John Jones Pettus: Twentieth and Twenty-third Governor of Mississippi: January 5, 1854 to January 10, 1854; 1859-1863
Governor John Jones Pettus has the distinction of serving the shortest
term of governor in the state’s history. He served for five days
between the resignation of Henry Foote on January 5 and the inauguration
of his successor, John J. McRae, on January 10, 1854. Governor Pettus
is best known, however, as the governor who took Mississippi out of the
Union in 1861.
Pettus moved to Kemper County as a small boy from his native state of
Tennessee, where he was born in Wilson County on October 9, 1813. In 1846-1848,
Pettus represented Kemper County in the Mississippi House of Representatives.
He was then elected to the state senate in 1848 and was named president
of the senate in 1854.
As the country’s sectional crisis worsened during the 1850s, Pettus
became identified as a “fire-eater,” a term that described
the South’s strong supporters of secession. His election by a large
majority in 1859 was an indication that secession was becoming more popular
with the people of Mississippi. In his inaugural address, Governor Pettus
predicted that the growing sectional animosity would eventually lead to
the abolition of slavery and the loss of the South’s enormous financial
investment in the slave labor system. He believed that secession and the
establishment of a southern confederacy would be the South’s only
way of maintaining slavery and he called on other slave states to prepare
for the possibility of secession.
After the election of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the state of
South Carolina seceded from the Union and invited other southern states
to join her in the formation of a southern nation. Mississippi, under
the leadership of Governor Pettus, followed South Carolina out of the
Union on January 9, 1861, and along with five other slave states established
the Confederate States of America on February 4, 1861, at Montgomery,
During the summer of 1861, hundreds of militia units were formed throughout
the state and by the fall of the year, after the first Battle of Bull
Run, many of those local units were enrolled in the army of the Confederacy.
Governor Pettus was also re-elected in the fall of 1861 with only token
In 1862, during the early stages of the Vicksburg campaign, Governor Pettus
was forced to move the state capital to Enterprise, and then back to Jackson.
When his second term expired in October 1863, Governor Pettus joined the
Confederate Army. After General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox,
Governor Pettus refused to surrender and settled in Arkansas where he
continued to resist federal military authorities until his death on January
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of
Posted December 2003
Dubay, Robert W. John Jones Pettus: Mississippi Fire-eater (Jackson,
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 66.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form