Confederate Congress
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Confederate Congress

The Confederate States Congress was both the provisional and "permanent" legislative assembly of the Confederate States of America that existed from 1861 to 1865. Its actions were for the most part concerned with measures to establish a new national government for the Southern "revolution", and to prosecute a war that had to be sustained throughout the existence of the Confederacy. At first, it met as a provisional congress both in Montgomery, Alabama and Richmond, Virginia.

The precursor to the permanent legislature was the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States, which helped establish the Confederacy as a state. Following elections held in states, refugee colonies and army camps in November 1861, the 1st Confederate Congress met in four sessions. The 1863 elections led to many former Democrats losing to former Whigs. The 2nd Confederate Congress met in two sessions following an intercession during military campaign season beginning November 7, 1864 and ending on March 18, 1865, shortly before the downfall of the Confederacy.

All legislative considerations of the Confederate Congress were secondary to winning the war for independence from the United States. These included debates whether to pass Jefferson Davis war measures and deliberations on alternatives to administration proposals, both of which were often denounced as discordant, regardless of the outcome. Congress was often held in low regard regardless what it did. Amidst early battlefield victories, few sacrifices were asked of the Southern people, and Congress and President Davis were in essential agreement.[1]

During the second half of the war, the Davis administration's program became more demanding, and Congress responded by becoming more assertive in the law-making process even before the 1863 midterm elections. It began to modify administration proposals, substitute its own measures and sometimes it refused to act at all. While it initiated few major policies, it often concerned itself with details of executive administration. Despite its devotion to Confederate independence, it was criticized by supporters of Davis for occasional independence, and censored in the dissenting press for not asserting itself more often.[2]

Provisional Congress

The Confederate Congress first met provisionally on February 4, 1861 in Montgomery, Alabama to form a unified national government among states whose secessionist conventions had resolved to leave their union with the United States. Most Deep South residents and many in the border states believed the new nation about to be born in a revolution to perpetuate slavery was the logical result of defeats in sectional contests.[3]

Meeting at Montgomery

Alabama Capitol at Montgomery
Alabama Capitol at Montgomery where the Confederate Congress met.

The 1859 John Brown Raid to free slaves in Virginia was hailed in the North by Abolitionists proclaimed noble martyrdom of the provocateur seeking servile insurrection. The North seemed unwilling to accept the Supreme Court ruling in the Dred Scott case guaranteeing slavery in the territories, and the Democratic Party had split Northern and Southern over the issue. Sectional antagonism was magnified with the decline of the national Whig Party and the upsurge of the new Republican Party, insistent on ending the extension of slavery in the territories, was seen as a threat to the very existence of a Southern civilization.[4]

The economic rivalry between Northern industry and mechanized farming versus Southern slave cash crop agriculture seemed to be a losing battle that would permanently subject the South as diminished colonists dependent on an aggressive business world. Secession was to the state delegates meeting in Montgomery a clear cut solution to over a decade of humiliation, reverses and defeats. A new nation of secessionist states would assure uncompromised slavery and deliver an independent economic security based on King Cotton.[5]

The November 1860 election of Lincoln brought the selection of the one candidate most likely to bring about disruption of the Union by state secession. It proved to be the deciding catalyst for the Deep South. Southern Members of Congress repeatedly addressed their constituents saying that all hope of sectional relief and redress was ton and that "the sole and primary aim of each slaveholding State ought to be its speedy and absolute separation from an unnatural and hostile Union."[6]

A chain reaction was set off, as the "secessionists", "straight outs", and "States' Rights men" demanded separate state action to withdraw from the United States and immediate regrouping as a Southern union for self defense. Cooperation towards such a new government was being achieved even before the Montgomery Convention, as the Southern states had been exchanging a series of commissioners to determine their joint action since the fall of 1860. On December 31, 1860 the South Carolina Convention issued an invitation to Southern States to form a Southern Confederacy, and after their next commissioners returned, on January 11, 1861 South Carolina invited all slave states in the Union to meet in Montgomery on February 4.[7] Another six states called secession conventions of their own, held statewide elections to select delegates, convened and passed secession ordinances between January 9 and February 1, 1861.[8]

