The formation of the Confederate States of America brought thousands of people to the small town of Montgomery, Alabama, to seek jobs in the new government. Jefferson Davis, the first president of this new nation, had to build the executive department from scratch. Only George Washington had ever had to do that before. On the day after his inauguration, Davis got to work appointing heads to his six cabinet departments:
- Robert Toombs of Georgia was named secretary of state.
- Christopher G. Memminger of South Carolina was named treasury secretary. His experience as chairman of ways and means in the South Carolina legislature prompted his state’s delegation to recommend him for the position.
- Leroy P. Walker of Alabama was named secretary of war. Walker was a distinguished attorney recommended by his state’s officials.
- Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana was named attorney general. Benjamin’s reputation as a lawyer had impressed Davis when they both served in the U.S. Senate; Benjamin would become known as “the brains of the Confederacy.”
- John Reagan of Texas was named postmaster general. Reagan was well liked among Texans, and his extensive knowledge of Confederate territory suited him for this post.
- Stephen R. Mallory of Florida was named navy secretary when the Provisional Congress created the Navy Department two days later. Mallory had been chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs in the U.S. Senate who had extensive knowledge of Federal naval intelligence.
Unlike the U.S., the Confederacy had no Interior Department. Davis initially wanted Robert Barnwell in his cabinet since Barnwell had led the South Carolina delegation in selecting Davis for president. Barnwell demurred, instead recommending Memminger for Treasury. Davis had to balance things by giving each of the six states representation (he would represent Mississippi). Davis had initially named Clement Clay to head the War Department, but Clay declined, so Davis, needing an Alabaman, chose the less known Walker.
Three appointees were foreign-born, all had initially opposed secession, and two had opposed it all the way up until their states seceded. Only Toombs could be considered a fire-eater. This was consistent with the tone of moderation Davis had employed in his inaugural address. After the Provisional Congress confirmed all of Davis’s appointments, the first cabinet meeting took place in a Montgomery hotel room. Memminger had to buy his own desk and chair.
Expecting that the U.S. would not allow the southern states to secede without a fight, the Provisional Congress quickly began addressing national defense. This included building a new navy. The Confederacy had no warships, but they had an able commander in Captain Raphael Semmes, who had recently resigned his post in the U.S. Navy to serve the South. Since there was still no trade between North and South, President Davis directed Semmes to go north and: “As agent of the Confederate States, you are authorized to proceed, as hereinafter set forth, to make purchases, and contracts for machinery and munitions, or for the manufacture of arms and munitions of war…”
In addition, Davis appointed General Josias Gorgas as the Confederate chief of ordnance, and he sent Major Caleb Huse to Europe to negotiate contracts for weapons purchases. In accordance with a congressional resolution passed before his inauguration, Davis appointed three commissioners to go to Washington and negotiate peaceful relations with the U.S.:
- Former Louisiana Governor A.B. Roman, a former Whig and Constitutional Unionist;
- Former U.S. Congressman Martin J. Crawford of Georgia, a States’ Rights Democrat;
- John Forsyth of Alabama, an influential journalist and former minister to Mexico who supported the northern Democrats.
Davis selected these men because they were well-known political moderates, and he believed they could gain “the sympathy and cooperation of every element of conservatism with which they might have occasion to deal.” The commissioners were authorized “in the name of the Confederate States, to meet and confer with any person or persons duly authorized by the Government of the United States, being furnished with like power and authority, and with him or them to agree, treat, consult, and negotiate treaties of friendship, commerce, and navigation” in the best interests of both nations.
These instructions, written by new Secretary of State Robert Toombs, included a dissertation on the right of states to secede and an objective to effect “the speedy adjustment of all questions growing out of separation, as the respective interests, geographical contiguity, and future welfare of the two nations may render necessary.” This included negotiating the settlement of debts and the transfer of Federal forts, arsenals and other property to the new Confederacy.
Davis also appointed Dudley Mann of Virginia, William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama, and Pierre Rost of Louisiana to establish diplomatic relations with Europe. These men were to seek foreign recognition for the Confederacy, particularly from the world powers of Great Britain and France.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), The Coming Fury. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1961.
- 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.
- Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.