The New Confederate Government Gets to Work

Howell Cobb, president of the Montgomery convention that had voted to form the Confederate States of America, administered the oath of office to the new nation’s first vice-president, fellow Georgian Alexander H. Stephens, on the 11th. Jefferson Davis, who had been elected president, was still on his way to Montgomery from his Mississippi home, therefore Stephens would be the center of attention on that day. He had been a longtime member of the U.S. House of Representatives, first as a Whig and later as a Democrat. Stephens had initially opposed secession but eventually decided there was no other alternative. The swearing in ceremony was simple and unprepared.

The next day, the Provisional Congress set to work on drafting and approving legislation for the new Confederacy. This included passing a resolution “that this Government takes under its charge the questions and difficulties now existing between the several States of the Confederacy and the Government of the United States, relating to the occupation of forts, arsenals, navy-yards, and other public establishments; and that the President of the Congress be directed to communicate this resolution to the several States of this Confederacy, through the respective governors thereof.” This meant that states like South Carolina would no longer be on their own when dealing with Federal troops stationed within their borders.

The Confederacy would retain all customs collectors and treasurers in office until April 1. These officials would hold the same powers and responsibilities that they had under the U.S. government. A committee of six men—one for each state represented (Texas representation had not yet arrived)—was formed to approve a design for a new national flag. Several designs were considered, but a suggestion by the Mississippi member to create a flag almost identical to the United States flag except for fewer stars was quickly rejected.

A resolution approved on the 15th reflected the intent to enter into peaceful relations with the U.S.:

“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.”

Conversely, the Congress passed a separate resolution on the same day that threatened peaceful relations:

“That it is the sense of this Congress that immediate steps should be taken to obtain possession of Forts Sumter and Pickens, by the authority of this Government, either by negotiations or force, as early as practicable, and that the President is hereby authorized to make all necessary military preparations for carrying this resolution into effect.”

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 $150 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 new President Jefferson Davis persuaded them to agree to a year. The bill passed more easily because 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. As February ended, the committee that had been drafting a permanent Confederate Constitution had completed its work, and the document was presented to the Provisional Congress for debate.


  • Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
  • Channing, Steven A., Confederate Ordeal: The Southern Home Front. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1983.
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Kindle Edition 2008, 1889.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
  • Thomas, Emory M., The Confederate Nation. HarperCollins e-books, Kindle Edition, 1976.
  • United States War Department, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series 1 – Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1880-1902.

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