South Carolina set the pattern for electing delegates to the Provisional Congress. Six state conventions elected two delegates at large, and one from each congressional district. Florida allowed its secessionist Governor to appoint the state delegation. There was no popular election to the Provisional Congress, vacancies were filled by the secessionist conventions, state legislature or temporarily by a convention president.[9]

Provisional Confederate Congress
Provisional Confederate Congress, 1861

The historian of the Confederate Congress, Wilfred Buck Yearns, held that the most significant feature of the Montgomery gathering was its moderation.The secessionist conventions had not only intended to establish a slaveholding republic of the Lower South, they also hoped to attract the border slaveholding states, and hey sought to reconcile their own in-state cooperationists and union men. The result was that the Confederate Provisional Congress began its work in relative harmony.[10]

The state secessionist conventions had generally chosen delegates that truly represented their congressional districts, so the Provisional Congress fairly represented the diversity of the southern states. Fifty delegates attended the first sessions at Montgomery. A majority of them had served in state secessionist conventions, and overall in Congress, straight out secessionists held a three-to-two ratio over the former conditional unionists. Alabama and Mississippi had the only state delegations with majority conditional unionists.[11]

Most of the Provisional Congressional delegates were prominent men of major political parties. The majority of the former Democrats to former Whigs was narrow, with Alabama and Louisiana delegations majority Whig and Georgia evenly divided.[12] Thirty-six members of Congress had attended college, forty-two were licensed lawyers, seventeen were planters. Their average age was 47, ranging from 72 to 31. Thirty-four had previous legislative experience, twenty-four having served in the U.S. Congress. Charles Conrad had served as secretary of war under President Millard Fillmore and John Tyler had been the tenth U.S. president. Historian Wilfred B. Yearns noted, "As a whole the Provisional Congress represented a higher type of leadership than either of the subsequent congresses."[13]

Constitution Making

Deputies from the first seven states convening in Montgomery, Alabama resolved themselves into the Confederate Provisional Congress. Delegations from Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, met in the Alabama State Capitol in two sessions in February through May 1861.[14] A committee of twelve drafted a proposal from Chairman Christopher G. Memminger from February 5-7.[15] Receiving the committee report the following day, the convention of secession delegates assembled with one vote cast for each state delegation unanimously approved the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States on February 8.[16]

Confederate Constitution
Confederate Constitution

The Provisional Constitution was as Alexander H. Stephens noted, "the Constitution of the United States with such changes as are necessary to meet the exigencies of the times."[17] In a pointed effort to incorporate states' rights principles, the Provisional Confederate Constitution referred to the "Sovereign and Independent States" of the permanent union. The U.S. Constitution's "general welfare" was omitted. The Confederate Congress was to be similar to the Continental Congresses, with one chamber representing states, with a quorum of state delegations. Each state could fill Provisional Congressional vacancies as it wished.[18]

Although not mandatory, the President might appoint cabinet members from Congress. In an effort at government economy, the president was authorized to veto individual items from appropriation bills. The Provisional Constitution organized each state into a federal judicial district -- this provision was adopted in the permanent Confederate Constitution, but in the only amendment to either document, this provision was amended to allow Congress to determine federal districts on May 21, 1861. A supreme court was to be constituted by convening all the federal district judges. To continue judicial procedure in the Confederacy as it had been in the United States, judicial power was extended to all cases of law and equity arising under the laws of the United States.[19]

From February 28 until March 11, 1861, the Provisional Congress resolved itself into a Constitutional Convention each day, and as a convention, it adopted the Permanent Confederate Constitution unanimously. On March 12, Howell Cobb of Georgia, as president of the Constitutional Convention, forwarded it to the state secessionist conventions. Several Congressmen returned to their home states to lobby for adoption, and all conventions ratified without submitting the new Constitution to a referendum by the people.[20]

