Confederate States of America

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The Civil War

1861 - 1865

Confederate States of America
Created February 4, 1861
Ended April 9, 1865
President Jefferson Davis
Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker, Judah P. Benjamin, George W. Randolph, James Seddon, John C. Breckinridge
Secretary of the Navy Stephan Mallory
Secretary of State Robert Toombs, Robert M.T. Hunter, Judah P. Benjamin

The Confederate States of America (informally, the Confederacy) was a government created from an alliance of eleven southern states which had seceeded from the United States between December 1860 and April 1861. The American Civil War that was begun by the Confederate shelling of Fort Sumter proved disasterous; four years of savage fighting ended with the fledgling government defeated and dissolved, and left the southern states a financial and industrial wreck.


The various southern states seceded from the United States of America, and joined together as the "Confederate States of America" for a number of reasons, including a Northern state favored balance of power in Congress, Free Trade, and, after Lincoln's triumph in the 1860 Presidential election, the threat of radical abolitionists to end slavery, which Southerners viewed as a matter of states' rights that should not be enforced at the federal level.

Only four states where slavery was legal at that time failed to secede -- Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri. It was a near thing in the latter three states, which all wound up raising regiments for the Confederacy as well as the Union, although not as an official act of their governments.

The president of the Confederate States of America was Jefferson Davis, a former Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce and later Senator from Mississippi. Richmond, Virginia was the capital of the Confederacy after that state seceded in mid-April of 1861 following the surrender of Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for volunteers, and one day before the Pratt Street riot in Baltimore, Maryland, the first battle of the Civil War to kill Americans on both sides.

General Robert E. Lee led the Confederate forces into battle against the Union armies, led by various generals appointed by Abraham Lincoln, with the last, and most successful being General Ulysses S. Grant. .


Professor Emory Thomas of Virginia found it instructive to compare the correspondence sent by the Confederate government in the first year of its existence to different governments. He writes, "The Southern nation was by turns a guileless people attacked by a voracious neighbor, an 'established' nation in some temporary difficulty, a collection of bucolic aristocrats making a romantic stand against the banalities of industrial democracy, a cabal of commercial farmers seeking to make a pawn of King Cotton, an apotheosis of nineteenth-century nationalism and revolutionary liberalism, or the ultimate statement of social and economic reaction." [1] Certainly some of the leaders of the Confederacy could be found to believe in any one of these incarnations of their country, but probably none to believe in all at once. The aspect of resistance to industrialization has most captured the imagination of future generations of Southerners.

The example of the U. S. Constitution clearly guided the drafters of the Confederate Constitution, enabling the latter group to complete their work in less than half as much time. [2] The predictable provision banning efforts to end de jure slavery is found at Article I, Section 9, clause 4, lumped in with the provisions banning ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. It is three clauses down from a most unexpected clause banning the Atlantic slave trade, but permitting the importation of slaves from the Union. The wording of this clause demonstrates that the drafters clearly anticipated that not all slave states would secede, although they also included a provision for accepting new states into the Confederacy, which proved essential when Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina seceded from the United States after the Constitution was in effect. Although the Confederate document includes no bill of rights as such, the Ninth Amendment and Tenth Amendment are reproduced in Article VI as Sections 5 and 6. The Confederate ban on a religious test for office is Section 4, notwithstanding the fact that the preamble invokes the blessing of almighty God on the Confederate experiment. [3] Perhaps the most significant differences had to do with the appropriations process in Congress. Not only was a line-item veto expressly included, but Congress required a two-thirds supermajority to appropriate any funds not specifically requested by the President, giving Jefferson Davis in a real sense more Constitutional power than Abraham Lincoln possessed.


Legislative branch

President of the Congress

Robert Woodward Barnwell, 4 Feb 1861 (served for several hours)
Howell Cobb, 4 Feb 1861 - 18 Feb 1861

President Pro Tempore of the Senate

Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, 18 Feb 1862 - 18 Mar 1865

President Pro Tempore of the Provisional Congress

Robert Woodward Barnwell, 4 Feb 1861 - 16 Mar 1861
Thomas Stanhope Bobcock, Josiah A.P. Campbell, 18 Nov 1861 - 17 Feb 1862

Speaker of the House of Representatives

Thomas Stanhope Bobcock, 18 Feb 1862 - 18 Mar 1865

Executive branch

President of the Confederate States

Jefferson Finis Davis, 18 Feb 1861 - 10 May 1865 (provisional president to 6 Nov 1861)

Vice President of the Confederate States

Alexander Hamilton Stephens, 18 Feb 1861 - 11 May 1865 (provisional vice president to 6 Nov 1861)

Secretary of State

Robert Augustus Toombs, 21 Feb 1861 - 24 Jul 1861
Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter, 25 Jul 1861 - 1 Feb 1862
William Montague Brown, 1 Feb 1862 - 17 Mar 1862
Judah Philip Benjamin, 18 Mar 1862 - 3 May 1865

