Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Civil War – Confederate Activities in February 1861

The Confederate Government Is Formed

On February 6, 1861, the six seceded states—South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, soon to be joined by Texas—sent delegates to Montgomery, Alabama, to attend a constitutional convention. Two days later a constitution was adopted which mirrored, in its language, the Constitution of the United States.

"On February 9th, the convention chose Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America, with Alexander H. Stevens, of Georgia, as Vice-President. A week later, on February 18, Mr. Davis appeared on the steps of the Alabama State House and delivered his inaugural address, stating a hope for peace, and relying for it on a principle of nature, not of law:

I enter upon the duties of the office with the hope that the beginning of our career, as a Confederacy, may not be obstructed by hostile opposition to our separate existence, which, with the blessing of Providence, we intend to maintain.

Our present political position. . .illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.” In the case of the Union, of course, those “ends” were expressed to be: to establish “justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves (not including African Negro slaves) and our posterity.”
 The Constitution of the Confederacy embraced these same predicates as the basis of its government. President Davis, in his address, explained the theory of American government as he understood it, this way:

The right proclaimed at the birth of the United States. . . recognizes in the people the power to resume the authority delegated. Thus the sovereign States here represented have proceeded to form this Confederacy; and it is by abuse of language that their act has been denominated a revolution. They formed a new alliance, but within each State its government has remained, so that the rights of persons and property have not been disturbed. The agent through which they communicated with foreign nations has changed, but this does not necessarily interrupt their international relations. . . .

If we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us if we fail

The Confederate President’s Cabinet

Mr. Davis selected as his cabinet, Mr. Toombs of Georgia, Secretary of State, Mr. Mallory of Florida, Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Benjamin of Louisiana, Attorney General, Mr. Reagan of Texas, Postmaster General, Mr. Memminger of South Carolina, Secretary of the Treasury, and Mr. Walker of Alabama, Secretary of war.

President Davis Sends Envoys to Washington

On February 25th, President Davis appointed three men—A.B. Roman, Martin J. Crawford, and John Forsyth—to act as his envoys or “commissioners,” to travel to Washington and present themselves to the Union government; in Davis’s words, “to the end that by negotiation all questions between the two governments might be resolved peaceably.” Mr. Forsyth arrived first in Washington, on February 27th , the day the Peace Convention finally adjourned. He attempted to present to President Buchanan a letter from President Davis, but Buchanan declined to meet with him or receive the letter, on the grounds that his term of office had all but expired, so that the matter was for his successor, Mr. Lincoln, to resolve.

The Peace Convention

On January 19th, the Assembly of the State of Virginia had issued a resolution, inviting the States to send delegates to a conference in Washington, to debate measures and design a political solution to the crisis secession posed.

Resolved, Virginia wants to employ every reasonable means to avert so dire a calamity as war between the states, and is determined to make a final effort to restore the Union and the Constitution in the spirit in which they were established by the fathers of the Republic: Therefore, an invitation is hereby extended to all such States, as are willing to unite with Virginia to adjust the present controversies, so as to afford to the people of the slaveholding states adequate guarantees for the security of their rights.

The convention was called to order on Monday, February 1, and finally adjourned on Wednesday, February 27th. In the sessions that daily occurred between these dates, the delegates debated the elements of a plan that might induce the seceded states to return to the Union, chief among the planks was the idea that slavery not be confined to the existing slave states. Late in the course of the convention, Salmon Chase, of Ohio, a national leader of the Republican Party and soon to be Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, addressed the Convention.

“Whatever our actions may be here, dismiss the idea that all that is necessary to secure amendments to the constitution, is to secure for them the sanction of a majority in this hall.:”

“The result of the national election has been spoken of as the effect of a sudden impulse, as an irregular excitement of the public mind; that, upon reflection, the hastily-formed opinions which brought about Lincoln’s election will be changed. I cannot take this view. I believe that the election must be regarded as the triumph of principles cherished in the hearts of the people of the free states. Chief among these principles is the restriction of slavery within existing State limits; not war upon slavery within those limits, but fixed opposition to its extension beyond them. By a fair and unquestionable majority (plurality actually) we have secured that triumph. Do you think we will throw it away?

Do you say that all we propose embodies no substantial guarantees of immunity to slavery through the preservation of Federal powers? We reply that we think the Constitution as it stands, is sufficient. If you think otherwise, we are ready to join you in recommending a National Convention to propose amendments to the Constitution in the regular way. Kentucky, a slave state, has proposed such a Convention; Illinois, a free state, has joined in the proposition. Join us, then, in recommending such a Convention, and assure us that you will abide by its decision. We will join you and give a similar assurance.

The only alternative to this proposition is the proposition that the present Congress be called upon to submit to the States a thirteenth amendment embodying the amendments recommended by the committee. In order to submit these to the States by Congress, a two-thirds vote in each House is necessary. That, I venture to say, cannot be obtained. Were it otherwise, who can assure you that the proposed amendment will obtain the sanction of three-fourths of the States, without which it is a nullity?

