Confederate States of America

views updated May 29 2018


CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA, a breakaway slaveholding republic founded in February 1861 after the secession from the Union of the lower South states. It originally comprised seven states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas) but gained four additional members from the upper South (Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina) in the wake of President Abraham Lincoln's decision to force the seceded states back into the Union after the attack on Fort Sumter in April. The overall population of the Confederate States in 1861 was approximately 9 million, of whom 3.5 million were African American slaves.


Delegates from the lower South states met in convention in early February in Montgomery, Alabama, to write a new constitution. They quickly agreed on a provisional document, and under its authority elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as president and vice president, respectively. On 11 March 1861, delegates unanimously adopted a permanent constitution for the Confederate States. Most of the new constitution's provisions were identical to those of its federal counterpart, but some changes reflected the new republic's states-rights origins and distinctive society. There was no general welfare clause; Confederate funding of internal improvements was prohibited and protective tariffs banned; and the Confederate president was to serve a single six-year term. The constitution forbade the passage of any law undermining the holding of slavesthe Confederacy's founders avoided the euphemisms of their federal forefathersbut delegates rejected a reopening of the foreign slave trade, which many radicals had been advocating. The convention also rejected proposals to incorporate into the constitution the right of secession. In general, Confederate founding represented the defeat of "fire-eating" radicalism and a reassertion of the conservative political authority of the South's planter class.

Organization and Mobilization

For the first year of the Confederacy's existence, members of its constitutional convention also served as members of the provisional congress. In May 1861, the congress votedover President Davis's vetoto move the Confederate capital from Montgomery to Richmond, Virginia. The switch was made possible by Virginia's ratification of secession on 23 May and dictated by Richmond's location, size, and commercial and industrial capacity; among other things, Richmond was the site of the Tredegar Iron Works, the largest facility of its kind in the South. Military mobilization began almost as soon as political organization, and throughout 1861 and early 1862, the congress passed numerous acts designed to stimulate and regulate recruitment. This legislation produced a bewildering situation in which volunteers could enter the Confederate army either directly or as members of state militias and could serve for terms that ranged from six months to three years. The number of those willing to serve during the first few months of the war far exceeded the quantity of available arms, thereby limiting the army's capabilities. By the end of 1861, however, enthusiasm for volunteering had begun to decline, and the imminent expiry of the twelve-month recruits' term of service caused the Confederate congress on 16 April 1862 to enact the first conscription law in American history. The law required three years of service from men aged eighteen to thirty-five. The upper age limit was extended to forty-five on 27 September 1862. Finally, on 17 February 1864, the congress required military service from all able-bodied men aged seventeen to fifty, with those under eighteen and over forty-five being reserved for state defense. One of the most contentious aspects of Confederate conscription was the policy of exemption, first defined in April 1862 to include Confederate and state officials and a range of occupations such as telegraph operators, transportation workers, and ministers of religion. On 11 October 1862, the list was considerably expanded to bring in industrial workers and, most controversially, to exempt from military service men responsible for overseeing twenty slaves or more. Widespread abuses prompted congress in the February 1864 act to end industrial exemptions. Conscripts could also avoid Confederate service by hiring substitutes, a policy that encouraged corruption and, like exemption, aroused resentment from those who charged that it discriminated against the poorer classes. As a result, substitution was abolished in December 1863. In total, an estimated 900,000 men served in the Confederate armed forces, or just under half the number of their federal opponents.

Government and Politics

The Confederate government was closely modeled on that of the federal Union. The most conspicuous differences were the single, six-year terms for the president and vice president, and the failure to establish a Confederate supreme court, provision for which had been made in the new constitution. In November 1861, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens were elected president and vice president under the permanent constitution. As provisional president, Davis had selected his cabinet initially upon the basis of state representation. Filling the most important positions were Robert Toombs of Georgia as secretary of state, Christopher G. Memminger of South Carolina as secretary of the treasury, and Leroy P. Walker of Alabama as secretary of war. Anxious to pursue his military and political ambitions, Toombs resigned in July 1861 and was replaced by Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, the first of many cabinet changes that Davis was forced to make. In total, the Confederacy had four secretaries of state, five attorney generals, two secretaries of the treasury, and six secretaries of war. Probably the most able cabinet member was Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana, whose prominent role in the Davis administration aroused resentment because of his Jewish background. Benjamin served the Confederacy between 1861 and 1865 as attorney general, secretary of war, and secretary of state.

