Constitution of the Confederate States of America Adopted
Representatives from six seceding states moved with dizzying speed in the spring of 1861 to establish a new country. The deputies from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana (listed in chronological order of secession) convened as the Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 4, 1861. Four days after the Congress opened, on February 8, they adopted a provisional constitution to formalize their new country, the Confederate States of America. The next day, February 9, they unanimously elected their provisional president: Jefferson Finis Davis. And just like that—in six remarkable days—a new nation was formed, albeit one with a provisional constitution and a provisional president.
Three weeks later, on March 2, the four deputies from the seventh seceding state, Texas, arrived to join the Congress (four other Southern states joined the Confederacy after Fort Sumter was attacked on April 12). The Texas deputies participated in the deliberations, and on March 11, 1861, the Confederate States of America adopted its formal Constitution. The Confederate Constitution was based very closely on the Constitution of the United States of America. One significant difference is that the Confederate Constitution specifically mentions the word God, with the phrase “invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God.” Other significant differences are the more exact specification and limitation of the powers of the central government, and an emphasis on the importance of states’ rights.
A marked contrast between the two constitutions was that the Confederate Constitution specifically discusses slavery—a word which does not appear in the U.S. Constitution. The Confederate Constitution states: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” The Confederate Constitution did ban the foreign slave trade, except slaves imported from the slave states remaining in the Union: “The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country, other than the slave holding States and territories of the United States, is forbidden.”
This article explaining some of the details of the Confederate Constitution was published by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on March 14, 1861:
Constitution of the Confederate States
Where It Differs with the Constitution of the United States
We note the principal points of difference between the permanent Constitution of the Confederate States, which we today present to our readers, and the Constitution of the United States of America.
1st. The preamble invokes “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.”
2nd. Any judicial or other Federal officer, resident and acting solely within the limits of any State, may be impeached by a vote of two-thirds of both branches of the Legislature of such State.
3. Congress may, by law, grant to the principal officer in each of the Executive Departments, a seat upon the floor of either house, with the privilege of discussing any measures appertaining to his department.
4. The President may approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill.
5. The general welfare clause is omitted.
6. No bounties can be granted from the Treasury, and no duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations, shall be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry.
7. Congress shall have no power to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce, except for the purpose of furnishing lights, beacons, buoys and other aids to navigation on the coasts, and the improvement of harbors, and the removing [of] obstructions in rivers, and in all such cases such duties shall be laid on the navigation facilitated as may be necessary to pay the costs and expenses thereof.
8. The expenses of the Post Office Department after the first of March, 1863, shall be paid out of its own reserve.
9. The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country, other than the slave holding States and territories of the United States, is forbidden.
10. Congress shall have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, the Confederacy.
11. Congress shall appropriate no money, unless it be asked and estimated for by some one of the heads of Departments, and submitted by the President; unless by a vote of two-thirds of both houses, taken by yeas and nays—or to pay its own expenses—or claims adjudicated against the Confederacy.
12. Congress is required to establish a tribunal to adjudicate claims against the Government.
13. Congress can grant no extra compensation to any contractor, officer, agent or servant, after contract made, or service rendered.
14. Every law shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.
15. When any river divides or flows through two or more States, they may enter into compacts to improve its navigation.
16. The President holds his office for six years and is not re-eligible.
17. Upon removal of civil officers in the Executive Department, except Cabinet officers and officers connected with the diplomatic service, the President shall report the removal to the Senate with his reasons therefor.
18. The citizens of one State cannot sue the citizens of another State, in the Federal Courts.
19. Citizens of each State shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of the Confederacy with their slaves and other property, and the right of property in slaves shall not thereby be impaired.
20. Other States shall be admitted by a vote of two-thirds of the whole House of Representatives, and two-thirds of the Senate voting by States.
21. The institution of negro slavery shall be recognized and protected in the territory, by Congress and the Territorial Governments—and the citizens of all the States shall have the right to take their slaves to the territory.
22. The Constitution shall be amended upon the demand of any three States [suggesting the amendments] for a Convention of all the States. And if the Convention of all the States concur in the amendments and they are ratified by two-thirds of the State Legislatures or Conventions, they shall be a part of the Constitution.
23. Congress shall pass no law impairing or denying the right of property in negro slaves.
The Northern press, too, was interested in details of the Confederate Constitution. This article was published by the Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts) on March 13, 1861:
We get some additional information as to the new constitution adopted at Montgomery. It provides that no person not a citizen of the Confederate States shall be allowed to vote for any officer, civil or political, state or federal. Under the first census South Carolina is entitled to five representatives in Congress, Georgia to ten, Alabama to nine, Florida to two, Mississippi to seven, Louisiana to six, and Texas to six. Each state is entitled to two senators. Both Houses of Congress may grant a seat on the floor to either of the principal officers of each executive department, with the privilege of discussing the measures proposed by his department. The three-fifths slave representation is continued. Congress is not allowed, through duties, to foster any branch of industry. The foreign slave trade is prohibited. This last provision has a two-fold purpose, to conciliate the border states and to render it possible to obtain recognition by foreign powers. It is in the face of the South Carolina leaders, who denounce it, and who will acquiesce in the hope of all barriers against the foreign slave-trade being swept away in due time.
In that same issue, the Lowell Daily Citizen and News published this article, reflecting a Northern response to news of the Confederate Constitution:
The Old Bunker Hill Spirit
A farmer in this country, in the most quiet way possible, said to us, after inquiring the news from the South: “Well, sir, this is a most deplorable state of affairs, but I have often heard of people who would ruin if they could not rule. I have got to be advanced in years, and would not make much of a soldier, yet I have by hard work accumulated a little property, enough to carry me through, and have a little left over. If the general government needs ninety per cent. of it, in taxes towards maintaining the Union and the Constitution, I will give it up cheerfully.” We were greatly impressed by this noble speech. It satisfied us that the quiet, slandered and insulted North has not degenerated, and that when the government called, it would find a response that would be like the roll of an earthquake.
—New Haven Palladium.
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