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Jefferson Davis lesson plan


Usually remembered as the only president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, Jefferson Davis’s pre-Civil War service to his state and country are often not recognized or emphasized. Davis was a West Point graduate who became a war hero of the U.S.-Mexican War. He represented Mississippi in the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as in the U.S. Senate. Under President Franklin Pierce, Davis served his country as secretary of war. His career in public service shows a man who was dedicated and duty-bound to his state and country.

Curricular Connections

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3 and 4.

Teaching Level

Grades 7 through 12

Materials and Equipment

Mississippi History Now article, Jefferson Davis
Unlined paper for timeline
Pen or pencil
Unlined paper for poem
Internet access


The students will:

• Construct a timeline of events in Davis’s life.
• Construct a chart on Davis’s accomplishments.
• Create a poem about the life of Jefferson Davis.

Opening the Lesson

The teacher will ask the student the following questions:

Which Mississippian has many streets, schools, even a national highway, named in his honor? You will also find his likeness carved on Georgia’s Stone Mountain.

Why is Jefferson Davis well-known? (More than likely, students will remember him for his service as the first and only president of the Confederacy during the American Civil War.)

After the students give their responses, the teacher will tell them that over the next few days, they will learn about Jefferson Davis’s service to his state and country prior to the American Civil War, and his life after the war.

Developing the Lesson

Have students plot the years and significant events in the life of Jefferson Davis on a timeline, working alone or with a partner. Instruct the students to use the Mississippi History Now article to find the significant events in Davis’s life.

After students complete their timelines, ask volunteers to share the events they chose to list. Through the sharing of these events, the teacher will assess student understanding of the key events of Davis’s life. The teacher can record the events on an overhead transparency or chalkboard.

Have students use the Mississippi History Now article, and other resources, to create a chart that classifies the accomplishments of Davis’s career. A three-column chart can have headings such as “Military,” “National,” and “State,” and students can list his level of service, accomplishments and/or contributions under each heading.

Once the students complete the charts, the teacher will lead a class discussion about Jefferson Davis’s accomplishments as a public servant. During the discussion, the teacher will ask students what leadership characteristics were needed to carry out his accomplishments. The teacher can list the information on the chalkboard or an overhead transparency in order to allow students to check and add information to their charts.

In recognition of Jefferson Davis’s lifelong love of poetry that he shared with his wife, Varina, the students will work with a partner to write a poem about an aspect of Jefferson Davis’s life. Each student group can be instructed to compose the same type of poem, or each student group can be assigned a different type of poem. The following types of poems are suggested: Free verse; Acrostic; Ballad; Cinquain; and Diamante. Explanations and examples for each type of poem can be located through the Poetry Shadow website.

Allow the students to read their poems to the class. The teacher may even want to hold a poetry contest for this assignment.

Closing the Lesson

The teacher will tell the students that William L. Yancey, a leader of the Southern secession movement, welcomed Jefferson Davis to Montgomery, Alabama, for his inauguration as the provisional president of the Confederate States of America and said, “The man and the hour have met.” After sharing this quote, the teacher will ask the students the following questions:

What did Yancey mean by his statement, “The man and the hour have met?”

Based on your study of Jefferson Davis, why was he the man for the hour?

Assessing Student Learning

• Class participation
• Timelines
• Charts
• Poems

Extending the Lesson

Plan a program that would commemorate the June 2008 bicentennial of Jefferson Davis’s birth.

Compare and contrast the lives of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln.

Plan a field trip to Beauvoir.

Read the Mississippi History Now article on Beauvoir.

Create a list of places and sites named or built in honor of Jefferson Davis.

Research the Mexican War battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista. Suggest reading the Mississippi History Now article on the U.S.-Mexican War

Create a resume for Jefferson Davis.

Research The Papers of Jefferson Davis at Rice University to complete the following three activities:

  • Research the loss and restoration of Jefferson Davis’s citizenship.
  • Analyze Jefferson Davis’s Farewell Address to the U.S. Senate.
  • Analyze Jefferson Davis’s First Inaugural Address.
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