Attorney General

Judah Philip Benjamin, 25 Feb 1861 - 17 Sep 1861
Wade Rutledge Keyes, 17 Sep 1861 - 21 Nov 1861
Thomas Bragg, Jr., 21 Nov 1861 - 17 Mar 1862
Thomas Hill Watts, 18 Mar 1862 - 1 Oct 1863
Wade Rutledge Keyes, 1 Oct 1863 - 2 Jan 1864
George Davis, 2 Jan 1864 - 24 Apr 1865

Commissioner of Patents

Rufus Randolph Rhodes, 31 May 1861 - Apr 1865

Postmaster General

Henry T. Ellet, 25 Feb 1861 - 6 Mar 1861 (nominated and confirmed; declined appointment)
John Henninger Reagan, 6 Mar 1861 - 5 May 1865

Secretary of the Treasury

Christopher Gustavus Memminger, 21 Feb 1861 - 18 Jul 1864
George Alfred Trenholm, 18 Jul 1864 - 27 Apr 1865
John Henninger Reagan, 28 Apr 1865 - 4 May 1865

Treasurer of the Confederate States

Edward Carrington Elmore, 6 Mar 1861 - 1865

Comptroller and Solicitor

Lewis Cruger, 1861 - 1865

Secretary of War

Leroy Pope Walker, 21 Feb 1861 - 16 Sep 1861
Judah Philip Benjamin, 17 Sep 1861 - 23 Mar 1862
George Wythe Randolph, 24 Mar 1862 - 17 Nov 1862
Gustavus Woodson Smith, 17 Nov 1862 - 21 Nov 1862
James Alexander Seddon, 21 Nov 1862 - 6 Feb 1865
John Cabell Breckenridge, 6 Feb 1865 - 5 May 1865

Chiefs of the Army Engineers Bureau (subordinated to Secretary of War)

Josiah Gorgas, 8 Apr 1861 - 3 Aug 1861
Danville Leadbetter, 3 Aug 1861 - 10 Nov 1861
Alfred Landon Rives, 13 Nov 1861 - 24 Sep 1862
Jeremy Francis Gilmer, 25 Sep 1862 - 17 Aug 1863
Alfred Landon Rives, 18 Aug 1863 - 9 Mar 1864
Martin Luther Smith, 9 Mar 1864 - Apr 1864
Alfred Landon Rives, Apr 1864 - Jun 1864
Jeremy Francis Gilmer, Jun 1864 - Apr 1865

Commissioner of Indian Territory (subordinated to Secretary of War)

Albert Pike, 16 Mar 1861 - 1862
Benjamin J. McCullough, 1862 - 7 Mar 1862
Albert Pike, 1862 - 5 Nov 1862
Douglas Hancock Cooper, Nov 1862 - Jan 1863
William Steels, Jan 1863 - Dec 1863

Commander of the Department of Indian Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs (subordinated to Secretary of War)

Samuel Ball Maxey, Dec 1863 - 1865
Douglas Hancock Cooper, 1865

Surgeon-general (subordinated to Secretary of War)

Samuel Preston Moore, 16 Mar 1861 - 1865

Secretary of the Navy

Stephan Russell Mallory, 4 Mar 1861 - 5 May 1865

Colonel-Commandant of the Confederate States Marine Corps (subordinated to Secretary of the Navy)

Lloyd J. Beall, 23 May 1861 - 10 May 1865

Superintendent of the Confederate States Naval Academy

William Parker, 23 Jul 1863 - 2 May 1865

Judicial branch

A federal court system with a chief justice was not created during the 1861-1865 Confederacy.
Seal and Flags Detail Dates of Use
ConfederateStatesofAmericaSeal.jpg Great Seal of the Confederate States of America. The Latin motto Deo Vindice reads either "Under God, Our Vindicator" or "With God as [our] Champion". 1862-1865
Bonnieblue.png The Bonnie Blue flag, unofficial first flag of the Confederacy. First flown January 9, 1861 over the state capitol building of Jackson, Mississippi. Originally, it was used by settlers of west Florida in a short, 74-day republic after they had revolted against the Spanish government, raising it at the Spanish fort in Baton Rouge on September 23, 1810. 1861
Starsand bars1.png Called the Stars and Bars, it was first flown over Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861. 1861
CSAnational1.png The First National Flag of the Confederacy. Like the flag before, it was also called the Stars and Bars; this flag incorporated the 11 stars which symbolized the states that had seceeded from the Union by March, 1861. March 4, 1861 to May 26, 1863
CSAnational2.png The Second National Flag; also known as the Stainless Banner due to the large white field. It was also referred to as the Stonewall Flag, as its first official use was to cover the casket of Lieutenant General Thomas J. Jackson in 1863. May 26, 1863 to March 3, 1865
CSAnational3.png The Third National Flag. The red stripe was added to the fly to correct a major drawback of the previous flag: the appearence of a flag of surrender when it hung limp. March 4, 1865 to April 26, 1865
CSAbattleflag.png The flag of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, called the Southern Cross; the design became so popular that is was used as the canton of the Confederate national flag. November 28, 1861 to the fall
CSA Naval Ensign.png A variation of the Second National Flag, with a shorter 1.5:1 ratio instead of 2:1. This was the last flag hauled down in surrender, when CSS Shenandoah lowered it on November 7, 1865 in Liverpool, England. May 1, 1863 to the fall
1st CSAJack.png This 7-star jack was used on Confederate naval warships until 1863. 1861-1863
Conf Navy Jack.png Official Confederate naval jack for use on all warships from 1863, and patterned after the design of the battle flag. This flag was adopted in the years since as the de-facto flag of the South itself. 1863-1865

