson Davis never did.

Political Experiences

While the Confederate president Davis seemed to have a more insightful political background than President Lincoln; the two showed tremendous and outstanding political maneuvers during the civil war. Both Davis and Lincoln realized that concentrating political power at the national level worked more effectively to achieve success over the enemy not only at home but also abroad. For instance, President Lincoln is quoted to have said, "In my present position, I must care for the whole nation" in the course of the civil war.[10] Moreover, the two appeared to make identical decisions during the war, as both embraced the idea of concentrating [power, amassing influence, and garnering support from within and beyond the American borders. On the contrary, because of the authoritarian nature of Davis, the powers conferred to him by the government made it cumbersome for his political strategy to successes. On the contrary, Lincoln was wittier and organized in his decision making, which made him to take advantage of the political environment he enjoyed at the national level.[11] In the secessionist states that the Confederate government enjoyed support, the issue of slavery and racial discrimination had created political apathy, social and economic instability; which meant the essence of the Confederacy had failed, and the political ideology of Davis was hereby rendered ineffective. While the elites and the rich frustrated the confederacy, lower class people were for the government Union led by President Lincoln. Consequently, the complex political environment compromised the political; leadership of Davis significantly, a negative pressure which manifested in his failure to balance the governors, the senators, and the people within his jurisdiction.[12] Furthermore, Davis embraced a military-like society, whereby civilian life and public space were militarized, and this attracted revolt from the people. By the end of 1965, Davis was desperate, and his failed political agenda compromised him to tell his generals, "we are reduced to choosing whether the negroes shall fight for us or against us."[13]

Eventually, it became apparent that Davis Jefferson had failed in his political ideologies, partly because of the compromised confederacy agenda and partly because of the lack of clarity of addressing the issue of classism.

On the contrary, the political experience of President Lincoln was more informed than what manifested in the Confederacy government, because the government Union had endured the Mexican war and hence the federal resources, machinery, and manpower were well-channeled to champion political goodwill and strategic success.[14] Because the battlefield was extensive and the rate of casualties was on the rise each preceding day, Lincoln was politically informed to garner support and avert resistance while gaining mileage on the battlefield not only in North America but also in the South. The political insight of Lincoln was essential in his speedy and efficient distribution of resources, deployment of army men, and delivery of essentials across the battlefronts.[15] Unlike Davis, Lincoln enjoyed a successful political environment because he created a good working relationship with his senators and governors, a move that gave him a platform to dominate politically across the nation. The political philosophy that led to the creation of America as an independent nation informed the minds of many Americans, and it is this objective that Lincoln took advantage of to advance his political ideologies.

Leadership Styles

How President Lincoln and the Confederate president Jefferson Davis related to their respective subordinates and those who supported their ideologies is what marks the biggest difference between their styles of leadership. One the one hand, President Lincoln was flexible, and he embraced change. He heeded the advice and adopted a dynamic approach to leadership. For instance, in the Eastern Theater during the civil war; Lincoln was patient to work with General George McClellan, who would later be replaced by one Ulysses S. Grant.[16] The strategic ideologies in military operations are what enabled the government Union to excel on the battlefield under Lincoln. Because President Lincoln had no military experience, he found advantage in brilliant, obedient, and insightful generals. Furthermore, his style of leadership meant that he needed action and he was a goal-oriented leader. His charismatic style of leadership challenged his generals and political supporters to fight and endure to the end of the civil war. Moreover, President Lincoln was a determined and focused leader, whose mission and vision statements were in tandem with the founding fathers' admirations; to achieve the American dream, one country with one people, where everyone has an opportunity to access providence and prosperity.

On the contrary, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, was a tyrannical leader, whose authoritarian style of leadership did not only negatively impact his army but also jeopardized his political goals.

Contrary to Lincoln, who liked competence and reliability, Davis chose friendship and trust at the expense of capability. For instance, Davis worked with inept commanders for lengthy times even after their consistent failures on the battlefield, an example being major general Braxton Bragg.[17] The leadership approach of Davis thrived on sycophancy, and in most cases, his subordinates were either disliked because of their abrasive character or inability to deliver. Consequently, the Confederate government did not secure the possibility of a better future in the hearts of those who supported the ideologies of Confederate President Davis. A self-centered personality is what made those close to Davis exit his camp and either remain neutral or join the enemy organizations. In comparison, therefore, Lincoln and Davis were two great American leaders whose approach to leadership was diverse, distinct, and opposed to each other. While both charismatic and authoritarian leadership for Lincoln and Davis could work to deliver success in ideal political environments, it is apparent that Lincoln had a strategy and Davis lacked one.

