The Confederation Of The Southern States
On the 4th day of February, 1861, the date on which the Peace Conference met, the delegates from seceded States gathered in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. Seven Independent Republics, each covering territory nearly the extent of some European kingdoms, while all united would make an empire, had commissioned their delegates to form a Union under a written constitution. These Republics were South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. By separate, independent action, each had withdrawn from the United States, and each had determined to form by the union of all in a national form, a Republican Government of Confederate States, whose right to exist should be peaceably recognized by all nations. The Convention was at first composed of forty-three delegates from six States, but subsequently Texas entered, making the seven States of the provisional Confederacy. Within the hall where they assembled were suspended the portraits of Washington, Marion, Andrew Jackson, Clay, and other deceased distinguished American patriots, while living actors in the present great civic event were among the most eminent of American citizens. The city was full of visitors and the hall was thronged. The occasion was felt throughout the South to be momentous. "Perhaps no assembly of men ever took place under circumstances of greater anxiety and higher responsibility than those which surrounded and pressed upon this convention." Mr. Howell Cobb, who was a leading advocate of the compromise of 1850, elected by the Constitutional Union party of 1851, governor of Georgia, subsequently Democratic member of Congress, and lately Secretary of the treasury of the United States, was chosen chairman of the convention. Mr. J. J. Hooper, of Alabama, an editor and author of fame, was elected secretary. Being notified of his election, and assuming the chair, Mr. Cobb, in a brief address, marked by its absence of all passion, said that the great duty was now imposed upon the convention to provide for the States represented, a good government which will maintain with the United States, "our former confederates, as with the world, the most peaceful and friendly relations, both political and commercial."
The convention adopted rules for its Government which recognized the separate sovereignty of the States and required that the voting shall be done by States. A committee was appointed to present a plan of government for consideration, which reported on the 7th of February a form of constitution for the Provisional Government of the Confederate States of America, by which the country was to be governed until the permanent Government was formed. After a brief discussion, the Constitution was unanimously adopted February 8th, and on the day following, Mr. Cobb, the President of the Convention, was sworn by Judge Walker to support it. The oath was then formally administered to all members on the call by States, and the convention was fully organized for business.
The convention was composed of the following members:
South Carolina.--R. B. Rhett, James Chestnut, Jr., W. P. Miles, T. J. Withers, R. W. Barnwell, C. G. Memminger, L. M. Keitt, W. W. Boyce.
Georgia.--Robert Toombs, Howell Cobb, Benjamin H. Hill, Alexander H. Stephens, Francis Bartow, M. J. Crawford, E. A. Nisbett, A. R. Wright, T. R. R. Cobb, A. H. Kenan.
Alabama.--Richard W. Walker, J. L. M. Curry, Robert H. Smith, C. J. McRae, John Gill Shorter, S. T. Hale, David P. Lewis, Thomas Fearn, W. P. Chilton.
Mississippi.--W. P. Harris, Walter Brooke, A.M. Clayton, W. S. Barry, J. T. Harrison, J. A. P. Campbell, W. S. Wilson.
Louisiana.--John Perkins, Jr., D. F. Kenner, C. M. Conrad, Edward Sparrow, Henry Marshall, A. DeClouett.
Florida.--Jackson Morton, James Powers, J.P. Anderson.
Texas.--L. T. Wigfall, J. H. Reagan, J. Hemphill, T. N. Waul, John Gregg, W. S. Oldham, W. H. Ochiltree.
