Tag Archives: Confederate Constitution

The Official Inauguration of Jefferson Davis

February 22, 1862 – Jefferson Davis took the oath of office to become the first official president of the Confederacy.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Davis and Vice President Alexander H. Stephens had been elected to their posts by delegates of the Montgomery convention the previous February on a provisional basis only, pending a general election. That general election had officially elected Davis and Stephens as Confederate president and vice president in November. Under the Confederate Constitution, they were to serve one six-year term and were ineligible for reelection.

Confederate officials selected February 22, George Washington’s Birthday, as the presidential inauguration day at the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Thousands of people attended the ceremonies, which began in the Virginia Hall of Delegates and then moved outside to a canopied platform beside the statue of Washington in the Capitol Square. Davis was escorted to the platform by his black footmen; they all wore black because, as one of them said, “This… is the way we always does in Richmond at funerals and sichlike.”

On the platform, Davis took the chief executive’s oath, kissed the Bible, and delivered his inaugural address. He declared: “Whatever of hope some may have entertained that a returning sense of justice would remove the danger with which our rights were threatened, and render it possible to preserve the Union of the Constitution, must have been dispelled by the malignity and barbarity of the Northern States in the prosecution of the existing war.” He cited as evidence:

“Bastilles filled with prisoners, arrested without civil process or indictment duly found; the writ of habeas corpus suspended by Executive mandate; a State Legislature controlled by the imprisonment of members whose avowed principles suggested to the Federal Executive that there might be another added to the list of seceded States; elections held under threats of a military power; civil officers, peaceful citizens, and gentle-women incarcerated for opinion’s sake–proclaimed the incapacity of our late associates to administer a Government as free, liberal, and humane as that established for our common use.”

Davis contrasted these Federal actions to those of his administration, stating that “through all the necessities of an unequal struggle there has been no act on our part to impair personal liberty or the freedom of speech, of thought, or of the press.”

Noting the financial troubles in the North, Davis predicted a Federal economic collapse: “The period is near at hand when our foes must sink under the immense load of debt which they have incurred, a debt which in their effort to subjugate us has already attained such fearful dimensions as will subject them to burdens which must continue to oppress them for generations to come.”

Davis expressed his view that the war was a test of what the southern people were willing to endure to defend their freedom: “It was, perhaps, in the ordination of Providence that we were to be taught the value of our liberties by the price which we pay for them.”

Trying to turn a negative into a positive, Davis cited unexpected benefits from European powers adhering to the Federal blockade:

“If the acquiescence of foreign nations in a pretended blockade has deprived us of our commerce with them, it is fast making us a self-supporting and an independent people. The blockade, if effectual and permanent, could only serve to divert our industry from the production of articles for export and employ it in supplying the commodities for domestic use.”

However, he also acknowledged the recent defeats in the Western Theater and North Carolina:

“After a series of successes and victories, which covered our arms with glory, we have recently met with serious disasters. But in the heart of a people resolved to be free these disasters tend but to stimulate to increased resistance. To show ourselves worthy of the inheritance bequeathed to us by the patriots of the Revolution, we must emulate that heroic devotion which made reverse to them but the crucible in which their patriotism was refined.”

Davis concluded:

“With humble gratitude and adoration, acknowledging the Providence which has so visibly protected the Confederacy during its brief but eventful career, to thee, O God, I trustingly commit myself, and prayerfully invoke thy blessing on my country and its cause.”

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References

Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 217-18; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 113; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 84-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 174; 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), p. 402-03, 433; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 265-67; 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), Q162

The Confederate National Elections

November 6, 1861 – Elections took place throughout the Confederacy to replace the provisional national government with a permanent one.

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

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

The Confederate government set this date for a national election, but states had conducted their own balloting based on their constitutions. An editorial in the Richmond Daily-Dispatch stated:

“For the first time the people of the Confederate States will to-day elect their own President and Vice President. There is no opposition to either of the candidates for these high positions. But it is most important that this fact should not be permitted to keep a single voter from the polls. Every loyal citizen of the Confederate States should feel that he has a duty to discharge to his country to-day by voting for the President and Vice President, and thus ensuring a full vote, and thereby letting the world see that the new Government is the work of the People of the South, and not of a faction, as is falsely pretended by the Yankee despotism.”

The Democratic Party was the only major political party operating in the Confederacy, making the focus of this election more local than national. Voters tended to cast ballots according to prewar preferences, ignoring candidates’ stances on secession as long as they supported the Confederacy. Five states (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, and Alabama) allowed soldiers to vote by absentee ballot.

Members of the Confederate House of Representatives were generally chosen at public meetings, with most provisional congressmen winning permanent seats. State legislatures selected the Confederate senators.

Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were the unanimous choices for permanent president and vice president. According to the Confederate Constitution, they were to serve one six-year term. Inauguration ceremonies were scheduled for February 22, George Washington’s Birthday.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (November 6); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12382-90; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 237-38; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 132; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 135

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.

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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

The New Confederate Government

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.

The Provisional Confederate Congress | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Provisional Confederate Congress | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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.

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Sources

  • 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

The Confederate States of America

February 8, 1861 – Delegates to the Montgomery Convention approved the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States.

Assembling at Montgomery | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Assembling at Montgomery | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The convention of the seceded states began on February 4 with 37 delegates from six states; Texas was not represented yet. The official record declared:

“Be it remembered that on the fourth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one, and in the Capitol of the State of Alabama, in the city of Montgomery, at the hour of noon, there assembled certain deputies and delegates from the several independent Southern States of North America, to wit: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina…”

The delegates named Howell Cobb of Georgia as convention president. Cobb stated, “The separation is perfect, complete, and perpetual. The great duty is now imposed upon us of providing for these States a government for their future security and protection.” The delegates worked to create a new government with little debate or dissension, ignoring the compromise efforts under consideration in Washington.

The next day, delegates adopted the convention rules presented by Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia. Christopher G. Memminger of South Carolina presented a resolution to form “a Confederacy of the States which have seceded from the Federal Union.” Delegates appointed Memminger to head a 12-man committee to begin working on a national constitution, and a committee was named to report a plan for a provisional government.

Memminger’s Committee of Twelve issued its report to the Convention on February 7, and delegates began secretly reviewing and debating the findings. The convention adopted the Provisional Constitution near midnight on the 8th. The document closely resembled the U.S. Constitution; Stephens explained that this new constitution’s purpose was “not to tear down so much as to build up (a government) with greater security and permanency.”

The preamble of the Confederate Constitution changed the U.S. version of “We, the people of the United States” to “We, the people of the Confederate States.” To counter the northern argument that the people of the nation superseded the states, it explicitly declared that “each State acting in its sovereign and independent character.” This implied that a state could secede from the Confederacy if desired.

The document upheld the recent Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) U.S. Supreme Court ruling by forbidding national interference with slavery in the states and allowing slaveholders to bring their slaves into any Confederate territory. The verbiage “persons held to service or labor” in the U.S. Constitution was changed to “slave” in this document, and the fugitive slave provision in the original document was strengthened.

The foreign slave trade and slave importation were permanently banned. This was partly intended to curry favor from Great Britain and other foreign powers that could become potential allies and were moving away from slavery. It also sought to please the upper South, which reaped economic benefits from exporting their slaves to lower southern states.

Import tariffs could only be levied as “necessary for revenue.” Also, “Nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote to foster any branch of industry; and all duties, imposts, and excises, shall be uniform throughout the Confederate States.” This aimed to counter northern support for high tariffs to protect northern industry from foreign competition at the South’s expense. However, the document did not define the distinction between protective and revenue-only tariffs.

The national government could not finance internal improvement projects except basic necessities such as harbor development, navigation, and commerce. Only states could enter into agreements to finance other types of interstate projects such as railroads. This sought to counter the northern tendency to trade political favors for financing internal improvement projects, many of which were in northern states with no benefit to the South.

The president and vice president could only serve one six-year term; this conformed to the first draft of the U.S. Constitution. The president could veto specific sections of appropriations bills (i.e., a line-item veto) to prevent excessive spending on pet projects. The president could also remove members of his cabinet or diplomatic corps for any reason, but the removal of all other appointees required him to report a specific reason for dismissal to the Senate.

Cabinet officials could take seats on the floors of the Senate and House of Representatives and participate in legislative debates (but with no voting power); this was similar to British Parliamentary government. However, the Confederate Congress never enacted legislation to put this into effect.

Laws involving taxation and admitting new states to the Confederacy required a two-thirds majority approval in both chambers of Congress to pass. State legislatures could impeach national officials if those officials’ duties lay wholly within that state, and their trials could be held in the Confederate Senate; this further enhanced states’ rights. Members of Congress could not hold any other office until their congressional terms expired; this sought to keep them focused on their legislative duties.

The first 12 amendments of the U.S. Constitution were incorporated into this document. If at least three states requested a convention to amend the Constitution, Congress was required to assemble one. Amendments became law when approved by two-thirds of the state legislatures, not three-fourths as mandated in the U.S. Constitution.

The official name of the new nation became the Confederate States of America, after the first name (The Southern United States of America) was rejected. The Provisional Constitution would operate for one year, unless replaced before then by a permanent document. After delegates approved this document, they appointed a new committee to draft a permanent constitution.

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Sources

  • Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 216
  • Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 12-13
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 4031, 4547-612
  • Davis, William C., Brother Against Brother: The War Begins (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 130
  • Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 161
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 42
  • Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 13
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 33-34
  • 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), p. 257-58
  • 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