The Confederate congress sat as a provisional unicameral body during the republic's first year and was replaced by a permanent senate and house in February 1862. The congress's contribution to Confederate governance was undermined by its high turnover of personnel: only about 10 percent of members served continuously from 1861 to 1865, with many of the South's planter-politicians preferring to serve in the army rather than the legislature. Overseeing the senate was the vice president Alexander Stephens, who emerged as one of Davis's most passionate critics. Political opposition to Davis was apparent from early in the war, but it intensified after the congressional elections of 1863, which, despite their low turnout, represented a judgment on the Confederate government's conduct of the war, indeed on the Confederacy itself. The second Confederate congress, which convened in May 1864, saw a significant rise in the number of antiadministration members. Despite constant disagreement, however, the Confederate president in the main kept control of policymaking and was generally supported by the legislature on important issues. Jefferson Davis exercised his veto power thirty-nine times, and on every occasion except onea bill to allow free postage on soldiers' newspapersCongress upheld his action. As defeat in the war approached in early 1865, the legislature, led by the volatile senator Louis Wigfall of Texas, sought to assert its authority over the president by insisting on changes to the civil and military administration. The demands included the resignation of the cabinet, which Davis resisted even while accepting the departure of James A. Seddon, the secretary of war, and the granting of extra power to the general-in-chief, Robert E. Lee, to which the president acceded.

By far, the Confederacy's most significant departure from previous American practice was the absence of a two-party system. Secession and Confederate founding in many respects had been a reaction against party politics, which Davis and other leaders, reverting to an earlier ideology, regarded as corrupting and antipathetic to their vision of southern unity. But political opposition to the Davis government could not be stilled, and, from the outset, serious differences arose over major aspects of wartime policy, including conscription and impressment. In the absence of political parties, opposition was fragmented, individualistic, and often highly personal in tone. Much of the public opposition to the Davis administration came from governors, who were anxious to protect state prerogatives against the encroachments of Confederate nationalism, and by far the most persistent of the gubernatorial critics was Governor Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, who viewed the policy of conscription as destructive of both states' rights and popular liberty. Although states' rights opposition may have helped undermine public confidence in Davis's conduct of the war, it failed to deflect the president, whose actions were endorsed by Congress and, crucially, by state supreme courts that invariably found the conscription legislation to be constitutional.

Foreign Relations

A number of factors, including widespread contemporary belief in free trade and the legitimacy of secession, caused southern leaders to expect European and especially British support. Nonetheless, the Confederate States used the power of "King Cotton" to try to ensure that support. Cotton accounted for approximately three-quarters of American exports to Britain during the late 1850s, and an estimated 20 percent of the British population earned its livelihood directly or indirectly from the manufacture of cotton products. If cotton was withheld, southerners insisted, Britain and France would be forced to intervene and, at the very least, formally recognize the independence of the Confederate States. Ironically, the strategy backfired, partly as a result of the South's own success as a producer: in 1861, cotton stocks in British warehouses had never been greater, obviating any immediate need for action by the textile industry. As part of the Confederate strategy to gain recognition, diplomats urged European governments to accept that the federal blockade of southern ports was illegal, a "paper" blockade, but were unable to explain why, if that was the case, the South itself was avoiding sending raw cotton to Europe.

The first Confederate commission to EuropeWilliam L. Yancey, A. Dudley Mann, and Pierre A. Rostfailed to capitalize on the opportunities arising from Britain and France's neutrality proclamations of, respectively, May and June 1861. In November, two new envoys, James M. Mason and John A. Slidell, were appointed. Seized by the Union navy from the British steamship Trent, Mason and Slidell were eventually released and arrived in Europe in January 1862. Throughout 1862 and 1863, Mason and Slidell continued to press the British and French governments on the recognition issue but without success. Their diplomatic effort was assisted by a propaganda campaign spearheaded by the Swiss-born Henry Hotze, who in May 1862 established The Index, a weekly newspaper published in London. In the second half of that year, both the British and French governments considered mediation proposals but the former was unprepared to act without significant evidence of Confederate military progress and the latter would not act without Britain. The onset of Lincoln's emancipation policy in 1862 also changed the debate about the nature of the American conflict, rendering it more difficult for Britain and France to consider action on behalf of a slaveholding republic.