The permanent Constitution, like the provisional one before it, was primarily modeled on the U.S. Constitution, modified by the Convention's desire to write a Southern constitution. The national government was clearly to be only an agent of the states, powers to the central government were "delegated" not "granted".[21] It provided for a bicameral national legislature consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate.[22] The rights and duties of Congress received the most attention, most importantly related to fiscal matters such as export duties, discouraging internal improvements but for navigational aids, and the self sustaining post office.[23]

To limit log rolling, a two-thirds vote in both houses was required for appropriations bills not recommended by an executive department. And the president had line item veto power. In Article III, radical states righters struck the provisional Constitution's provision extending federal jurisdiction over cases between citizens of different states. Additionally, federal judicial power no longer applied to all cases of law and equity to accommodate the Roman law concept of single jurisdiction in Louisiana and Texas.[24]

Congressional apportionment remained on the U.S. federal ratio, with three-fifths of the slave population counted for representation, over the objections of the South Carolina secessionist convention. Returning escaped slaves was removed from the discretion of state governors in the provisional Constitution and made the responsibility of the Confederate government.[25]

The permanent Confederate Constitution served for the duration of the government with only one Amendment on May 21, 1861, when Congress was given the right to draw multiple federal judicial districts in the large states. The reservations of the South Carolina secession convention ratification were never taken up by any other state legislatures.[26]

Functioning National Government

Original Confederate Cabinet
Original Confederate Cabinet, President Jefferson Davis, Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Attorney General Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of the Navy Stephen M. Mallory, Secretary of the Treasury C. G. Memminger, Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker, Postmaster John H. Reagan, and Secretary of State Robert Toombs,

Sitting as the Provisional Congress, the gathering elected Jefferson Davis President of the Confederate States on February 9, the day after the Provisional Constitution had been adopted and five days after initially convening in Montgomery.[27] On February 21, a week before it would sit as a Constitutional Convention, the Provisional Congress established the several executive departments, virtually mirroring those of the U.S. Government. The only major exception was the Confederate Post Office which was required to be financially self sustaining.[28] On March 4, 1861, the Confederacy adopted its first flag used throughout the Confederacy on the battlefield and at government office buildings for the duration of the Civil War.[29]

Following the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, the remaining six states admitted to the Confederate States of America with representation in its Congresses met in three additional sessions between July 1861 and February 1862 in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia.[22] The Virginia secessionist convention was already in session, and after Lincoln's call up of 75,000 troops to secure federal property, on April 17 that convention voted 88 to 55 to seceded. North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas soon after called secessionist conventions that voted to leave the Union by overwhelming majorities.[30] On May 6, 1861, the Confederate Congress officially declared war on the United States and authorized the President all land and naval force in pursuit of the war that had commenced.[31]

Arizona secessionists met in convention at La Mesilla and resolved to leave the Union on March 16, and duly sent a delegate to Montgomery to lobby for admission. On January 18, 1862 Congress seated Granville H. Oury as a non-voting delegate. The Southwest Indians were initially sympathetic to the Confederate cause, as many were slaveholders. During the spring and summer of 1861, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Creeks and Cherokees held tribal conventions that resolved themselves into independent nations and began negotiations with the Provisional Congress. Commissioner of Indian Affairs Albert Pike made three kinds of treaties. The Five Civilized Tribes were allowed a non-voting delegate in Congress and the Confederacy assumed all debts owed to the United States Government. They in turn promised mounted volunteer companies. Agricultural tribes of Osages, Senecas, Shawnees and Quapaws received clothes and industrial aids in return for military assistance. The Comanches and ten other tribes promised non-aggression in return for rations from the Confederate Government.[32]

Meeting at Richmond

On May 23, the Virginia Secession Convention voted to secede, and even before the referendum by its people to ratify the decision, the Virginia legislature invited the Confederate Congress to relocate to Richmond as the seat of government. Following the overwhelming vote of approval a month later in Virginia, Congress ordered the next session to convene in Richmond on July 20.[33]