Under the adopted Provisional Constitution the Congress proceeded at noon, February 9th, to elect the President and Vice-President of the new Republic. The ballots were taken by States, and Mr. Jefferson Davis, who was at his home in Mississippi, received the entire vote for the presidency, as also did Mr. Alexander A. Stephens for the vice-presidency. It may be noted that while the names of other great men of the South had been most favorably mentioned, among them prominently that of Mr. Howell Cobb and Mr. Toombs, yet this prudent Convention turned at length without dissent to the two men who fully represented the cool, firm, conservative sentiment of their section. Mr. Davis had despairingly pleaded before the United States, within less than a month of the assembling of this Southern Congress, for a compromise that would arrest the pending secession of his State; had given his word to Senators Pugh, of Ohio, and Douglas, of Illinois, specially, that he was ready to vote for the Crittenden resolutions and stand by the Union; and but two weeks before had delivered his calm, courteous and able speech of withdrawal from the Senate in obedience to the will of the State. At the moment of his election to the presidency, he was on his farm, preferring not to be the civic head of the Confederacy, but offering himself if needed, to its military service. Mr. Davis had only followed the secession popular movement. He did not lead it. He was thoroughly convinced of the legality of secession and in complete sympathy with Southern feeling, but he was among the last of the statesmen from the Confederate States to abandon all hope of an adjustment which would save the country from the horrors of war. Mr. Stephens was the leader in the South in 1860 of those who counseled political battle in Union against the triumphant sectional party. To the last moment he stood in Georgia against the passage of the act of separate State secession. He was National in his true sentiment as well as in reputation--a thorough devotee of the Union under the Constitution, and consistently a firm believer in the legal principles of the State-rights school. Upon the secession of his State, he did not hesitate as to his allegiance, but at once heartily and powerfully entered upon the patriotic duty of assisting in directing the actions of States and people to the establishment of constitutional free Government. Upon such men the seceded States placed administrative power, under a constitution like that which the fathers of the great American Union had fashioned. Their election was greeted with great applause by the crowded assembly which witnessed the voting, and was received in all the South with demonstrations of delight. It satisfied the nations of the world that intelligent statesmen were guiding secession, and should have satisfied the North that the Southern States proposed no act of rebellion, nor any hostility to the United States. The Provisional Congress began at once the operation of government. The President was directed to appoint committees on Foreign Affairs, Finance, Judiciary, Military and Naval Affairs, Commerce, Postal Affairs, Patents and Printing. All laws of the United States in force November, 1860, and not inconsistent with the Provisional Constitution, were continued in operation, and all revenue officers in the States were continued in office. A tariff for raising revenue was put under the immediate consideration of the finance committee. Committees were appointed to notify Mr. Davis and Mr. Stephens of the elections which had taken place. Mr. Stephens being in the Convention as a delegate from Georgia, announced on the 11th his acceptance in a short address declining to discuss the general policy prior to the arrival of the President-elect, and advising attention by the Congress to matters of present practical importance, after which the prescribed oath was administered.
The Vice-President in his address said to Congress, "We can be devoting our attention to the constitution of a permanent government, stable and durable, which is one of the leading objects of our assembling." This great duty was accordingly assigned to a special committee, of which Mr. Rhett was chairman, formed by the appointment of two members from each State, which began its deliberations without delay. A resolution which changed the relations of the separate seceded States to the government of the United States was passed February 12th, providing that the Confederate government takes under its charge all questions now existing between the States of the Confederacy and the United States relating to the occupation of forts, arsenals, and all other public establishments. The States were all requested to cede the forts and other public property of like character to the Confederate government.
The flag of the Confederacy became the subject of some debate on the report of the Flag committee, during which respectful references were made to the flag of the United States. It was generally argued that the Confederate flag should differ from the Stars and Stripes only enough to make it easily distinguishable. The committee recommended that the flag should be formed of a blue union in the upper left hand corner containing seven stars, and three bars, the central being white, and the upper and lower red. Their recommendation was adopted.
The committee on Military and Naval Affairs was directed to make provisions for such officers as might tender their resignations from the United States army or navy; and the committee on Commerce was instructed to inquire into the subject of navigation laws. Measures were adopted to admit without payment of duties all provisions, agricultural products, living animals and munitions of war. Goods, wares and merchandise purchased in the United States and imported before March 14th, were to enter duty free. Officers connected with the collection of customs at the time of organization of the Confederacy were continued with the salaries and duties attaching to their positions. Collectors and their subordinates were required to give bonds to the Confederate government and to take the oath to discharge their duties and support the Constitution.
The inauguration of Mr. Davis took place on the 18th of February, according to the arrangements of the Congress, and as his enemies at Washington were then charging him with ambition, it is just to let him testify for himself in regard to his elevation to this high position. He says: "As my election had been spoken of as a probable event, and as I did not desire that or any other civil office, but preferred to remain in the post to which I had been elected and still held at the head of the army of Mississippi, I had taken what seemed to me ample precautions to prevent my nomination to the presidency. I accepted the position because I could not decline it, but with the expectation and intention of soon returning to the field. On my way to Montgomery brief addresses were made by me at various places which were grossly misrepresented at the North as invoking war and threatening devastation. Not deemed worthy of contradiction at the time when problems of vital public interest were constantly presented, these false and malicious reports have since been adopted by partisan writers as authentic history. It is sufficient to say that no utterances of mine, private or public, differed in tone and spirit from my farewell address to the Senate or my inaugural address at Montgomery." (Short History of the Confederacy, p. 60.) On the way from Mississippi to Montgomery Mr. Davis was made the object of the most patriotic demonstrations, which must have satisfied him that the Southern public was gratified by his election. He arrived at Montgomery on Saturday, the 16th, and was welcomed by a popular demonstration marked by enthusiasm well-tempered with the spirit which the gravity of the situation produced. His address from the balcony of his hotel the evening of his arrival was made in response to a general call, and it revealed the flow to which his feelings had risen at the close of his journey. Beginning with "Brethren of the Confederate States of America," as the opening words of the speech, he described the unity of the Southern people in blood and principles and purposes, from which he inferred a government of domestic peace and increasing growth. Touching on "a possible storm of war" he predicted that the clouds would be dispersed and the sun outlive the storm. "If war should come, if we must again baptize in blood the principles for which our fathers bled in the revolution, we shall show that we are not degenerate sons, and prove that Southern valor still shines as bright as in 1776, in 1812, and in every other conflict."
