On December 24th, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. It was followed shortly thereafter by many of the other states in the Deep South. Mississippi held a convention in early January to discuss the matter of secession. A couple of weeks later on January 21, 1861, Jefferson Davis, one of the state’s senators, stood before the U.S. Senate and delivered the following address:
I rise, Mr. President, for the purpose of announcing to the Senate that I have satisfactory evidence that the State of Mississippi, by solemn ordinance of her people, in convention assembled, has declared her separation from the United States. Under these circumstances, of course, my functions are terminated here…
Many other southern Congressmen followed Davis’s lead as their states also decided to secede from the Union. On February 4th, 1861, a group of delegates from the secessionist states gathered in Montgomery, Alabama to hold a constitutional convention. There, the delegates began drafting what would become the Confederate Constitution, an outline for how the government of the Confederacy would be structured. Eventually, on March 11, 1861, the constitution was ratified by the Confederate States of America.
The Confederate Constitution…
The Confederate Constitution was remarkably similar to the U.S. Constitution. It was structured in the same format (Preamble, followed by a series of Articles). In fact, huge sections of the Confederate Constitution are identical (verbatim) to the U.S. Constitution. One might think that the Confederate Constitution granted the states much more power, but this did not happen. The powers granted to the states and the federal government were very similar. For example, in both documents, the federal government had power to regulate commerce (trade) between the states. Both constitutions contain a section that allows the federal government to call forth militias (armed forces) to suppress any rebellions (Ironically this would be the same section of the U.S. Constitution that Lincoln used to justify his use of force against the South).
One similarity between the two constitutions is particularly strange. Look at the text below which can be found in Article I, Section 9.1 of the Confederate Constitution:
The importation of negroes of the African race, from any foreign country, other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the Confederate States of America, is hereby forbidden.
Why do you think the South would include such a law in their new constitution? _________________
The Founding Fathers included a passage in the U.S. Constitution that outlawed the importation of slaves from foreign countries. Given the importance of slavery to the southern economy, it should seem odd that the South would include this clause in its own constitution. However, the South had two very good reasons for banning the importation of new slaves. The South needed the support and recognition of Europe if they hoped to remain independent. Most European countries were opposed to slavery and would be displeased if the international slave market were reopened by the Confederacy. Additionally, the Confederate states wanted the more moderate border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri) to join them. They hoped by banning the importation of new slaves, both Europe and the border states would support the Confederacy.
While there are many similarities, there are some important differences to note. Some of these differences are merely trivial. For example, the Confederate Constitution only allowed the president to serve for one, six year term. Other differences between the two constitutions were more significant. In Article I, Section 8.1, the Confederate Constitution states that Congress shall have the power to:
…Collect taxes…but no bounties shall be granted from the treasury – nor shall any duties or taxes on the importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry.
What issues, that cause of great economic tension between the North and the South is banned by the Confederate Constitution in the passage above? ____________________
Most of the differences between the U.S. Constitution and the Confederate Constitution were centered on slavery. One of the most noticeable differences was in the use of the word “slavery”. The Founding Fathers used a variety of euphemisms to describe slaves (i.e. persons held in service or labor). The Confederate Constitution was more direct in that it used the word “slave”. Other sections of the Confederate Constitution explicitly protected the institution of slavery. Look at the excerpts below:
Article I, Section 9.4 [Congress shall pass] no bill…or law denying the right of property in negro slaves…
Article IV, section 2.1 The citizens of each State…shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property…this right shall not be impaired.
Article IV, section 3.3 In all [new] territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress…
As the Confederate Constitutional Convention ended, the delegates selected Jefferson Davis, the former senator from Mississippi to serve as their first president. Alexander Stephens, a former Whig Party member from Georgia and an outspoken white supremacist was selected to serve as his vice-president.
Name: U.S. History
The Birth of the Confederacy:
What were the border states? _____________________________________________________
What was the name given to the southern states when they seceded? _____________________