Including the current resident of the White House, there have been 45 presidents of the United States. But what many now forget is there was actually a 46th American to have held the title “president” since the creation of that nation. He had an official inauguration. He had a vice-president. He had command of military forces and economic policies. And he was in office at the exact same time as President Abraham Lincoln.
His name? Jefferson Davis. And the reason he’s been sidelined by history is that he was the president, not of the United States, but of the Confederate States – a rival country that was formed by slave-holding states such as Mississippi and Alabama, in a move that triggered the US Civil War. And, just to add to the intrigue, his name has now been tied to an immense amount of gold that may finally be within reaching distance of modern-day treasure hunters.
The Outlaw President
The Outlaw President
Jefferson Davis was an unlikely traitor to the United States. Named after one president, Thomas Jefferson, he went on to marry the daughter of another, Zachary Taylor. He was a war hero, fighting in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, and looked set for a long, happy career as a statesman. And he did indeed serve as both a congressman and a senator, before something happened that changed his life and the course of the entire country.
He was a war hero, fighting in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, and looked set for a long, happy career as a statesman.
That something was the rebellion of Southern, slave-holding states. Arguments had long ranged over the morality of slavery, as well as the rights of states to determine their own laws and customs. These arguments finally led to the catastrophic break-up of the union, and to the creation of a new would-be nation: the Confederate States of America.
Jefferson Davis hated the idea of the break-up, but his loyalty was to the South, first and foremost, which is why he agreed to serve as the new, outlaw president. The ugly truth is that this genteel gentleman was in fact a staunch supporter of slavery. He owned numerous slaves himself, believing that slavery was good for civilization and even good for the slaves. He praised the “mild and genial climate of the Southern States” for the “care and attention” they gave to slaves. He regarded slavery as a fine way to elevate Africans “from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural labourers.”
His vice-president, Alexander Stephens, was even more blunt. He delivered a now-infamous speech which proudly declared that “the negro is not equal to the white man”, and that “slavery… is his natural and normal condition.”
The Fabled Treasure
The Fabled Treasure
While Jefferson Davis managed to gain some recognition on the world stage as an official leader – the Pope wrote to him, addressing him as “Honourable President of the Confederate States of America” – his fledgling nation was short-lived. After losing the Civil War, he was captured, briefly imprisoned by the victorious North, and lived out the rest of his days in obscurity. But what if there was more to the story of his fall than most people think?
Marty Lagina, the treasure-hunter who’ve been unravelling the Curse of Oak Island with his brother Rick, is now on the trail of an even more fabled treasure: the lost Confederate gold. It’s long been part of American folklore that untold wealth went missing in the wake of the Civil War, but no significant amount has ever been uncovered. But that might be because nobody knew where to look.
According to a deathbed confession made in the 1890s, Jefferson Davis himself was in possession of huge amounts of loot when he went on the run from Union troops after the war was lost. According to this account, when the ex-president was finally cornered, his captors – the Union troops – decided to keep the treasure for themselves. The problem was, what to do with such a conspicuous cargo of valuables?
They had to somehow smuggle it and launder it. And this is where they came unstuck, with the treasure being lost in transit across the wide, glittering expanse of Lake Michigan. Rick and Marty Lagina are now teaming up with local history buffs to find out if the story is right, and if the lost treasure of the outlaw president still lies beneath the waves. If so, it’s about far more than money. It’s about a legendary riddle finally being solved…
Watch Curse of the Civil War Gold, Wednesdays at 9pm.