Lincoln's and Davis's Styles of Leadership for Strengths and Weaknesses

The styles of leadership adopted by the two contributed to each man's successes and failures during their respective presidencies significantly. President Lincoln was a charismatic leader who had a straightforward goal for the government Union. By President Lincoln winning, it meant the North would win, and America as a nation would win to reclaim the secessionist states in the South. Indeed, the long and short-term objectives of President Lincoln were in consistency with the hopes of many Americans, and by all means, he skillfully created a consensus to win support from both government stakeholders and the civilian in his leadership approach. On the contrary, Davis embraced authoritarianism and warlike mechanisms, which created more enemies and directly threatened the continued existence of the Confederacy. Indeed, the leadership style of Davis was a means to the end, an end which Lincoln found a platform to foster the government Union. While Davis was rigid during the civil war; Lincoln was flexible, dynamic, and willing to change. Lincoln created a state of compromise, whereby stakeholders of strategies that would not deliver were replaced with those who could guarantee success by all means. Logistically, President Lincoln had a more complex job because he needs to conquer the South and further keep in check the North and eventually compose the country as a single republic without secessionists and guerilla prevalence. However, all Davis needed was to protect and maintain his territory. As such, the leadership style of Lincoln was for national goodwill while Davis fostered a self-interest group of people who had no broader needs of the US at heart. By 1965, Davis and his administration were failing, but Lincoln could stop at nothing by his objective; to foster the government Union.


Boman, D.K. Lincoln and Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Security and Freedom. Lincoln and Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Security and Freedom, 2011.

Hague, Euan, and Edward H. Sebesta. “The Jefferson Davis Highway: Contesting the Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest.” Journal of American Studies 45, no. 2 (2011): 281–301. doi:10.1017/S0021875811000089.

Hoyas, Roman J. “Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War - By Mark E. Neely.” Historian

75, no. 1 (2013): 169–70.

Knapp, Alex. “The Undying Words Of Thomas Jefferson.”, 2013, 12.

Murphy, Andrew R. “Religion, Civil Religion, and Civil War: Faith and Foreign Affairs in the Lincoln Presidency.” Review of Faith and International Affairs 9, no. 4 (2011): 21–28. doi:10.1080/15570274.2011.630194.

[1] Euan Hague and Edward H. Sebesta, “The Jefferson Davis Highway: Contesting the Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest,” Journal of American Studies 45, no. 2 (2011): 281–301, doi:10.1017/S0021875811000089., 281-301

[2] D.K. Boman, Lincoln and Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Security and Freedom, Lincoln and Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Security and Freedom, 2011., 1-356

[3] Ibid. 128

[4] Alex Knapp, “The Undying Words Of Thomas Jefferson.,”, 2013, 12,, 1-12

[5] Boman, Lincoln and Citizens’ Rights in Civil War Missouri: Balancing Security and Freedom., 188

[6] Ibid. 231

[7] Hague and Sebesta, “The Jefferson Davis Highway: Contesting the Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest.” 289

[8] Knapp, “The Undying Words Of Thomas Jefferson.”, 3

[9] Hague and Sebesta, “The Jefferson Davis Highway: Contesting the Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest.” 298

[10] Andrew R. Murphy, “Religion, Civil Religion, and Civil War: Faith and Foreign Affairs in the Lincoln Presidency,” Review of Faith and International Affairs 9, no. 4 (2011): 21–28, doi:10.1080/15570274.2011.630194.21-28

[11] Ibid., 27

[12] Knapp, “The Undying Words Of Thomas Jefferson.” 5

[13] Ibid. 7

[14] Hague and Sebesta, “The Jefferson Davis Highway: Contesting the Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest.” 300

[15] Murphy, “Religion, Civil Religion, and Civil War: Faith and Foreign Affairs in the Lincoln Presidency.”, 24

[16] Roman J Hoyas, “Lincoln and the Triumph of the Nation: Constitutional Conflict in the American Civil War - By Mark E. Neely.,” Historian 75, no. 1 (2013): 169–70,, 169-170

[17] Ibid. 169

November 13, 2023

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