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March 11, 1861: Confederate Constitution Adopted

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It has always been intriguing to me that, as microscopically studied as the Civil War has been over the years, more attention has not been paid to the Confederate Constitution. It is a fascinating document.  Crafted by men who had lived their entire lives under the United States Constitution and who had served in the Federal government, its similarities and differences illuminate what these men thought was good with the old Constitution and what needed improvement.  This Constitution took the place of the Provisional Constitution of the Confederacy, go here to read it, a document that by its own terms was meant to be temporary and had a hurried, improvised feel to it.  The permanent Confederate Constitution was the product of more mature reflection and the additional time that the drafters had to think about this new government and nation they were helping to midwife.  Here are some observations on this document:

  1.  The Preamble of the Constitution invokes God, 1861 being a more religious time than 1787.
  2. The preamble states that this is to be a permanent federal government, the Founding Fathers of the Confederacy obviously being eager that secession not be repeated against the Confederacy.  This is underlined by the fact that the representatives from South Carolina proposed that a right to secession be explicit in the Constitution.  Only the South Carolinians voted in favor of this proposal.
  3. Article I dealing with Congress is quite similar to that Article in the US Constitution with some significant changes:  State legislatures were given the power to impeach their members of Congress on a two/thirds vote.  Each House of the Confederate Congress could allocate seats to the heads of Executive Departments, in order to allow them to discuss the activities of their Departments, which seems to be an attempt to adopt the practice of the British Parliament.  The President of the Confederacy was granted a line item veto, but any bill on which he exercised such a veto would be resubmitted to Congress with such a veto being overridden by a two-thirds vote.  Congress was forbidden to allocate funds for internal improvements not set forth explicitly in the Constitution, such improvements being limited to waterways and coastal navigation improvements.  The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution was set forth in Article I, except for the ninth and tenth amendments which were set forth in Article VI.  All appropriations had to pass by a two-thirds vote, except as otherwise enumerated in the Confederate Constitution.  All bills appropriating money had to list the exact amount being appropriated and the purpose for which the funds were to be appropriate.  All bills had to have a single subject which was to be set out in the title to the bill.
  4. Under Article II Presidents were to be limited to a single six year term.  The only two  term President during the adult lives of the men involved in drafting the Confederate Constitution would have been Andrew Jackson, and even his most ardent partisans would have admitted that his second term had been rocky.  The frustrated desires of many Presidents following Jackson for a second term might have been regarded as a source of friction best avoided altogether under the new government.  Confederate Presidents had to have resided within the bounds of the Confederacy for 14 years.  If strictly construed this provision would have rendered every man in the Confederacy ineligible for the office.
  5. Article III dictated that no State could be sued in the Confederate court system by a citizen or a subject of any foreign State.
  6. Article IV made a two-thirds vote necessary for a State to be admitted to the Confederacy.
  7. Article V required only a two-thirds vote of the States to amend the Confederate Constitution.
  8. The most significant differences with the Federal Constitution were on the various issues arising on the question of slavery.  The Confederate document used the terms slaves and slavery.  The international slave trade is banned, except with the United States.  Congress is given the power to ban the importation of slaves from any State not a member of the Confederacy.  Congress is denied any power to pass a law impairing the right to own slaves.  No State could pass a law impairing the right of a citizen of the Confederacy to own slaves.  Slavery in Confederate territories was mandated.

Here is the text of the Confederate Constitution: Continue Reading