The following summer, 1863, southern diplomatic spirits briefly revived when the British parliament debated a motion for Confederate recognition proposed by John A. Roebuck, who had privately discussed intervention with the French emperor. However, Roebuck's initiative collapsed after failing to gain the support of either the British government or Tory opposition. Military setbacks at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863 further frustrated southern attempts to persuade skeptical Europeans about the need for intervention, and after the withdrawal of Roebuck's motion, Confederate diplomacy in Europe was in retreat. Particularly significant was the British government's change of policy over Confederate warships being built in Britain. In July 1862, the Alabama had escaped from the Laird shipyards near Liverpool to begin a destructive career against Union commerce, but the following year the government accepted the U.S. argument that permitting the construction of such vessels violated British neutrality. By 1863, anti-British feeling in the Confederacy was running high, and in October, following several months of incidents, the Davis cabinet unanimously agreed to the expulsion of all British consuls in the South. Confederate relations with France, which invaded Mexico in 1863, proved more productive, particularly on the commercial front, though again failed to achieve the desired aim of recognition. In early 1865, the Confederacy played its final diplomatic card when it dispatched Duncan F. Kenner of Louisiana to Europe with an offer to emancipate the slaves in exchange for recognition. The mission predictably proved a failure, as by this time both Britain and France were convinced of the Confederacy's imminent defeat.

Economy and Society

An agricultural society overwhelmingly geared to the production of staple crops, the Confederate States of America was seriously deficient in the economic resources necessary to fight a protracted war for independence. Southern industrial capacity was dwarfed by that of the federal states, which on the eve of the conflict had produced approximately 90 percent of the nation's manufactured goods. Broadly self-sufficient in food production, the South lacked an adequate transportation system, with its railroads in particular comparing poorly in mileage and quality to those of the industrializing North. During the war, the Confederate government through its various War and Navy Department supply bureaus made great strides toward remedying its industrial shortfall, and by 1863 the South had begun to meet its military-industrial needs. Driving the development in state-sponsored manufacturing was the Pennsylvania-born ordnance chief, General Josiah Gorgas. His overall contribution to the Confederate war effort was immense; without his energy and organizational genius, the southern republic's armed forces would have proved even less capable of resisting its far better equipped and resourced northern rival.

Financing the war also proved a problem for a society that traditionally was not persuaded by the merits of taxation. Initially, the Confederacy raised funds through a variety of bonds, loans, and taxes; the latter included an export tariff of one-eighth cent a pound on raw cotton. In August 1861, under the provisional constitution, the Confederate congress passed a direct tax on all property, including slaves. The measure largely proved ineffective as the majority of the states, who had been encouraged to assume responsibility for the tax, chose to raise the money by borrowing rather than by direct imposition on the people. Over the next two years, debate raged about the expediency and constitutionality of direct taxation. Finally, on 24 April 1863, the Confederate congress passed into law a comprehensive bill whose provisions included occupational and license taxes, a graduated income tax, and a tax-in-kind on agricultural products, including livestock. The 1863 act was resented by many sections of society, including hard-pressed farmers; it proved costly and difficult to enforce, and evasion was widespread. In total, the Confederacy raised only about a twentieth of its revenue from taxation. Overwhelmingly, the war was financed through loans, both Confederate and state-issued, and by the printing of a constant supply of redeemable treasury notes. The Confederacy's currency never became legal tender, however, and the number of notes in circulation soon far outstripped need, fueling inflation. In early 1863 the government also sought to harness its most valuable agricultural commodity by negotiating a cotton-backed loan of $15 million with the French financiers, Erlanger and Company, but the initiative proved a failure as military defeats gradually undermined the Confederacy's international credit.

Inflation was economically and socially corrosive and helped to undermine the confidence of ordinary southerners in the Confederacy. By 1863, many families were experiencing severe hardship. Although Confederate supply never entirely failed, numerous factors, including labor depletions, the crumbling transportation system, and the tightening of the Union blockade, left communities bereft of food and other essential items. In 1863, "bread" riots broke out in many southern towns and cities. The largest incident occurred in April, when female-led demonstrators, fueled by anger over military impressment of food supplies, attacked stores in the capital, Richmond, and were only dispersed after the arrival of President Jefferson Davis. Such localized unrest, however, reflected a broader pattern of social disaffection. As the screws of war tightened, class resentments between small farmers and planters intensified. Many nonslaveholders came to believe that the conflict was no longer being fought in their interest, and they pointed to the Confederate policies of exemption, substitution, and impressment as evidence of a "rich man's war, poor man's fight." By 1864 the disillusionment of many ordinary people was being reflected in increased levels of desertion from the army and in the growth of disaffected areas in states such as Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. While many southerners continued to support the Confederate war effort, their patriotism now focused on General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia rather than the government in Richmond.

