There is no doubt that George Washington, the “Father of His Country,” was an inspiration to many in the Southern Confederacy. Washington appeared in the center of the Confederate seal, the $50 note (first series and second series), and on some Confederate bonds. Jefferson Davis used Washington’s birthday – February 22 – when he was inaugurated as the first permanent president of the Confederate in Richmond in 1862.
While Washington, who died in 1799, and Davis, born in 1808, never met, Davis was well aware of the legacy that Washington left behind. Davis spent many years while serving in the U.S. House, as Secretary of War, and in the US Senate, living in the city named for the first president. How frequently did Davis pass by Greenough’s sculpture of George Washington as Davis passed through the Capitol Rotunda? Davis actually attended the unveiling of the Washington statue in 1856.
It is not really clear when and to what extent Davis studied the life of Washington. It is clear that it was something he did throughout his life. On June 28, 1845, Davis took to the stage in Vicksburg, Mississippi, to eulogize the recently deceased Andrew Jackson. Davis compared the character of Jackson to that of “the wisest, greatest of them all, the immortal Washington.” In a letter to Malcolm D. Hayes, August 18, 1849, Davis told Malcolm the “Fanatics and demagogues have inflamed popular passion; it has been fed by sectional pride, and we have to meet the evil which Washington deprecated…” Of course, Washington had spoken against political parties in his Farewell Address in 1796.
Debate arose in the U.S. Senate in January 1850 regarding buying a corrected copy of Washington’s Farewell Address. While Davis had supported the purchase of two other manuscript collections, he was not in favor of this purchase. In his opinion, the “value of the Farewell Address is twofold: first, for the opinions contained in it; and next, the authority from which they are derived.”
In a campaign speech in Fayette, Mississippi, July 11, 1851, Davis broached the subject of Washington and the right of secession. Davis, according to a newspaper editor, believed that the “Declaration of Independence recognized the right of secession under circumstances of oppression and injustice. [Davis] wanted to see the man who would come forward with arguments to show that if a country has a right to secede from an oppressive government, as did the United States did from Great Britain, why States had no right to secede from the federal government under similar circumstances. How could the colonies have greater power than the States?” Washington was a Federalist in line with Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. He supposedly told Edmund Randolph in 1795 that if the United States dissolved, he would join the North.  “Whilst that great and good man who always opposed State coercion, Gen. Washington,” Davis continued, “in his farewell address discountenanced the perversion of power in the sovereign acts of a State, but he left it to this degenerate race to discover that treason could be committed by a sovereignty.” Davis then explored the threat of Kentucky to secede over free navigation of the Mississippi in 1795. “Did President Washington seek to turn the sword against Kentucky[?] No, he had used the sword on the battle field. . . He knew its value-its uses and its abuses. . . Did he. . . threaten to coerce, and to force into submission? No, he called upon a friend, Col. Ellis, and proceeded at once to give Kentucky her request, by a negotiation with Spain, which secured to Kentucky, that which made peace and gave satisfaction.”
In a report to President Franklin Pierce, regarding the condition of the various militia regiments in the various states, Davis, advocating militia reform, actually quoted Washington, who believed that militia reform was “abundantly urged by its own importance.” In June of 1860 Davis learned that several Mississippians in Washington, D.C. were in the process of having a cane made from wood at Mount Vernon to present to Davis. Once the Southern states broke from the Union, there were comparisons made by many people, comparing Davis to Washington. One such comparison came from Florida’s David Yulee on February 13, 1861. Another came from Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who wrote on June 26, 1861, “We require now. . . that you should appear in the position Genl. Washington occupied during the revolution.” This opinion would continue through 1863. Henry S. Foote wrote Davis in August 1863 that Southern people considered Davis “a second Washington.” In December 1862, Sarah E. Yancey, the wife of William L. Yancey, sent Davis George Washington’s spyglass as a gift. In October 1864, as Davis was passing through Columbia, South Carolina, a group of young boys serenaded Davis with “May you live long Sir an honor to your Country and bright example to the world like Washington was.”
Davis and Alexander Stephens used the George Washington equestrian statue in Richmond as the site of their inauguration in February 1862. Since so many compared Davis to Washington, the pageantry was obvious. It would be natural for Confederate leaders to adopt George Washington. He was a son of Virginia, and almost ninety years earlier, had led a group of thirteen independent colonies towards victory over the most powerful nation in the world. Henry “Light Horse” Lee, another famous Virginian, had declared Washington “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen” at his death. Davis undoubtedly knew that story and wanted to follow in the steps of Washington.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 6:liii
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 2:272.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 4:28
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 4:60.
 Wood, Revolutionary Founders, 59.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 4:207-09.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 6:90.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 6:665
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 7:40.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 7:213.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 9:356.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 10:112.
 Jefferson Davis Papers, 11:81.
 Richmond Dispatch, February 22, 1862.