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Jeff Davis (1862-1913) was, in turn, Arkansas Attorney General, Governor, and United States Senator during his political career from 1898 to 1913. Born in Rocky Comfort, Arkansas, to Lewis and Elizabeth Davis, Jeff moved with his parents to Dover, Arkansas, in 1868 after Lewis had given up his former profession of preaching to engage in the practice of law. Lewis Davis was a respected member of the bar at Dover and enjoyed similar prestige when he and his family made their final move a few miles south to Russellville in 1873. Jeff graduated from the public schools at Russellville and in 1878 attended classes at the Arkansas Industrial University at Fayetteville. After two years at AIU, Jeff next attended Vanderbilt University in Memphis, Tennessee. He returned to Arkansas without a degree from this institution in 1881 and was admitted to the bar despite the handicap, but then returned to the Volunteer State the following year to complete his formal education at Cumberland University. He began the practice of law in partnership with his father at Russellville in 1882. In that same year Davis also married Ina McKenzie Thatch of Russellville. Ina was the stepdaughter of Frank Thatch, former County Judge of Pope County, and Janie McKenzie Thatch. Her natural father, Duncan G.L. McKenzie, had been a preacher before his death during the Civil War and, as a result, Ina shared Jeff's heritage of both the clerical and legal professions. Ina and Jeff had twelve children together in the course of their marriage, but only eight lived beyond infancy.
After establishing a reputation as a brilliant courtroom orator, Jeff Davis began his political career in 1888 when he ran for prosecuting attorney for the Russellville judicial district. He left the office in 1894, unsuccessfully ran for Congressman of the Fourth Congressional District of Arkansas, and continued in private law practice until 1898. That year he sought and won election as Arkansas Attorney General by a combination of sheer luck and skillful campaigning as a backwoods lawyer championing the cause of the common man. His vigorous enforcement of an antitrust law during his tenure as Attorney General won Davis a broad political support which led to a successful campaign for the governor's office in 1900. He served three terms as Governor, being the first man in the history of Arkansas to do so. Davis next set his sights on a seat in the United States Senate, but ironically lost control of his political machine when he won the office because his chosen successor as Governor, George Little, became physically incapable of serving. Davis's career in the Senate was uneventful, and he spent a great deal of his time back in Arkansas practicing as a private attorney with his partner, Frank Pace. Shortly after winning a second term as U.S. Senator, Jeff Davis died of heart failure on January 3, 1913. His sons, Wallace and Jeff Davis, also became lawyers. Wallace became Arkansas Attorney General in 1915 after Governor George Hays appointed him to fill a vacancy. Jeff Davis attended Harvard Law School and entered private practice in El Dorado, Arkansas, where he worked for the oil business. His son, Jeff Davis, Jr., carried on the family tradition of law and politics by first serving as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas in 1963, and made an unsuccessful bid for prosecuting attorney for Pulaski and Perry Counties in 1966.
Correspondence, literary productions, printed materials, legal and financial documents, scrapbooks, and photographs created, collected, or received by Jeff Davis and his descendants were donated to Special Collections by Jeff Davis, Jr., Little Rock, Arkansas, on December 22, 1987.
The Jeff Davis papers contain documents pertaining to the personal and professional life of all four generations of the family, from Lewis Davis and Frank Thatch in the nineteenth century, to Jeff Davis, Jr. in the 1980s.
Processed by Kim Allen Scott, December 1988. Special Collections Division, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.
printed materials, literary productions, legal and financial documents pertaining
to the Davis-McKenzie-Thatch families. Materials in this series have been arranged
in five subseries by document type.
Subseries 1. Correspondence, 1859-1962, n.d.
Personal and family correspondence pertaining to Jeff Davis, his wife Ina, his children, Bessie, Lynah, Wallace, Janie, Jeff, Ina (Polly), Lewis, Lucille, and their friends and relatives. The correspondence is entirely family and personal letters and have been arranged chronologically. Letters dated from 1859-1872 pertain to Janie Norman McKenzie Thatch, the mother of Ina McKenzie Davis. Correspondents in these early letters include Duncan G.L. McKenzie, Frank Thatch, and William F. Norment. Typewritten transcriptions of the first 12 letters have been placed in folder 2. Letters dated from 1872-1890 are almost entirely from Janie Norment McKenzie Thatch to her daughter, Ina, and her son-in-law, Jeff Davis. The majority of the letters dated from 1901-1909 are to and from Wallace and Lynah Davis while both were attending school at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, and while Wallace attended law school in Tennessee. Undated correspondence has been collected in the last six folders and arranged by correspondent.
1. 1859-1862. (12 items)
2. Transcripts. (12 items)
3. 1872-1891. (12 items)
4. 1899-1902. (5 items)
5. March-September, 1904. (19 items)
6. October 4-15, 1904. (10 items)
7. October 16-25, 1904. (12 items)
8. November, 1904. (13 items)
9. December, 1904. (11 items)
10. January, 1905. (16 items)
11. February, 1905. (19 items)
12. March, 1905. (18 items)
13. April, 1905. (21 items)
14. May, 1905. (16 items)
15. June-August, 1905. (13 items)
General correspondence to and from Jeff Davis or his business and political associates. Very little of the correspondence dates from 1877-1906, during which time Davis worked as a private attorney, Attorney General, and Governor. As a result, this correspondence has been arranged chronologically in the first thre folders. Beginning with Davis's tenure as United States Senator in 1907, the correspondence becomes more voluminous and has been arranged first chronologically by year and then alphabetically; by author in the case of incoming mail, and by the addressee in the case of mail issued from Davis's office. Most of the correspondence is routine issue mail, requests for government publications, and applications for military academy appointments. Significant political correspondence from Davis's law partner, Frank Pace, and his senatorial assistant, Harold Stewart, have been separated from the alpha/chronological files and placed separately in files found in Box 9. Other political correspondents with letters in justifiable numbers have been similarly arranged in box 9, along with those pertaining to Davis's sons, Jeff Davis and Wallace Davis, and his grandson, Jeff Davis, Jr. Correspondence with no date or signature has been placed in the final folder. Four of Harold Stewart's stenographic notebooks have been placed with the oversize materials in Box 14.