The Capitol hill in the fair city of Montgomery was almost literally covered, early in the morning of the 18th, with companies of soldiers from several States, with citizens from all parts of the South, and adorned by the presence of large numbers of graceful Southern women. The inauguration ceremonies made an imposing pageant, but the interest of the public centered on the inaugural address, whose temperate tone and statesmanlike tenor disappointed such leaders as had hoped the President would be betrayed into some angry utterances. Mentioning the act of secession by the States, he said that "In this they merely asserted the right which the Declaration of Independence of I776 defined to be inalienable. Of the time and occasion of its exercise, they as sovereigns were the final judges, each for itself. The impartial enlightened judgment of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct, and He who knows the hearts of men will judge of the sincerity with which we labored to preserve the Government of our fathers in its spirit. Thus the sovereign States, here represented, proceeded to form this Confederacy, and it is by the abuse of language that their act has been called a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained. As a necessity, not of choice, we have resorted to the remedy of secession, and henceforth our energies must be directed to the conduct of our own affairs, and the perpetuity of the Confederacy which we have formed. We have changed the constituent parts but not the system of our government. The Constitution framed by our fathers is that of these Confederate States. In their exposition of it, and in the judicial construction it has received, we have a light which reveals its true meaning." The President plainly declared that the Confederacy would meet war with war, and advised Congress to make military and naval preparation for it, but averring his own wishes to be for peace, he said, "If it be otherwise, the suffering of millions will bear testimony to the folly and wickedness of our aggressors."
The Cabinet was soon organized, being composed as follows: Department of State--Mr. Robert Toombs, of Georgia; Department of War--Mr. Leroy P. Walker, of Alabama; the Treasury Department--Mr. Charles G. Memminger, of South Carolina; the Post-office Department--Mr. John H. Reagan, of Texas; the Navy Department--Mr. Stephen R. Mallory, of Florida; the Department of Justice--Mr. Judah P. Benjamin, of Louisiana.
Questions of inter-state commerce somewhat perplexing in their nature demanded immediate solution by the Confederate government. Among them, the most important was the trade that floated on the Mississippi river. The prospect of the shutting up of that river to western trade was alarming and irritating to the States lying above the Confederate border line. The Louisiana convention in appreciation of this alarm had pledged the faith of the State to preserve the navigation of the Mississippi free. Kentucky expressed the fear that unless the free trade policy be adopted the Confederacy will exact duties on goods passing up the Mississippi. This question proved to be one of the most difficult which the Confederate government had to determine; but the knot was cut by an act on February 22d, declaring the free navigation of the river.
A resolution instructing the committee on finance to inquire into the expediency of placing a duty on cotton exported to a foreign country was introduced by Mr. T. R. R. Cobb, of Georgia, who remarked on the power which the South held in its hands as the producer of a staple so necessary to the world. He thought that by embargo we could soon place the United States and Europe under the necessity of recognizing the independence of the Confederacy. Southern cotton was at that time seeking: new channels to the sea. It was going up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and by rail through Tennessee and Virginia to Norfolk. Railroad managers were beginning to offer inducements to the shipment of cotton, the result of all which would make the blockade of Southern ports by the United States navy of no importance to foreign nations as long as they could get the cotton through these new channels. The question was referred to the Finance committee.
The future relations between the Confederate States and the United States were altogether unascertainable. On the part of the Confederacy it was determined to seek on the first opportunity the establishment of peaceful intercourse between the two nations. Accordingly it was made unofficially public that the Confederate authorities would send commissioners to Washington as soon as it should be intimated that they would be received, and that in the meantime nothing would be done to precipitate hostilities. Mr. Buchanan was understood as desirous at this time, after the affair of the "Star of the West" had failed, to preserve the status quo of affairs until the close of his term on the 4th of March. The policy of Mr. Lincoln had not been clearly divulged. But President Davis, acting on the authority given him by the Confederate Congress February 15th, appointed three commissioners to the United States, "clothed with plenary powers to open all negotiations for the settlement of all matters of joint property of any kind, within the limits of the Confederate States, and all joint liabilities with their former associates upon principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith." These distinguished Southern ambassadors awaited instructions as to the time of their departure, and when President Davis received late in the month from President Buchanan "through a distinguished senator," an intimation that he would be "pleased to receive a commissioner or commission from the Confederate States, and would be willing to transmit to the Senate any "communication received from them," President Davis hurried Mr. Crawford to Washington to act as special commissioner. Mr. Forsyth immediately followed, but reached Washington after Mr. Crawford had ascertained that President Buchanan had in a panic recalled his promise and now declined either to receive him or to send any message to the Senate. The worried President said that he had only three days of official life left, and could incur no further dangers and reproaches from the North. (Davis, History of the Confederacy, p. 68.)
