Confederate States of America Adopt Provisional Constitution
The formalization of the Confederate States of America happened with the speed and resoluteness of men determined to accomplish the monumental task at hand: building a new country from scratch. Delegates from six seceding states (in chronological order: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana) convened as the Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 4, 1861. The delegates had to resolve complex issues of revenue, commerce, representation, and defense.
Undeterred by the enormity of what they were doing, the representatives of the six states got right to work (the four deputies from the seventh seceding state, Texas, arrived to participate in the Congress on March 2.) On the second day of the Congress, February 5, South Carolina delegate Christopher Memminger formally moved that the seceding states create a new “confederacy,” and he was promptly placed in charge of a committee of 12 to write a new constitution. In just an astonishing two days, the committee presented the constitution, and the next day—Feb. 8, 1861—the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America was unanimously adopted. A new nation was born.
The speed of the new Confederate Constitution was only partly due to the urgency and sense of purpose of the committee of 12. A large reason for its rapid creation was because it was almost an exact copy of the Constitution of the United States of America. One significant difference was that the Confederate Constitution specifically mentioned the word God, with the phrase “invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” Other significant differences were the more exact specification and limitation of the powers of the central government, an emphasis on the importance of states’ rights, and direct discussion of slavery—a word which does not appear in the U.S. Constitution.
The following newspaper article about the newly-created country and its new constitution was published by the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia) on Feb. 11, 1861:
By Magnetic Telegraph
‘The Confederate States of North America’
Southern Confederacy Organized
Alexander H. Stephens—Vice President
A Constitution Adopted
Proceedings of the New Congress
Montgomery, Feb. 8.—The Southern Confederacy Congress was in session four hours this morning, and met again tonight. Probably the result will be made known during the night or tomorrow. The only public session today was of about a half hour’s duration, and was consumed in prayer and the transaction of some formal business.
Montgomery, Feb. 9.—[The Southern Confederacy] Congress last night unanimously agreed to the Constitution and plan of a Provisional Government. A strong and vigorous Government will go into immediate operation, with full powers and ample funds. No proposition for a compromise with the North or a reconstruction of the old Government will be entertained.
The present Congress will remain in session to make all the necessary laws required by the new Confederacy.
Montgomery, Feb. 9 P.M.—The outsiders manifested an unusual interest in the proceedings of Congress today. The hall and gallery was crowded to an unusual extent.
Mr. Memminger presented a beautiful model flag, made by some ladies of South Carolina, with a blue cross on a red field, and seven stars on the cross. It was greatly admired. The same Delegate also presented another model by a gentleman from Charleston, with a cross of fifteen stars on a field of stripes.
A Committee was appointed to report on a flag, seal, coat of arms, and motto for the Confederacy.
The President was directed to appoint Committees on Foreign Affairs, Finance, Military and Naval Affairs, the Postal Affairs, Commerce, Patents and Printing.
Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, and Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, were unanimously elected President and Vice President of the “Confederate States of North America.”
A Committee of three Alabama Deputies was appointed to inquire and report on what terms suitable buildings can be secured for the use of the several Executive Departments of the Confederacy under the Provisional Government.
A bill was passed, continuing in force until repealed or altered by Congress, all the laws of the United States which were in force and use on the 1st of November last, not inconsistent with the Constitution of the Provisional Government. (It is understood that under this law a tariff will be laid on all goods brought from the United States.)
A resolution was adopted instructing the Finance Committee to report promptly a Tariff bill for raising revenue for the support of the Provisional Government.
A resolution was adopted authorizing the appointment of a Committee to report a Constitution for a permanent Government of the Confederacy.
Congress was in session about two hours, and the remaining time was occupied in secret session.
Montgomery, Feb. 9.—The Constitution of the Provisional Government has been printed, and is now a public document.
The preamble says:
“We, the deputies of the sovereign and independent States of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, invoking the favor of Almighty God, do hereby, in behalf of these States, ordain and establish this Constitution for the Provisional Government, the same to continue one year from the inauguration of the President, or until a permanent Constitution or Confederation between the said States shall be put into operation, whichsoever shall first occur.”
The following are the amendments to the Constitution of the United States:
7th Section—Art. 1st.—The importation of African negroes from any foreign country, other than the slaveholding States of the United States, is hereby forbidden, and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.
2d Sec.—The Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of this Confederacy.
Art. 4th—3d clause of Sec. 2d.—A slave in one State escaping to another, shall be delivered upon the claim of the party to whom said slave may belong, by the executive authority of the State in which such slave may be found; and in case of any abduction or forcible rescue, full compensation, including the value of the slave, and all costs and expenses shall be made to the party by the State in which such abduction or rescue shall take place.
Art. 6th—2d clause.—The Government hereby instituted, shall take immediate steps for the settlement of all matters between the States forming it, and their other late confederates of the United States in relation to the public property and the public debt at the time of their withdrawal from them; these States hereby declaring it to be their wish and earnest desire to adjust everything pertaining to the common property, the common liability and common obligations of that Union on principles of right, justice, equity and good faith.
All the other portions of the Constitution are identical [there actually are a few more differences—ed.] with the Constitution of the United States.
A great demonstration is going on here. A grand complimentary serenade was given to Vice President Stephens which brought him out in an eloquent speech.
Messrs. Chesnut and Keitt, of South Carolina, Conrad, of Louisiana, and others, also made addresses. The demonstration is still progressing.
One hundred guns were fired on Capitol Hill this afternoon.
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