The greatest breakdown occurred in black-white relations. Despite their public confidence in slave loyalty, owners could not afford to relax their guard as the war made deep incursions into the South's economic and social life. Fears of insurrection were common from the beginning of the conflict. Although no large-scale black uprisings occurred between 1861 and 1865, the Confederacy's African American population rarely failed to demonstrate its preference for freedom over slavery when the chance arose. As federal troops approached, masters were often forced to move their slaves into the interior. This movement, known as "refugeeing," helped loosen the bonds of slavery as familiar plantation routines were abandoned. Slave discipline was also undermined by the Confederate government's impressment of black labor for service on military defenses and other installations, and by rapid wartime urbanization that drew large numbers of rural slaves into towns and cities where white supervision was harder to maintain. In areas penetrated by the Union army, disruption of the plantation system was extensive. From early in the war, refugees from slavery sought sanctuary in the camps of the northern invaders. In 1862, the Union began to accept black troops into its armed forces; after Lincoln's emancipation proclamation of 1 January 1863 increasing numbers of slaves escaped from the South to enlist in the struggle against their former masters. Of the 180,000 Africans Americans who fought in the Union army, approximately three-quarters had been slaves. In late 1864, faced with an acute manpower shortage, the Davis government began to contemplate arming the South's slaves. Although the proposal aroused virulent opposition from all sections, in March 1865 the Confederate congress passed a bill providing for the enlistment of black troops while at the same time rejecting the guarantee of emancipation. However, the war ended before the legislation could be implemented.


The surrender of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse on 9 April 1865 effectively ended the Confederate States of America's bid for independent nationhood. Members of the Davis government, including the president, had evacuated Richmond on 2 April, fleeing south, but lingering hopes of continuing the struggle were soon quashed when the Confederacy's other main surviving force, General Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee, capitulated on 26 April near Durham Station, North Carolina. Davis himself was captured at Irwinville, Georgia, on 10 May.

The collapse of the Confederate States resulted from a military defeat in which the superior human and material resources of the Union proved decisive. Other factors that contributed to the South's final inability to resist federal power include the lack of political unity, the failure of King Cotton diplomacy, and popular demoralization. Postwar southern ideology insisted that the Confederacy had been united in its opposition to the North. In truth, large numbers of southerners, black and white, had failed consistently to support the bid for independence and in many cases had actively resisted it.


Beringer, Richard E., Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still Jr. Why the South Lost the Civil War. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Coulter, E. Merton. The Confederate States of America 18611865. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1950.

Durden, Robert F. The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972.

Eaton, Clement. A History of the Southern Confederacy. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

Escott, Paul D. After Secession: Jefferson Davis and the Failure of Confederate Nationalism. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

Faust, Drew Gilpin. The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

Freehling, William W. The South versus the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Hubbard, Charles M. The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Mohr, Clarence. On the Threshold of Freedom: Masters and Slaves in Civil War Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Neely, Mark E., Jr. Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.

Owsley, Frank L. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931, 1936, 1959.

Rable, George C. The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Ramsdell, Charles W. Behind the Lines in the Southern Confederacy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1944.

Roland, Charles P. The Confederacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Thomas, Emory M. The Confederate Nation, 18611865. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Todd, Richard C. Confederate Finance. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1954.

Vandiver, Frank E. Ploughshares into Swords: Josiah Gorgas and Confederate Ordnance. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1952.

Wiley, Bell I. Southern Negroes, 18611865. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1938. Reprinted in 1953 and 1974.

Woodward, C. Vann, ed. Mary Chesnut's Civil War. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981.

Yearns, Wilfred B. The Confederate Congress. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1960.

Martin Crawford

See also Antislavery ; Appomattox ; Army, Confederate ; Blockade Runners, Confederate ; Civil War ; Emancipation Movement ; Impressment, Confederate ; Inflation in the Confederacy ; King Cotton ; Navy, Confederate ; Slavery .