President Davis also appointed by authority of the Congress a commission to Europe to represent the Confederate States, especially in England and France, composed of the brilliant William L. Yancey and his associates, Mr. A. Dudley Mann, of Virginia, an accomplished diplomat, and Mr. Yost, of Louisiana.
Further measures were enacted during February and early in March to exempt certain goods from duty; to modify navigation laws; to punish persons convicted of being engaged in the slave trade; to establish additional ports of entry; to perfect the postal system; to provide money for the government; and to raise provisional military forces. An act designed to raise money authorized the President to borrow $15,000,000 payable in ten years, at eight per cent interest, and placed an export duty on cotton to create a fund to pay off the principal and interest of the loan. The military bill authorized the President to employ the militia, military and naval forces of the Confederate States, and ask for and accept the services of not exceeding 100,000 volunteers to serve for twelve months "to secure the public tranquility and independence against threatened assault."
The Constitution by which the permanent government of the Confederate States of America was formed was reported by the committee and adopted by the Provisional Congress on the 11th of March, 1861, to be submitted to the States for ratification. All States ratified it and conformed themselves to its requirements without delay. The Constitution varied in very few particulars from the Constitution of the United States, preserving carefully the fundamental principles of popular representative democracy and confederation of co-equal States. The changes which substantially improved the United States system were as follows: The official terms of the President and Vice-President were fixed at six years, and the President was made ineligible for reelection. In all cases of removals, except those of cabinet officers and diplomatic agents, the cause was required to be reported to the Senate by the President. Congress was authorized to admit cabinet officers to seats in either house, with the privilege of debate but without a vote, on any measures affecting their departments. The President was given power to disapprove any appropriation in a bill and approve others in the same bill. The States as such, were empowered to join in improving navigable rivers flowing between or through them. New States were admissible into the Confederation by vote of two-thirds of each house, the Senate being required to vote by States. A Confederate official exercising his functions within any State was subject to impeachment by its legislature, as well as by the House of Representatives of the Confederate States, but in all cases the trial was to be by the Confederate Senate. No act of bankruptcy would be permitted to discharge the debtor from contracts made before the passage of the act. General appropriations of money must be estimated for by one of the heads of the departments, and when this was not done, the appropriation could not be made except by two-thirds vote in both houses. Internal improvements by Congress, and protection to foster special branches of industry were forbidden. Citizens of the several States could not sue each other in the general Confederate courts, but were confined in such suits to the courts of the States. The power of Congress over the territories and the right of citizens of one State to enter any other State with his slave or other property were settled according to the views of the South under the United States Constitution. In other respects the compact thus written, from which resulted the Confederate States of America, was modeled upon the great instrument adopted by the founders of the United States. Mr. Davis, who had no direct part in framing this supreme law of the government, declared his belief that it was a model of wise, deliberate statesmanship, and referring to the question so prominent in the discussions of North and South, he remarks, "With regard to slavery and the slave trade the provisions of the Constitution furnished an effective answer to the assertion so often made that the Confederacy was founded on slavery and intended to perpetuate and extend it. Property in slaves already existing was recognized and guaranteed just as it was by the Constitution of the United States, and the rights of such property in the common territories were protected against any such hostile discrimination as had been attempted in the Union. But the extension of slavery, in' the only practical sense of that phrase, was more distinctly and effectually precluded by the Confederate than by the Federal Constitution. The further importation of negroes from any country other than the slaveholding States and territories of the United States was peremptorily prohibited, and Congress was further endowed with the power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State or territory not belonging to the Confederacy. Mr. Stephens, next in official rank, said concerning this constitution, "The whole document negatives the idea which so many have been active in endeavoring to put in the enduring form of history, that the Convention at Montgomery was nothing but a set of conspirators, whose object was the overthrow of the principles of the Constitution of the United States and the creation of a great slave oligarchy instead of the free institutions thereby secured and guaranteed."
Having completely organized the government and put in operation all measures necessary for its maintenance. the Confederate Congress adjourned on the 16th of March, at a time when the prospects of a peaceful termination of the questions between the two governments were so strong as to lull the South into an inactivity from which it was soon destined to be disturbed.
Source: Chapter X, Confederate Military History, Vol. 1The Civil History Of The Confederate States
This Page last updated 06/01/02
RETURN TO CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY PAGE