On the initiative of President Davis' felt need for the Confederacy to embrace both Kentucky and Missouri, in late August the Provisional Congress appropriated $1 million each to secure secession in those states.[34]

The Provisional Congress in the Fifth Session reached two of the most far-reaching decisions for the Confederacy, both politically and militarily. The border states of Missouri and Kentucky were admitted into the Confederate States of America, requiring offensive military decisions otherwise uncalled for in the western theater, including violating Kentucky's neutrality. Their admission also provided a solid two-state delegation support amounting to 17% of the House and 15% of the Senate backing the Jefferson Davis government throughout the existence of the Confederacy.[35] Treaties with the Five Civilized Tribes also allowed for their seating non-voting representatives in the Confederate Congress, as did the Territory of New Mexico.[36] With the short-lived claim to the far western Arizona Territory, by the end of 1861 the Confederacy had gained the greatest extent of its territorial expansion. After that point, its de facto governance contracted as Union military actions prevailed.[37]

In the last of its actions, the Provisional Congress instructed the states in several duties. These included redrawing congressional districts to conform to the Confederate apportionment, reenacting election laws conforming to Confederate timetables, permitting out-of-state voting by soldiers and refugees, and electing two Confederate Congress senators to meet at the permanent Congress called on February 18, 1862.[38] The Confederate Congresses and the Jefferson Davis administration were the only two national civilian administrative bodies for the Confederacy.[22]

First Congress

Virginia Capitol, where Confederate Congress met
Virginia Capitol, where Confederate Congress met

Elections for the First Confederate States Congress were held on November 6, 1861. While Congressional elections in the United States were held in even-numbered years, elections for Confederate Congressman occurred in odd-numbered years. The First Congress met in four sessions in Richmond.[39]

In the 105 House seats and 26 Senate seats, altogether 267 men served in the Confederate Congress. About a third had served in the U.S. Congress, and others had prior experience in their state legislatures. Only twenty-seven served continuously, including House Speaker Thomas S. Bocock and Senate President pro tem Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, William Waters Boyce and William Porcher Miles of South Carolina, Benjamin Harvey Hill of Georgia, and Louis Wigfall of Texas. There was a rapid turnover in Congressional membership, in part due to some securing an officer's commission for military service. The mercurial Vice President, Alexander H. Stephens soon withdrew to his home state of Georgia, and Senator Hunter served as an acting Vice President and then later briefly as Secretary of State for the Davis Administration.[40] Throughout the existence of the Confederate Congress, its sessions were held in secrecy. Both U.S Continental and Confederation Congresses had been held in secret, and the U.S. Congress did not open its galleries to newspaper reporters until 1800. Nevertheless, by summer 1862 newspapers such as the Daily Richmond Examiner began objecting to the closed sessions.[41]

First general elections

On May 21, 1861, the Provisional Congress ordered elections for the First Congress under the permanent Constitution to be held on the first Wednesday in November. Election campaigning for the First Congress went quietly, with newspapers announcing the election and gently observing that the tickets offered good and true men. Despite some few purely local contests, the outcome of these first Confederate congressional elections depended chiefly on the connections of friendships formed during earlier politics. Secessionists and Unionists, Democrats and Whigs, had all previously had networks, and even without partisan labels, they all were practical men who used their previous contacts to get out the vote.[42]

While newspapers observed prior party affiliations, there were no issues, no visible organization, no interstate affiliations and nothing other than unswerving devotion to Southern principles and Confederate independence reported. While the "straight out" secessionists tried to make early support of disunion a test of loyalty, most men continued to vote for about the same candidates who they used to do.[43]

The Permanent Constitution required that the state legislatures elect Senators to the Confederate Congress, and there was virtually no political campaigning. The usual state practice while sending Senators to the U.S. Congress was to divide the senatorships between two major geographical divisions in each state, and the practice continued. In states where the Democratic and Whig votes had been closely matched in the 1860 elections, the state legislatures also filled the seats with a former Democrat and a former Whig. Usually legislatures sent their best men to the Confederate Senate, for instance Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia left his post as Confederate Secretary of State, and William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama left his post at Confederate Commissioner to England to be Senators.[44]