We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a more permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterityinvoking the favour and guidance of Almighty Goddo ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.

Preamble to the Constitution of the Confederate States

SOURCE: Reprinted from James D. Richardson, The Messages and Papers of Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, 2 vols. New York, 1983

Use all the negroes you can get, for all the purposes for which you need them, but don't arm them. The day you make soldiers of them is the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers our whole theory of slavery is wrongbut they won't make soldiers.

Howell Cobb to James A. Seddon, 8 January 1865

SOURCE: From Vol. 3 of War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series IV. 130 vols. Washington, D.C., 18881901.

Confederate States of America

views updated May 17 2018

Confederate States of America


The Confederate States of America was officially founded in February 1861, after seven Southern states (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas) seceded from the United States. For years, Northern and Southern states had been debating the issue of slavery, especially in the territories, where it was not constitutionally protected. These debates had escalated during the 1850s, sometimes to the point of violence. When Abraham Lincoln, who represented a specifically antislavery party and wanted to end slavery in the territories, was elected president of the United States in 1860, these seven states declared they had had enough and left the Union.

They quickly went to work forming a provisional government. Shortly after announcing the new country, the Confederate Congress appointed Jefferson Davis president (he would be officially elected to office in November). It named Montgomery, Alabama, as the new nations capital, and it adopted a constitution. This constitution was modeled largely on the United States Constitution (Confederates, like their Northern brothers, insisted they were the true heirs of the Founding Fathers) with several important exceptions. Where the federal Constitution had never used the words slave or slavery, but implicitly protected the peculiar institution, the Confederate document explicitly protected slaveryeven deeming that Congress could pass no law that would impinge on the right of property in negro slaves. Unlike the Americans, however, the Confederates immediately banned the international slave trade, except with states remaining in the Union. The president served a six-year term, and he could not be reelected. He also had the right to a line-item veto.

When fighting broke out with the Union in April, four more states (Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas) joined the Confederacy. In an acknowledgment of Virginias importance, Confederate leaders quickly agreed to move the capital to the industrial and commercial city of Richmond. For the South in particular, this decision made Virginia the military focal point of the war. Because the Confederate leadership did not have the sense of urgency about the West that it did about Richmond, less able generals were often in command there, and the rebels suffered loss after loss.

War dominated the life of the Confederacy. Leaders at the state and national levels were constantly challenged with the problem of keeping the ranks filled and with feeding and clothing the army. The country had 5.5 million whites and about 3.5 million black slaves who would not be allowed to serve. By 1862 Confederates were so desperate for men that they resorted to a national draft. This was a deeply ironic development in a country that had embraced individual liberties and states rights as being among its banner causes. Meanwhile, a successful Union blockade and the lack of internal infrastructure complicated efforts to procure and transport needed supplies. (The same issues made it exceedingly difficult for Southerners to export their main commodity, cotton.) Financing the war was another problem, one that Confederates never mastered. Relying principally on loans and the printing press to pay for the war, the government helped drive inflation through the roof. Congress passed a comprehensive tax measure in 1863, but the government did not effectively enforce it, and so it made little impact. Over the course of the war, prices increased by a factor of more than 90.

The stresses of war had profound effects at home. Rising prices, shrinking availability, speculation, and a drought in 1862 meant that civilians started to go hungry that year. By the following spring, bread riots were breaking out, including one on April 2, 1863, in Richmond that Davis personally broke up. Hoarding and price gouging only compounded matters, and concern for starving families led many Confederate soldiers to desert, especially in the last year of the war. Meanwhile, war itself forced many families into flight. The presence of federal armies also prompted many slaves to abandon their masters and run to the safetyand freedomof Union lines.

A prickly micromanager, Davis was unable to lead the nation effectively. He had a running argument with more than one general (Robert E. Lee was the only general to whom he regularly deferred), and his cabinet was a revolving door (he had five secretaries of war, for instance). He never reached out to members of Congress or the press, and was barely on speaking terms with his own vice president, Alexander Stephens. Davis had repeated tussles with various governors, particularly Joseph Brown of Georgia and Zebulon Vance of North Carolina, both of whom resisted what they believed were Daviss encroachments on states rights. In fairness, Daviss management troubles were not entirely of his own making. The one-term rule set out by the constitution rendered Davis a lame duck from the moment he stepped into office. Historians widely believe that the lack of political parties in the South, which blamed partisanship for many of its antebellum fights with Northerners, meant that criticism against Davis was not channeled and came at him from every angle. Without partisan machinery and the attendant patronage, Davis had no way to punish his enemies or reward his supporters.

