In 1861, on this day the United States Senator from Mississippi, Jefferson Davis (pictured) was arrested in Washington attempting to purchase one thousand rifles from the manufacturer Eli Whitney. Davis' position in the Senate was mostly nominal, he had been preaching secession away from Washington for much of his term of office, and there was little doubt that he intended to resign his seat and ship the rifles back to Mississipi for the widely anticipated "War of the States".
Jefferson Davis ArrestedIn fact, the two gentleman had a long-standing relationship. Just before the Mexican War the Whitney plant began to use steel for gun barrels, and Jefferson Davis, then Colonel of the Mississippi Rifles, declared that the new guns were "the best rifles which had ever been issued to any regiment in the world". Later, when Davis became Secretary of War, he issued to the regular army the same weapon.
Yet attempts to fill southern ordinances were foundering, and badly. The United States Army Ordinance Office in Washington had wisely refused to sell five thousand guns from its Baton Rouge arsenal to the State of Mississipi. And Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb, and Secretary of War John B. Floyd had resigned; both politicians refusing to use their office to overtly assist the arming of the South.