The first general election held in the Confederacy went quietly. In mostly Union-occupied Missouri and Kentucky, where the secessionist governments were in flight out of state, secessionist governors appointed Senators, and elections for representatives were held by soldier and refugee ballot. The results returned most of the provisional delegates who sought election as congressmen, and those who did not run were replaced by men of similar background. About a third of those elected would become administration opponents in a loyal opposition, but that would develop in Congress only after more assertive administration policies in the conduct of the war.[45]

Sessions of the First Congress, 1862

The first session of the First Congress sat from February 18 to April 21, 1862, a total of 63 days. During this time, the states of Missouri, Kentucky and northwest Virginia were occupied by Union forces and used as staging areas for further advances into Confederate territory. After the Battle of Shiloh, Union forces moved into the Tennessee Valley reaching into Alabama. Amphibious operations by the Union saw gains along the Atlantic Coast furthering the Union Blockade at Fernandia and St. Augustine, Florida, New Berne, North Carolina, and Fort Pulaski at Savannah, Georgia.[39]

First and Second
Confederate Congress

In February 1862, a group of Georgia Congressmen led by the Cobb brothers and Robert Augustus Toombs, former Confederate Secretary of State, called for a "scorched earth policy" before advancing Federals. "Let every woman have a torch, every child a firebrand" to fire everything. On retiring from a city or town, "let a desert more terrible than the Sahara welcome the Vandals." It became popular to believe that the loss and self-destruction of a city would make little difference in the ultimate outcome of the war; the vast size of the Confederacy would make its conquest impossible.[46]

Thus by the spring of 1862, it was obvious that if the Confederacy were to survive, Southerners were of necessity changing their ante-bellum world view including constitutional principles, economic markets and political axioms. President Davis referred to the Confederacy's "darkest hour", and with consent of Congress reconstituted his cabinet on March 19. Thomas H. Watts, an Alabama Whig, became the Attorney General, and without a Confederate Supreme Court, he became the de facto final arbiter of legal questions involving the national government. Congress had authorized the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and to declare martial law in any city, town or military district at his personal discretion as of February 27, and by March both Norfolk and Richmond were under martial law.[47]

Following the recommendation of President Davis on March 28, Congress enacted its Conscription Act on April 16, the first military draft on the North American continent. It required three years' military service of all white males from eighteen to thirty-five. Substitutes were allowed. All volunteers, a majority of the army, had their terms of service extended, although they were granted a sixty-day furlough and the privilege of electing their own company-grade officers, captain and below.[48] In addition to its "class-exemption system" deferring school teachers, [maritime pilots|river pilots] and iron foundry workers, Congress in October 1862 exempted owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves. Public opposition exploded, objecting to a system making the war a "rich man's war" and a "poor man's fight". Conscription Bureau officers often acted like kidnappers or press gangs as they enforced the draft. Southern men began volunteering for military service to avoid the stigma of being labelled a conscript. Many entered state militias where they would be restricted to service within their states, as in Georgia. Nevertheless, the Confederacy managed to mobilize practically the entire Southern military population, generally amounting to over a third of the manpower available to the Union until 1865.[49]

The second session of the First Congress met from August 18 to October 13, 1862. During this period, Union river operations had continued success, capturing Memphis, Tennessee, and Helena, Arkansas. Along the Atlantic Coast, the Union captured Fort Macon-Beaufort, Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia. The most strategic breakthrough for the Union was the capture of New Orleans and surrounding territory in Louisiana.[39] By summer 1862, every southern state had some Union occupation.[50]

Sessions of the First Congress, 1863

In the third session of the First Congress ran from January 12 until May 1, 1863. The battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville stymied Union attempts to advance in the eastern theater, but it achieved victories along the Mississippi at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Fort Hindeman, Arkansas.[51] In 1863 Lee's Confederate strike into Pennsylvania was turned back at Gettysburg, and Kirby Smith's invasion of Kentucky was ended at Perryville.[39]