By the end of the war, the Confederacy was a tangle of contradictions. In a nation founded partly on the principle of individual liberties, Davis suspended habeas corpus and declared martial law in some parts of the country, while Congress passed the first conscription measure in what had been the United States. In a country that was predicated on states rights, the federal government had to consolidate power at the expense of the states in order to prosecute the war. And in the most striking irony, this state that had been founded to protect slavery decided in March 1865 to arm slaves in a last-ditch effort to hold off the Northern armies. The policy could not be implemented, however, before Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865. Although it took some time for news of the wars end to reach the far corners of the Confederacy, for all intents and purposes the Confederate States of America died with Lees army.

In the 1870s, Southern white women in particular set out to venerate their fallen men and the Old South. In doing so, they created what has come to be known as the Lost Cause mythology, a moonlight-and-magnolias view of the slave-owning South and the Civil War. The central ideas behind the Lost Cause are that the Confederacy lost the Civil War because the North overwhelmed it with superior numbers, not better fighting, and that defeat ennobled the South rather than discredited it. This ideology is evident in various monuments, works of fiction, and film, with the most notable and culturally penetrating work being Gone with the Wind.

SEE ALSO Civil War; Davis, Jefferson; Lee, Robert E.; U.S. Civil War


Davis, William C. 2002. Look Away: A History of the Confederate States of America. New York: Free Press.

Levine, Bruce. 2005. Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press.

McPherson, James M. 2001. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. 3rd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Potter, David M. 1968. The South and the Sectional Conflict. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

Rable, George C. 1994. The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Jennifer L. Weber

Confederate States of America

views updated Jun 27 2018


As the presidential election of 1860 drew near, the Southern states faced what they saw as a growing threat to their way of life. When Republican Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in November, there was no longer room for compromise. The South was convinced that Lincoln would use the power of his office to destroy slavery. Accordingly, in the months following his election, seven states of the Deep South seceded from the United States of America. South Carolina left in December; Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana in January 1861. Texas seceded on February 1 before Lincoln's inauguration in March.

The new president waited a month before he sent reinforcements to protect the federal arsenal at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. When Charleston guns fired on the fort on April 12, the Civil War began. Lincoln immediately called for volunteers in response to this. Forced to choose between staying in the Union or joining the seven states that left it, four additional Southern states—Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee—seceded as well. They would wage a long and devastating war that cost over 620,000 lives. The Union victory in 1865 would finally reunite the country, but leave cultural and political scars that still affect Americans today.

building a confederate government

On February 4, two months before the attack on Fort Sumter, six states of the Deep South met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a provisional government. The constitution for the Confederacy was similar to the U.S. Constitution of 1787, which Southerners generally revered, although they felt the abolitionist North wrongly interpreted it. There were some differences, however. The president of the new nation was elected for a single term of six years. He was given veto power over the budget. Amendments could be passed with a two-thirds majority instead of three-fourths. Slavery was protected, except that the external African slave trade was prohibited, and Congress could not pass a law infringing on slave owners' rights.

The Confederacy chose Jefferson Davis as its first president. He was born in Kentucky and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1828. He had served in Congress and was wounded in the war with Mexico. Davis believed that Lincoln's election spelled disaster for the South. The vice president was the frail and sickly Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia who defended slavery, but opposed the dissolution of the Union.

As the business of forming a government progressed, it became increasingly clear that the city of Montgomery was not the best choice for the new capital. The climate was hot, and the hotel facilities were poor. It also was not well located within the eleven confederate states. In May 1861, after Virginia joined the Confederacy, the capital moved to Richmond, which had a population of about forty thousand people. Davis had opposed the move, but Congress overrode his veto. Afterward, presidential and congressional elections were held in November. Davis and Stephens, who ran unopposed, were pointedly re-inaugurated on George Washington's birthday, February 22, 1862.

