February 9, 1861 – The Provisional Confederate Congress assembled in Montgomery, Alabama, and delegates to the Montgomery Convention selected a provisional president and vice president.
The Provisional Congress contained 28 senators and 122 representatives, many of whom had formerly served in the U.S. Congress. Some congressmen still hoped to reconcile with the North, while some were just as determined to keep the new Confederate government out of state affairs as they did the Federal government. Most belonged to the planter class that had traditionally represented southern leadership.
Congressmen passed their first bill on February 9:
“That all the laws of the United States of America in force and in use in the Confederate States of America on the first day of November last, and not inconsistent with the Constitution of the Confederate States, be and the same are hereby continued in force until altered or repealed by the Congress.”
That same day, delegates to the secession convention unanimously elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as provisional president, subject to a general election to be held later. Davis, a former U.S. secretary of war and senator, was politically moderate, which delegates hoped would appeal more to the states still considering secession than such “fire-eaters” as Robert B. Rhett, William Yancey, Robert Toombs, or Howell Cobb.
When Georgia presented Alexander Stephens as vice president, delegates unanimously elected him to that post. Each state delegation cast one vote. Celebrations took place throughout Montgomery as enthusiastic southerners thronged to the city to take part in these historic events.
The Provisional Congress began regularly approving legislation on February 12. This included assuming authority over disputes involving Federal forts on Confederate soil. The Confederacy also retained all customs collectors and treasurers in office until April 1. These officials would hold the same powers and responsibilities they had held under the U.S. government.
A resolution passed on the 15th reflected the intent to enter into peaceful relations with the U.S. It declared:
“…that it is the sense of this Congress that a commission of three persons be appointed by the President-elect, as early as may be convenient after his inauguration, and sent to the Government of the United States of America, for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that Government and the Confederate States of America, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two Governments, upon principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith.”
Turning to commerce, the Provisional Congress approved legislation “to declare and establish the free navigation of the Mississippi River.” The bill included an opening declaration that “the peaceful navigation of the Mississippi River is hereby declared free to the citizens of any of the States upon its borders, or upon the borders of its navigable tributaries.”
Provisions granted freedom for “all ships, boats, or vessels” carrying cargo, “without any duty or hindrance, except light-money, pilotage, and other like customary charges.” This intended to calm spreading fears in northern states bordering the Mississippi that secession would cut off free river navigation. The Confederacy further demonstrated its commitment to free trade by repealing U.S. laws that barred vessels from trading without a license and laws that imposed discriminatory duties on certain foreign vessels or imports.
The Confederacy’s first financial law authorized the president to borrow up to $15 million over the next 12 months. The loan would be used to not only fund the government but to pay for national defense. Bonds would be issued that were to pay eight percent interest in 10 years. The interest and principal of this loan would be paid by the nation’s first tariff—one-eighth of one percent on all exported cotton.
For defense, Congress authorized the president to form a provisional army out of companies, battalions, and regiments, and to appoint general officers subject to congressional consent. According to Section 5: “That the President be further authorized to receive into the service of this Government such forces now in the service of said (Confederate) States, in such numbers as he may require for any time not less than 12 months unless sooner discharged.” Congress had initially sought to allow the president to receive troops for just 60 days, but Davis persuaded them to agree to a year. The bill passed more easily since the Provisional Congress still consisted of just one chamber.
Other measures approved this month included issuing $1 million in Treasury notes; creating executive departments that would become the president’s new cabinet; and organizing a Confederate navy, post office, and courts.
- Channing, Steven A., Confederate Ordeal: The Southern Home Front (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 10-11
- Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4280-91, 4304, 8497, 8542
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 41
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 33-34, 36, 40, 42-43
- White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q161