Three great reasons to book your field trip or visit us:
- Historical: The First White House served as the home of the only President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, during the spring of 1861.
- Educational: Children love to visit the First White House.
- Proximity: Next to the Alabama Dept of Archives & History building, across the street from the Alabama State Capitol and the Alabama State House.
Why is the First White House of the Confederacy important for visitors and students to visit?
This House Museum is a visual reminder and teaching tool of the American Civil War, which split our country into two nations for four bloody years and cost 620,000 lives. The crisis had been long in the making. The slave-holding South saw political and economic power increasingly slipping away to the ever-growing industrial North and “free-soil” farmers of the West. The immediate cause was whether slavery could expand westward with disputes about unfair tariffs and trade practices playing a role.
THE CONFEDERACY IS FORMED
The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 as President of the United States sparked the quick secession of seven Deep Southern states (later four Upper Southern states would also leave) where he was viewed as a threat to “the peculiar institution.” Their representatives met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form the Confederate States of America, and on February 4, 1861, they elected Mississippi’s distinguished U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis as Provisional President.
On February 18, Davis was inaugurated on the Alabama State Capitol portico. An inset brass star marks the event as does a nearby statue of Davis. He had a long distinguished career as a soldier, planter, congressman, senator and Secretary of War under Franklin Pearce.
On February 21, the Provisional Congress rented an Executive Mansion for Davis and his family. The House, then at the corner of Bibb and Lee Streets downtown, was built in 1835. Col. Edmund S. Harrison offered to lease the house fully furnished and staffed for $5000 a year. Thus, it became the First White House of the Confederacy. Mrs. Varina Howell Davis held “levees” (receptions) and entertained lavishly during the spring of 1861.
Tensions built in April when President Lincoln wrote President Davis that he was sending supplies to relieve the besieged Federal garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C. harbor. Davis could either let the supplies in or he could resist. He sent a telegram from the Winter Building in Montgomery to Brig. General P.G.T. Beauregard CSA to “demand evacuation of Fort Sumter or reduce it.” Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter, which returned fire, beginning the Civil War.
After Virginia, the “Mother State of the South,” joined the Confederacy on April 17, the Provisional Congress voted to move the Confederate capitol to Richmond for strategic and political reasons. President Davis left for Richmond on May 26. His family followed in June.
After The Civil War, ownership of the First White House of the Confederacy passed through several hands. In 1897, the United Daughters of the Confederacy voted to preserve it, but abandoned the project. It fell to the White House Association of Alabama, founded in 1900, to do so. It took twenty years, but finally in 1919, Governor Thomas Kilby appropriated $25,000 to buy and move the house next to the Capitol.
On Jefferson Davis’ birthday, June 3, 1921, in an elaborate ceremony, the White House Association gave the fully restored House Museum to the people of the State of Alabama.
Today, the State of Alabama maintains the house and grounds while the White House Association takes care of the furnishings and relics that Mrs. Davis gave to the Association. Restored to its former glory of 1861, the Italianate townhouse is open to the public. It has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
CAMERON FREEMAN NAPIER
(Mrs. John H. Napier III)
White House Association