The South was seemingly united on the cause of slavery, although most Southerners would have said they were fighting not to save that institution, but to protect states' rights. However, there was friction among groups almost immediately. Lacking any established political parties, the result was disorganization and confusion. Some thought Davis was too dictatorial; some backed the war effort but disliked him personally; others wanted the government to negotiate with the North for peace.

manpower and economics

The most immediate concern of the newly formed Confederate States of America was to raise and equip an army. At first, it was assumed that intense patriotism would fill the military ranks with volunteers. However, after the first few clashes on bloody battlefields, the desire for volunteering waned somewhat and conscription was begun in April 1862. It was the first such law in American history and was mainly aimed at stopping twelve-month volunteers from leaving the military. The draft law called up able-bodied white men, ages eighteen to thirty-five, for a three-year period. Most Southerners bitterly opposed it, for they regarded being drafted as a disgrace, and disliked the government dictating control over their lives. Nevertheless, it overwhelmingly passed through Congress, which regarded it as a necessary evil.

Southern leaders well knew that they were far inferior to the North in terms of manpower and economic resources. The population of the eleven Confederate states was about five and a half million whites and nearly four million black slaves. The Union had a population of twenty-two million. The estimated total number (over the entire duration of the war) of Southerners who served in the Confederate army was 750,000; twice that many troops served in the Union army. The Confederate Army reached its top strength in June 1863 just before the Battle of Gettysburg. After that loss, Southern military power began to decline.

In addition to needing soldiers to fight the war, the Confederacy needed funds. Its first attempt to obtain money was to print it. Hampered by constitutional limits, the Congress issued paper money, which brought on rampant inflation. For instance, in August 1863, the Confederate dollar was equal to eight cents in gold; by March 1865, it was less than two cents. In comparison, although the northern greenback also depreciated, it never lost more than two-thirds of its value. As a result of the collapse, the southern population suffered greatly: flour cost $275 a barrel and bacon was $9 a pound.

What was even worse than inflation was the inability of the Confederacy to provide adequate food for the troops or for the families of poor soldiers. This was due in part to having to convert fields from growing cotton to growing food crops. Soldiers destroyed railroad lines, thus delaying the delivery of food. In addition, hundreds of acres of cotton were burned to prevent them from falling into the hands of Union troops. The South had been confident that foreign countries such as England and France would recognize the Confederacy because of their dependence on American cotton, but that never materialized. The scarcity of food greatly contributed to a loss of morale in the last months of the Civil War.

states' rights

In addition to its manpower and economic shortages, the Confederacy faced the very real problem of winning a war while adhering to the ideal of states' rights. The traditions of the South sought to protect individual property rights and stood against a powerful central government. In fact, the new constitution did not give Congress the power to overrule state court decisions. Yet, a strong government with the power to pass laws infringing on the rights of the states for the good of the Confederacy was exactly what was needed to win a war.

The conflict between advocates of states' rights and the need for a strong central authority to fight the war put the Confederate government in a position of often being at war with its own people; the doctrine of states' rights is usually given as a major factor in the defeat of the South. The conflict first flared up when the conscription law was passed. As the war progressed, plantation owners became reluctant to send out their slaves to work on war projects or in factories. Acts of impressment—seizing private citizens for duty—plus mounting battle losses, so enraged the people of South Carolina that by 1864, only one paper in the entire state (the Charleston Courier) backed Jefferson Davis. In fact, Congressman William W. Boyce proposed a revolt against the president and later called publicly for a convention between the North and South to talk about peace terms.

the lingering effects

The Civil War began at 4:30 on the morning of April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. The Confederate government effectively collapsed when Richmond fell on April 2, 1865. The war formally ended on the afternoon of April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. More than 620,0000 Americans died due to battle casualties, disease, and other causes. About 400,000 on both sides were wounded. It was the worst conflict ever fought on American soil.

A large part of the southland was in ruins. Soldiers returned home to burned out homes, and plantation fields, once tended by slaves, were left unplanted. The lawless roamed the streets. Railroads no longer ran; banks shut down. Thousands were homeless. The war was over, but a long period of reconstruction, which left the white Southern population bitter and resentful toward the North, was just beginning. African Americans were jubilant, for the Confederacy's demise and the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment brought them freedom and immediate hope for the future.

Most of the novels of that period focus on the great suffering of the South, although the North endured great suffering as well. But the war was fought mainly on Southern land; as depicted in the classic novel and motion picture, Gone With the Wind, the lives of both whites and blacks were turned upside down as people struggled to find a way to rebuild their lives in a society that was no longer understood by either side.


Davis, William C. The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.

