Confederate States of America: The Beginning
By Feb. 1, 1861, seven states had seceded from the U.S. In chronological order, they were: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Three days later, on February 4, the first six seceded states sent delegates to Montgomery, Alabama, where they convened as the Provisional Confederate Congress. Their objective: form a new country and permanently sever their break from the Union. (The seventh seceded state, Texas, sent its four delegates to the Congress on March 2.)
The Provisional Congress’ first order of business was to formalize the new country, the Confederate States of America, which it did on February 8 by adopting a provisional constitution. The delegates then deliberated further aspects of their new government and modified their provisional document. On March 11, they adopted the formal Confederate Constitution.
There were actually two conventions held on Feb. 4, 1861: the one in Montgomery, and a second one in Washington, D.C., between ten free states and seven slave states that had not seceded—at least, not yet. These were anxious days in America, and the fate of the Union clearly depended on the outcome of the two conventions.
For the pessimistic editorial board of one New York newspaper, however, there was very little uncertainty; it was convinced the worst was about to come, as can be seen in this first article. In the following article, a Southern newspaper presents a far more optimistic view of current events.
This editorial was published by the New York Herald (New York, New York) on Feb. 4, 1861:
The Washington and Montgomery Conventions—What Will Be Their Results?
Two Conventions meet today, at different points in the Union, to deliberate upon the causes which have produced present results in the country, and upon the remedies most applicable to the crisis at which it has arrived. Representatives from the seceding States will convene at Montgomery, Alabama, for the purpose of consolidating the bonds between the slaveholding members that have already withdrawn from the confederation [i.e., the U.S.A.]; while, at Washington, a State Compromise Union Convention will attempt to consult respecting the best means of compromising difficulties between the two sections, and restoring peace to our national councils. The States-saving Convention, last named, will accomplish nothing. It will break up in disorder; the elements that compose it are heterogeneous; and no good can arrive from it, however resolved it may be to effect ends that are clearly impracticable, when the circumstances under which it is called upon to act are considered. The Montgomery assemblage will possess, on the contrary, elements of life that cannot fail to mark with definite precision the progress of revolution at the South, and the requirements of public opinion in the slaveholding States, in a manner which will astound and should admonish—if they are yet capable of receiving instruction—those upon whom the responsibilities of the future rest, this side of Mason and Dixon’s line.
There was a period, not many weeks since, when the difficulties between the North and the South could have been easily settled. The South then asked for no more than was guaranteed to them by the common law of the country, at the time the constitution was framed. Freedom to carry their property into the Territories; the repeal of certain obnoxious laws; liberty to sojourn with bondsmen in any part of the Union, and that perfect tolerance of slavery, as a social institution, which is readily granted by sect towards sect, in the world of religious freedom, were all that was necessary for the North to accord to their brethren south of the Potomac, to secure endless tranquility, and the dissipation of every cloud, that hangs over the horizon. Had the United States Senate and House of Representatives bestirred themselves while there was time; had they not been utterly lost, stupefied, and corrupted, in the midst of a revolutionary period which they have had neither the knowledge to comprehend, the sagacity to control, nor the uprightness and independence to encounter, all might have been well. The discretion, judgment and patriotism of statesmen like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, would have saved the Union in its hour of necessity. It is now too late, and the confederacy can no longer be held together, unless the republican party, upon which the responsibility of the future rests, is prepared to grant, unreservedly and without demur, every one of the requirements of the States against which its aggressions have been directed for thirty years past.
Revolutionary bodies ever move boldly, firmly, and sternly forward, in their work of reconstruction. The representatives, at Montgomery, of the seceding States, will not leave incomplete the task they have been appointed to perform…It is not be believed that the acts of representatives from the northern slaveholding States who form the nucleus of the body which will convene today at Washington will be discordant from those of their friends at Montgomery. They have unsuccessfully exhausted every effort in favor of a compromise between the North and the South. Their propositions have been rejected, and the only honorable course open to them is to aid their slaveholding neighbors to the extend of their power…If the followers of Mr. Lincoln do not at once make up their minds to concede everything that the South ask, no resource remains excepting a disruption of the confederacy, or civil war.
The day after the Provisional Confederate Congress began its convention in Montgomery, another editorial board—this one from a Southern newspaper—presented a sanguine view of the proceedings. This editorial was published by the Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) on Feb. 5, 1861:
The Montgomery Convention
…The peaceable assembling of such a body to settle the terms of a new union and a new government for a circle of equal republics is a great epoch in the history of American institutions and principles. The grand idea of the American Revolution was the right of a people to establish their own forms of government and choose their own rulers; the grand idea of the Constitution of the United States was the union of political communities under one common agency for external affairs, but with the internal capacity for each to maintain its own rights, liberties and institutions against invasion from any quarter. The recent acts of the Southern people and States have rigidly conformed to both ideas. They have pronounced that the late Government of the United States was destructive of the objects for which it was established, and asserted their right to abolish the same as respects themselves, and to erect another which shall better secure their happiness and safety. They pay homage at the same time to the federative principle, and immediately propose to substitute for the old Union, which they have thrown off as an oppression, one which shall more perfectly “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
…This task is in the hands of the convention at Montgomery. May they be inspired with the wisdom to do their work, so as to command the whole support of their constituents, and establish the blessings of peace and good government forever.
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.