Davis Builds His Cabinet; Whitman Sees Lincoln

Tuesday, February 19, 1861

Jefferson Davis was quickly getting to work in the newly established Capitol of the Confederate States of America. The day after his inauguration, he set about to form a cabinet. His first choices was Robert Barnwell Rhett, the fire-eater from South Carolina, for Secretary of State.

Since there were six states and six cabinet positions (the CSA was going to do without the Secretary of the Interior), each state would get a position.

The South Carolina delegation was insistent upon German-born Christopher Memminger as the Secretary of the Treasury. Memminger had penned South Carolina’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” Davis would have to acquiesce, losing Rhett for the Secretary of State position.

Robert Toombs of Georgia, however, could not be overlooked. He had wished to be chosen as President instead of Davis, but would agree to heading up matters of State. Davis had originally wished for Toombs to be the Secretary of the Treasury, but with South Carolina insisting upon Memminger, he had to change his mind. Others had suggested that Toombs would be a good fit in the position, though Davis did not seem so sure.

Davis wished for an old friend of his, Clement Clay, former Governor of Alabama, to occupy the post of War Secretary. Clay, however, declined. In light of that, Alabama suggested the relatively unknown LeRoy Pope Walker. Close friends of Davis suggested that he might make a fine Secretary of War. The famous quote that all the blood that would be spilled in the coming Civil War could be wiped up with a pocket handkerchief was spoken by LeRoy Pope Walker.

His first three proposed members of his cabinet, then, were Christopher Memminger, Robert Toombs and LeRoy Pope Walker. The other three positions would have to be decided upon shortly.1


The Lincolns arrived in New York City at 3pm. The procession to the Astor House, where he would say, was lined by crowds on either side and escorted by a large number of police. Banners and flags adorned windows and were hung across the street.

Poet, Walt Whitman witnessed Lincoln as he entered his hotel.

The figure, the look, the gait, are distinctly impress’d upon me yet; the unusual and uncouth height, the dress of complete black, the stovepipe hat push’d back on the head, the dark-brown complexion, the seam’d and wrinkled yet canny-looking face, the black, bushy head of hair, the disproportionately long neck, and the hands held behind as he stood observing the people. All was comparative and ominous silence.

Lincoln attended a banquet and gave a short speech. The next day, he would explore the city.2

  1. The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 1 by Jefferson Davis as well as History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, Volume 1 by Thomas McAdory Owen, which was great for appointment dates. []
  2. Lincoln President-Elect by Harold Holzer. []
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3 thoughts on “Davis Builds His Cabinet; Whitman Sees Lincoln

  1. Although you refer to it as famous I have never heard the quote: “…all the blood that would be spilled in the coming Civil War could be wiped up with a pocket handkerchief…” – spoken by LeRoy Pope Walker.

    Interesting the things you miss. And I consider myself a fan of history. Particularly American history. Clearly the man was wrong in a monumental fashion.

    1. I think it was quoted by Shelby Foote in Ken Burns Civil War documentary. It’s a strange quote, though not as strange as a similar one by James Chesnut, who offered to drink all of the blood that would be spilled. He didn’t follow through. 🙂

      1. That is why I continue to read up on different periods of history. I love to pick out little bits like that. Clearly I have missed some gems. I am enjoying your blog and finding it a wonderful place to collect some of those gems I have overlooked! Thanks!

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