Confederate Constitution Ratified; Sumter Really to be Surrendered?

Monday, March 11, 1861

The Provisional Confederate Congress, meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, had whittled and patched their way to a permanent Confederate Constitution which looked almost identical to the United States Constitution. That suited them well since they weren’t rebelling against the founders of America, but what they believed America had become.

On this date, Congress unanimously approved the permanent Constitution of the Confederate States of America.

While the Confederate Constitution nearly mirrored the United States Constitution, there were some important differences.

The Preamble, for example, added the phrase, “each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government,” making clear that the rights of the states would be protected. Unlike the US version, they invoked “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.”

While the US version allowed the individual states to decide upon voter eligibility, the central Confederate government gave that decision to themselves: “no person of foreign birth, not a citizen of the Confederate States, shall be allowed to vote for any officer, civil or political, State or Federal.”

After the US Constitution was adopted, it was put into law (in 1787) that a slave (they didn’t use the term “slave”) would count as three-fifths of a person. This was done so that the South could have more representation. The Confederate Congress put this in their actual Constitution. Also, they had no qualms about using the word “slave” instead of “those bound to Service.”

Also somewhat ahead of its time, the Confederates folded the Bill of Rights (of which there were twelve at this time) into their Constitution, adding that each bill placed before Congress relate to only one subject. This means no unrelated attachments or “riders” tacked onto unrelated bills.

The President was given a single six-year term as well as a line-item veto.

Overall, these were small changes. But then there was the issue of Slavery.

Slavery was handled (mostly) in Article 1, Section 9. First, they completely outlawed the African slave trade. This was no act of altruism, however. It was done to protect the slave trade at home. Additionally, Congress was given the right to ban slave trading with any of the US Slave States or Territories.

The Confederate Constitution itself allowed slave owners to take their slaves into new (Confederate) territories. It also strengthened the Fugitive Slave Law, making it constitutional.

While the United States allowed the individual states to decide for themselves whether or not to be slave states, the Confederate Constitution declared that all Confederate states were slave states.

Most importantly, the Confederate Constitution explicitly granted the right to own slaves, specifically those of African heritage: “No … law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”

The Constitution of the Confederate States of America is nearly word-for-word the Constitution of the United States of America. The differences were that it took away three major rights of the states while only adding four very minor ones. There were some important changes strengthening the executive branch and, of course, the slavery additions.

Each of the seven states would have to ratify it before it became official. This would happen by the end of April.

For a very useful and detailed comparison of the two documents, head here. Though I usually won’t touch internet sources, this work is more than worthy of usage.

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In other news, the letter from the Confederate Commissioners that Seward had avoided by being sick in bed had to be dealt with. An intermediary called upon Secretary Seward, who was “perceptibly embarrassed and uneasy.” Seward stalled again, saying that he couldn’t do anything with this until he consulted the President. To do so would be an official recognition of the Confederate government.1

General Winfield Scott had replied to Lincoln’s letter of the 9th, asking some specifics about Fort Sumter. Scott clarified that there were only enough provisions to last them seven weeks. Also, the current available army did not have enough men to break through the defenses to reinforce the fort. To do so, it would take 5,000 regular soldiers with 20,000 volunteers, eight months of training and a couple acts of Congress. Scott closed, stating that his opinion and advice was that “Major Anderson be instructed to evacuate the Fort … immediately on procuring suitable water transportation.”

Rumors were spreading (and being wired to the Charleston press) that Fort Sumter was to be evacuated. Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas (still in Washington) announced that it would happen within five days. Even friends of Seward were agreeing with this. It appeared that the statements originated from Seward himself.2



  1. Days of Defiance by Maury Klein. []
  2. Allegiance by David Detzer. []
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Confederate Constitution Ratified; Sumter Really to be Surrendered? by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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