Elections took place throughout the Confederacy for seats in state legislatures and the Confederate House of Representatives. The decline in southern morale since the elections of 1861 ensured that more politicians opposed to President Jefferson Davis and his policies ran for office. There was no set date for the elections, so they took place over a five-month stretch between June and November. Special considerations were made for voters under Federal occupation or displaced from their homes.
There was only one official political party in the South (the Democratic), but while this served to unify southerners in a common cause in past elections, it harmed many established politicians (including Davis) this time around because they had no true party structure from which to garner support. Also, various factions both supporting and opposing the current administration were forming within the party that threatened the unified cause of independence.
Anti-administration candidates generally supported independence but opposed Davis’s centralization of power in Richmond. This included violating states’ rights through conscription, impressment, taxation, and suspension of habeas corpus. Most of those opposed to Davis were sure to show their patriotism while arguing that there may be another way of gaining independence besides Davis’s. A small minority of candidates declared the war a failure and wanted peace at any price, even if it meant returning to the U.S. These anti-war politicians, who were the counterparts of the northern Copperheads, were referred to as “Tories.”
Election results were clouded by Federal occupation and southern displacement, but it was clear that confidence in the Davis administration was waning. Of the 106 members of the Confederate House, the number of openly anti-Davis representatives went up from 26 to 41. The newly elected state legislatures would elect 12 anti-Davis senators to the 26-member Confederate Senate.
Ironically, the largest number of congressmen loyal to Davis were in states mostly under Federal occupation (i.e., Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Virginia). These members supported more national power to wage “war to the last ditch,” such as expanded conscription and higher taxes, even though such policies would not be enforced in their occupied districts. Most elections that took place in non-federally controlled states resulted in wins for anti-administration candidates. The strongest example of this was in North Carolina and Georgia, where 16 of the 19 candidates elected to Congress openly opposed the administration. Many of Davis’s allies were either defeated or, knowing they could not win, chose not to run for reelection.
These elections did not necessarily reflect the will of the southern voters, as there was much Federal interference in several states. But it was clear that southern support for Davis was on the decline, if only because the Confederate war effort had reached its lowest point of the war to-date. Opposition to Davis and his policies would only continue to grow unless the Confederate military could turn the war’s tide.
- Faust, Patricia L. (Patricia L. Faust ed.), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.
- Thomas, Emory M., The Confederate Nation. HarperCollins e-books, Kindle Edition, 1976.