New Laws for the New Confederacy

March 9, 1861 – The Provisional Confederate Congress approved a measure to help finance the new government. Other bills passed this month included creating a national flag, providing for national defense, and approving a permanent constitution, among other measures.

The official Confederate banner was adopted on the 4th. That day the Committee on the Confederate Flag, Seal, Coat of Arms, and Motto issued a report to the Congress recommending adoption of the “Stars and Bars” flag of seven stars and three stripes. Designed by Professor Nicola Marschall, the flag had seven white stars (one for each state) on a blue canton at the left and three stripes (red, white, and red) at the right. Its close resemblance to the U.S. flag reflected the affection that many Confederate officials still had for their former country.

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

The 1st Confederate National Flag | Image Credit: RussellHarrison.com

Eager to hoist the new banner on the day of Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration, that afternoon the first “Stars and Bars” were raised over the Confederate Capitol, which also served as the Alabama State Capitol, by the granddaughter of former President John Tyler. The flag ultimately disappointed many southerners due to its lack of uniqueness.

Two days later, the Provisional Congress approved three national defense measures. The first aimed “to provide speedily forces to repel invasion, maintain the rightful possession of the Confederate States, and to secure public tranquility and independence against threatened assault.” This authorized President Jefferson Davis to recruit up to 100,000 volunteers for 12 months and organize them into companies, battalions, regiments, brigades, and divisions. This reflected the growing doubt that the Lincoln administration would allow the southern states to leave in peace.

The second bill authorized creation of a Provisional Army of the Confederate States, consisting of regular and volunteer state militia. The president would apportion the officers. The third bill authorized the organization of an Army of the Confederate States, separate from the provisional army, to contain 9,420 men. Officers leaving the U.S. army would be offered the same rank in the new Confederate army. Ranks above colonel would be awarded by army officials, not politicians, to maintain military professionalism without political influence.

Congressional committees, many of which met in secret, considered other bills related to light ships, the lighthouse bureau, vessel registration, rail transportation, liquor, and Native American relations. They also debated postage bills, as the Senate confirmed John Reagan of Texas as postmaster general.

On the 9th, the Provisional Congress authorized issuing up to $1 million in treasury notes in denominations of $50 and up. The notes would be payable after one year at 3.65 percent interest, and they could be used for all public debts except for the export tax that had been imposed on cotton on February 28. A one-year reissue was also authorized.

The Congress unanimously approved the permanent Constitution of the Confederacy on the 11th. Congressional committeemen had worked for five weeks to finalize a document that would protect the southern way of life and uphold the rights of individuals and states. Vice President Alexander H. Stephens had been one of the principal authors. The preamble declared:

“We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity—invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God—do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.”

The document’s template followed that of the U.S. Constitution, including copying the first 12 amendments. But there were also several important changes. The president and vice president would serve a single six-year term. The president had the authority to veto parts of appropriations bills (a line-item veto), as well as authority to dismiss cabinet officers and diplomats without Senate approval.

The right to own slaves was guaranteed, just as it was in the U.S. according to the Supreme Court ruling of Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857). The right to bring slaves into Confederate territories was also guaranteed. Slave importation from every foreign country except the U.S. was prohibited, and Congress reserved the right to prohibit slave importation from any non-Confederate state or territory.

To protect states’ rights, the national judiciary could not review state cases, protective tariffs and nationally funded internal improvements were prohibited, and states were allowed to form alliances with other states and raise their own armies. Any three state legislatures could propose a constitutional amendment, and national revenue would mainly come from export tariffs on cotton and tobacco. Only Confederate citizens had the right to vote, and a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress was needed to admit a new state. Neither nullification nor secession was addressed.

The new Constitution was conservative, not revolutionary, because it sought to maintain the traditional southern way of life. The New York Herald called it the same as “the Constitution of the United States with various modifications and some very important and desirable improvements.” Several clauses, such as term limits for the president, creation of a civil service, and appropriations procedures later became part of U.S. law. The Confederate Constitution was submitted to the states for ratification, with the following state legislatures approving this month:

  • Alabama on March 13
  • Georgia on March 16
  • Louisiana on March 21
  • Texas on March 23
  • Mississippi on March 29

Acknowledging Louisiana’s contribution to the Confederacy, the Provisional Congress approved a resolution officially thanking the state for the gift of $536,000 seized from the U.S. mint and customs house in New Orleans.

On the 16th, resolutions were approved asking state officials to “cede the forts, arsenals, navy-yards, dock-yards, and other public establishments within their respective limits to the Confederate States.” Adhering to states’ rights, the Confederate government issued this as a request, not a demand. Meanwhile, the Confederate Convention that had assembled at Montgomery on February 4 adjourned.

—–

Sources

  • Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 29
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 5383-407, 7779, 8497
  • Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 161, 245, 262-63
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 16, 18
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 45-52
  • Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 54
  • 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
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One thought on “New Laws for the New Confederacy

  1. […] Flag, Seal, Coat of Arms, and Motto issued a report to Congress recommending adoption of the “Stars and Bars” flag of seven stars and three stripes as the new country’s official […]

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