Richmond, Virginia, Named the Capital of the Confederacy
When delegates from six seceded states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina) convened in Montgomery, Alabama, on Feb. 4, 1861, they had an enormous task ahead of them: form a new country, the Confederate States of America. (Delegates from the seventh seceded state, Texas, joined them on March 2.) These delegates of the Provisional Confederate Congress went immediately to work: adopting a new constitution, choosing an interim president, and setting up a new government.
While the delegates were busying themselves, momentous events occurred which dramatically affected their thinking and task at hand. On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces in Charleston, South Carolina, fired upon the Union Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War. On April 15, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 volunteers to serve for 90 days to put down the Southern rebellion. Suddenly, four other Southern states (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia) faced the prospect of their country asking them to help attack their Southern brethren. This they could not do, and all four decided to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.
The Virginia Convention voted to secede just two days after Lincoln’s call to arms, on April 17, 1861. Even though this decision could not be official until ratified in a statewide referendum—which did not occur until May 23—members of the Virginia Convention went ahead on May 4 and offered their capital city, Richmond, to be the capital of the Confederate States of America. On the last day of their second and final session in Montgomery, May 21, 1861, the Provisional Confederate Congress accepted Virginia’s offer—despite grumblings from the Alabama delegates, who thought Montgomery would make a fine capital for the new country.
There were many reasons why Virginia was a desirable location for the Confederate capital. First and foremost, perhaps, was the prestige of Virginia: after all, four of the United States’ first five presidents came from Virginia (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe). This meant that except for the four years of John Adams’s presidency, the U.S. had been led by a Virginian throughout its first 36 years of existence. Virginia was a populous, proud, rich and productive state with many fine traditions and institutions.
There were other, more practical reasons why Virginia was a logical choice to host the new country’s capital. Chief among them was the mighty Tredegar ironworks complex in Richmond, the only industrial plant in the South capable of producing heavy ordnance essential for the war effort. Richmond had other industrial plants as well, and was the center of a large railroad network. It had the largest population in the Confederacy and a robust, varied economy. It also was blessed with a wide range of natural resources.
The following four newspaper articles give some idea of how the news of Richmond becoming the Confederate capital was reported. This first article was published (one suspects rather gleefully) by the Richmond Whig and reprinted by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on May 8, 1861:
The Capital of the South
Circumstances render it highly probable that Richmond will speedily become the Capital of the great Southern Confederacy. Its position—political, commercial, strategical, moral and sanitary—gives it vast advantages over all competitors.
President Davis, it is supposed, will make it his headquarters at an early day.
The following on this subject was adopted by the [Virginia] Convention Saturday:
Resolved, by this Convention, that the President of the Confederate States and the constituted authorities of the Confederacy be, and they are hereby, cordially and respectfully invited, whenever in their opinion the public interest or convenience may require it, to make the City of Richmond, or some other place in this State, the seat of the Government of the Confederacy.
This article was published by another Virginia paper, the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia) on May 9, 1861:
Our contemporaries of the South are debating the final establishment of the Capital of the Confederate States, and nearly all unite upon Richmond as the most appropriate location. Accessibility, climate, the beauty of the city, and the ancient prestige of the State, plead most eloquently in its behalf. Many consider it an admirable stroke of policy, in the harmonizing effect it would have upon all the border States. The Montgomery press say that there is a strong probability that the permanent Capital will be removed within the period of a month, and suggest Richmond as the most eligible location. The Alabama delegation voted alone for it to remain in Montgomery.
The news that the Provisional Confederate Congress had voted on May 21 to accept Virginia’s offer of Richmond was reported by the Richmond Whig (Richmond, Virginia) on the front page of its May 24, 1861, issue:
The Confederate Capital
A dispatch, yesterday, states that Congress has adjourned, and that Richmond has been selected for the seat of Government of the Confederate States.
Bravely done! President Davis is expected here some of these days—on his way to pay his respects to his next door neighbor, at Washington!
This follow-up report was published by the Daily Constitutionalist (Augusta, Georgia) on May 27, 1861:
Removal of the Government
Montgomery, Ala., May 27.—The business of the several departments of the Government here is pretty much suspended. The officials and clerks are all busily engaged in packing up papers, documents, furniture, &c., and directing them to Richmond. In a day or two, everything belonging to the Government will be en route for Richmond, Va., the new Capital of the Southern Confederacy.
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