Economics - The Inevitable Clash

While idealogy would provide much of the motivation to go to war, the economics of the Northern and Southern states made it impossible for anything but a clash to come to a head. While the Northern States had modernized and embraced the industrial revolution, incorporating new technology and rebuilding infrastructure to support it, the South had relied on the farming that had sustained it since the founding of America. The problem came with the liquidity of capital.

When a businessman in the North wanted to build a factory, he would obtain a loan from the bank or from a group of investors, pay the labour and material costs to erect it, and thereafter be almost assured of some level of income as his products were produced, put on trains, and shipped to markets. The capital was constantly liquid, changing hands from one individual to another, and in almost all cases, stood to increase.

When a plantation or farm owner in the South wanted to expand, his capital remained highly illiquid, because it remained tied down in slaves, land, and the equipment he needed. And while new goods from Northern factories were in increasing demand, the South found itself having to compete with goods from overseas. While the Northern businessman grew wealthier, the Southern businessman had a very limited chance. With the scarcity of liquid capital, no banks in the South offered the loans that they did in the North, further miring the economy in stagnation.

Legacy - Physical/Military

The principal physical legacy of the Confederacy was mass fratricidal destruction. Four years of Civil War killed at least 620,000 soldiers (counting deaths from disease as well as in battle), of whom approximately 260,000 were from the Confederacy. This represented a much larger fraction (slightly over one quarter) of the Confederacy's military age white men than was lost by the Union.

An unknown number of civilians also died, in part as a result of the campaign of organized plunder in late 1864 and early 1865 by the troops of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman which helped not only to destroy the will of the Confederacy to fight, but literally to destroy the infrastructure of the Confederacy. Severe damage was inflicted on both urban and rural communities in the South, and hundreds of thousands of people became refugees. The exigencies of total war had led to the destruction of Southern infrastructure, in particular railroads, long before 1864, but never on such a scale.

Total war based on modern technology was confirmed as the mode in which nation-states would fight each other throughout the industrial age. Simultaneously with the Union, the Confederacy launched the first seagoing ironclad warships. With the possible exception of the Prussians and British, it is unlikely that any country of comparable population and technology in the 1860s could have resisted the Union onslaught for as long as the Confederacy did. This is considered by some historians to represent a major moral victory for the Confederacy. An equally impressive moral victory was the decision by General Lee on April 9, 1865 to rule out continuing to fight as insurgents; although it can be argued that this only delayed the inevitable failure of Reconstruction, it also made physical rebuilding possible in a way it would not be in the latter stages of civil wars in other countries in the 20th century. Notional or real, its superiority man for man (and especially general for general) was permanently impressed on the South, which today remains more pro-military than any other region of the United States as measured by percentage of voluntary enlistments.

Legacy - Political/Ideological

The Confederacy is the primary reason that it became possible in the 1860s to abolish slavery. Given Article Five of the U. S. Constitution, it would have been impossible to abolish slavery without secession in the 15 established states with the 35 free states which later existed. As it actually happened, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified by a 26-state Union containing only four slave states. The most likely solution in the absence of secession would have been to admit smaller Western states, possibly even turning what became Indian reservations into states. However, the continuing political focus on slavery would have made expansion of the U. S. to Alaska and Hawaii unlikely in the nineteenth century, if at all.

While the Confederacy lost the Civil War, it can be seen to have won the peace. Radical Republicans were forced in the Compromise of 1877 to concede the failure of Reconstruction and withdraw the U. S. Army from the South, or at least from its mission of guaranteeing the rights of African-Americans. In a process known as Redemption, the Republican Party was crushed out of existence across the South and black people stripped of their voting and other rights by a system which came to be known as Jim Crow.

The association of the Democratic Party with the South was entirely accurate as that region was totally dominated by Democrats by 1900. However, only with the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912 was a Southerner able to return to the White House. Whenever Democrats held a majority of either house of Congress, Southerners would immediately become the chairmen of all committees, giving that region a disproportionate influence on national politics. Ironically, because of their Jeffersonian roots, Southern Democrats were a party of small government and lower taxes (radically cutting back spending on public schools among other things during Redemption), and were hostile to organized labor.

American politics have been defined in part by the conflict between the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian schools of the role of government, particularly the Federal government. The Confederacy can be seen as the last stand of the Jeffersonians, who favored a system in which state policy and sovereignty would trump that of the Federal government. To this way of thinking, subsequent American politics have actually been a competition between more and less radical Hamiltonians.

See also

  • [Emory M. Thomas, The Confederate Nation: 1861-1865. New York: Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 83-84.]
  • [Thomas, p. 63.]
  • [Thomas, Appendix, pp. 306-322.]