Gentlemen say, if this proposition cannot prevail, every slave state will secede. Let me say for the people of the free states, that they will not surrender their Constitution nor give up the Union without great struggles and great sacrifices. If forced to the last extremity, the people will meet the issue as they best may; but be assured they will meet it with unity.

Gentlemen, Mr. Lincoln will be inaugurated on the 4th of March. He will take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States—the whole of it. That oath will bind him to take care that the laws be executed throughout the United States. Will secession absolve him from that oath? Will it diminish one jot its awful obligation? If the President does his duty and undertakes to enforce the laws, and secession resists, what then? War! Civil war!”

A vote then was taken on the proposition being considered—“The Union is indissoluble and no State can secede from the Union.” The Ayes were: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The Noes were: Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia. So the proposition was not agreed to.

On the last day of the Convention, the following proposition was passed and sent to the Congress for ratification. “Neither the Constitution nor any amendment thereof shall be construed to give Congress the power to regulate, abolish, or control, within any State, the relation established or recognized by the laws thereof touching persons held to labor or involuntary service therein, nor to interfere with or abolish slavery in the District of Columbia without the consent of Maryland and the owners.” The Ayes were: Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia. The Noes were: Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. New York and Kansas were divided. So the proposition was adopted. The following delegates dissented from the votes of their states: Mr. Clay of Kentucky, Mr. Cook of Illinois, Mr. Slaughter of Indiana, Mr. Chase of Ohio.

On the day before Mr. Lincoln was swore into office, the Congress of the United States approved the proposed thirteen amendment to the Constitution, substantially in the form presented to it by the Peace Convention and, after passing it to the States for ratification, adjourned its last session; though the Senate remained in executive session to consider the new president’s appointments. All intelligent persons knew the amendment had no chance of ratification and, thus, Virginia’s effort at peace had failed.

Some in Mississippi Want to Commemorate Civil War on License Plates

There is an interesting debate heating up on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. In Mississippi a group is trying to highlight some of the region’s most prominent leaders. Proposing a new commemorative license plate every year, the group Sons of Confederate Veterans is attempting to get Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest on license plates for 2014. This may not be the best choice because General Forrest was also a KKK grand wizard. Needless to say, some Mississippians (namely, the state’s chapter of the NAACP) are not exactly thrilled by the idea.

General Forrest is famous for his leadership within the KKK and for his role in “leading a massacre of black Union soldiers.” Sounds exactly like the kind of guy whose face you want to see on the back of the car in front of you every day on the road, right? The celebration of this particular general’s career is pushing all the wrong buttons with many in Mississippi, and the local NAACP has come out strong in condemning the act:
“He should be viewed in the same light that we view Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden,” Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP in Mississippi, told The Associated Press, adding that the Klan was a “terrorist group.”

“The state of Mississippi should deny any vanity tags which would highlight racial hatred in this state,” he said.
For many who live in northern or western states, the concept of Confederate pride in the year 2011 is extremely difficult to understand, much less defend. But the group behind the movement to get Gen. Forrest on a license plate claim that the general redeemed himself “in his own time,” according to Sons of Confederate Veterans representative Greg Stewart, and “we should respect that.”

Today’s Americans, particularly those from northern and western states just do not understand that many in the south see the “Civil War” in a completely different light and are quite proud of hundreds of thousands who took part in the “struggle for states rights”. I can appreciate that, but I think they should be more careful about celebrating the part of their history involved in the despicable acts of groups like the KKK. 

In the south they do not see the war as a fight to free the slaves. They see it as an attempt by the Federal government to intrude on their way of life and dictate to them how they should live. To them the issue of slavery was just one (important) example of this intrusion. The creation of groups such as the KKK and the horrible way freed slaves suffered in the south was magnified as a backlash to the way the south was treated following the war.

Live Long and Prosper....


Anonymous said...

I was writing about the hot issue of 'internal improvements' (government subsidies to private industries to foster infrastructure) prior to the War Between the States on my blog when I came across this.

The most interesting aspects of the Confederate Constitution by far are its Jeffersonian laissez-faire principles. For instance it forbade protectionist tariffs, which the Cotton States had suffered under for a long time, particularly when Lincoln increased the rate over twice over in 1860.

Another intriguing aspect was the requirement for a two-thirds legislative minority for ANY tax increase - now this is my kind of Constitution.

Article 1, Section VIII, Clause III of the Confederate Constitution also stated:

‘‘Neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce’’.

In other words, no bailouts!

Gary said...

Those are good points. As I have tried to explain to several people recently, the issue in the south that most prompted their leaving the Union was the economic impact of the Federal Governments policies in the south - slavery was seen as one of several economic issues, not a moral issue. To them it was a question of "states rights".

They very clearly favored the old Jeffersonian Republicans view of a much smaller federal system. It is also interesting to note that several states, north and south, have these same provisions in their state constitutions today.