Eaton, Clement. A History of the Southern Confederacy. New York: Macmillan, 1954.

Rable, George C. The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Internet Resources

"Confederate States of America." Available from <>.

"Overview of the Confederacy." Available from <>.

Corinne J. Naden and

Rose Blue

See also:Davis, Jefferson; Davis, Varina Howell; Mobilization for War; Secession; States' Rights, Theory of.

Confederate States of America

views updated Jun 27 2018

Confederate States of America

The Confederate States of America was a separate government set up by the southern states that seceded from the United States after the presidential election of 1860. Commonly called the Confederacy, it contained thirteen states that united in war to establish independence from the remaining states, called the Union . The American Civil War (1861–65) tore the nation apart and was the bloodiest conflict in the nation's history.


In 1860, the nation was struggling with many political issues. The most difficult involved the protection and expansion of slavery . The United States was expanding into new territories across the West. Whether slavery would be permitted sparked intense argument on both sides of the question in Congress and across the nation.

The southern economy depended very much on slavery, so there was great southern interest not only in protecting slavery in existing states but in allowing it to expand to new territories. Since northern state economies depended on employed immigrants instead of slaves, there was little support there for allowing slavery to expand into new territories.

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) was elected to the presidency at the end of 1860. As he opposed the expansion of slavery, many in the South feared his election was the first step in the complete abolition of slavery throughout the nation. These fears triggered plans for secession.


Soon after Lincoln's election, the state legislature of South Carolina organized a state convention to consider secession. On December 20, 1860, convention delegates voted in favor of secession and made plans to meet again in Alabama to form a southern republic. Beginning on January 9, 1861, six more states followed South Carolina: Mississippi , Florida , Alabama, Louisiana , Georgia , and Texas .

The states that seceded believed they had the right to do so. They believed each state voluntarily entered the nation and, therefore, had the right to leave whenever they wished. As far as the southern states were concerned, their constitutional right to have slavery and to control other political issues was in jeopardy, so being part of the United States no longer served their interests.

In February 1861, delegates from the first seven states to secede met in Montgomery, Alabama, to create a united southern government. They quickly drafted and adopted a provisional constitution, and on February 8 the Confederate States of America was born. The constitution provided a temporary government for one year. Jefferson Davis (1808–1889), a U.S. senator from Mississippi and a former secretary of war, was elected to become the interim president until a permanent government could be established. He was inaugurated February 18, 1861.

The constitution the Confederacy adopted was similar to the U.S. Constitution , but with important differences. It established similar branches of government but emphasized the independence of states within the Confederacy. It put all the legislative power in a Congress. It gave the confederate president more power than the U.S. president had, but the position was limited to only one term of six years. The confederate judiciary was similar to the federal judiciary, but to protect its own power, Congress never passed legislation to allow the confederate Supreme Court to function. In light of the political issues that led to secession, the confederate constitution explicitly protected slavery and forbade the government from imposing protective tariffs, or taxes.

The active Confederacy

An incident at the federally owned Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked the American Civil War in April 1861. The Confederate states fired on the fort to force the federal government to leave South Carolina soil. In response, President Lincoln called for troops from the Union states to organize against the rebellious attacks. In reaction to Lincoln's call, the southern states of Virginia , North Carolina , Tennessee , and Arkansas joined the Confederacy in April and May. Citizens of Missouri and Kentucky were sharply divided over the issue of secession, so those states were claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy.

The Confederacy moved its capital to Richmond, Virginia, on July 20, 1861. In elections that November, Davis was elected as the first president of the permanent Confederacy. Davis struggled to establish a united Confederacy. The task was difficult because Confederate states were intent on protecting state's rights and independence.

Davis led the Confederacy throughout its fight for independence, but eventually the Confederacy lost the Civil War to the Union in April 1865. The Confederate States of America dissolved with surrender, and all states eventually renewed their ties with the United States of America.

Confederate States of America

views updated May 29 2018

Confederate States of America (Confederacy) Southern states that seceded from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln. South Carolina left in December 1860, and was followed closely by Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In March 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected president and a new constitution protected states' rights and retained slavery. A capital was established at Montgomery, Alabama. On April 12, the US Civil War began and Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia joined the Confederacy. The capital was moved to Richmond, Virginia. The Confederacy, despite its cotton trade, received little external support and internal division contributed to its defeat and dissolution in April 1965.;

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Confederate States of America