The Confederate Congress never developed a coherent anti-administration party, but in 1863 facing re-election amidst growing dissatisfaction with the Davis administration, it did refuse to extend Jefferson Davis's authority to suspend habeas corpus nationally as an emergency power. Nevertheless, state courts in the Confederacy substantially upheld the prerogatives asserted by the Davis government. Likewise the Congress did not enact a bill allowing commanding generals to appoint their own staffs, allowing Jefferson Davis to place his personal stamp on every chain of command.[52] Historian Emery Thomas has noted that in the name of wartime emergency, Jefferson Davis "all but destroyed the political philosophy which underlay the founding of the Southern Republic," and Congress furthered his purposes.[53]

Extending the earlier conscription of whites into the Confederate States Army, Congress now allowed impressment of slaves as military laborers. Army quartermaster and commissary officers were authorized to seize private property for army use, compensated at below market prices with depreciated currency.[54] Not only did the Confederate States Congress anticipate the U.S. initiating a draft to conscript a mass army, it began an income tax fifty years before the U.S. Government, both monetary and in kind. A graduated income tax spanned one percent for monetary incomes under $500, to 15 percent for those over $1500, a 10 percent tax was levied on all profit from sale of foodstuffs, clothing and iron, and all agriculture and livestock were taxed 10 percent of everything grown or slaughtered.[55] Congress authorized $500 million in bonds in an effort to stem inflation. But in a wartime economy, inflation went from 300 percent for a gold dollar to 2000 percent from January 1863 to January 1864, an inflation rate of over 600 percent in one year. The inflation rate discouraged investment in bonds, and only $21 million was retired from circulation.[56]

Following an intersession during the military campaign season, the fourth session of the First Congress met from December 7, 1863 to February 17, 1864. The Union achieved control of the Mississippi River with the fall of Vicksburg, the capture of Fort Hudson, Louisiana, along with victories at Fort Smith and Little Rock, Arkansas. Union advances in eastern Tennessee were signaled by the fall of Knoxville and Chattanooga. At the end of the First Confederate Congress, it controlled just over a half of its congressional districts, while Federals occupied two-fifths and almost one-tenth were disrupted by military conflict.[51]

President Davis had urged immediate measures to increase the Confederacy's effective manpower as Congress reconvened on December 7, but it did not act until its adjournment on February 17, 1864. It expanded the draft ages from eighteen to forty, to seventeen to fifty. It substantially cut exemption classifications, and authorized the use of free blacks and slaves as cooks, teamsters, laborers and nurses. The result by June 1864 was a present-for-duty strength in all Confederate armies totaling no more than 200,000, about 100,000 less than the year before.[57]

Congress reauthorized the suspension of habeas corpus at President Davis' discretion. It extended the tax law of 1863, and although there was some relief from the earlier double taxation of agricultural products, generally it required greater material sacrifice for the war effort. A Compulsory Funding Measure sought to curb inflation, but failed to do so. Finally, the Congress authorized requiring half of all cargo space aboard ships running the blockade to be dedicated to government shipments, and forbade any export of cotton or tobacco without President Davis' express permission.[58]

Second Congress

The Second Congress served only one year of its two-year term due the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865. Although the Confederate States did not establish political parties, the Congress was still dominated by former Democratic politicians. The low turnout threw out many secessionist and pro-Davis incumbents in favor of former Whigs. The number of anti-Davis members in the House increased from twenty-six of 106 in the First Congress to forty-one in the Second Congress. This weakened the administration's ability to get its policies through Congress, nevertheless the Davis administration maintained control of the government.[59]

Harper's Weekly view of Richmond Capitol
Civil War view of Capitol at Richmond, Harper's Weekly, 1862

The Confederate States Congress was sometimes unruly. The journal clerk shot and killed the chief clerk, and Henry S. Foote was attacked with "fists, a Bowie knife, a revolver and an umbrella".[60] In a Senate debate, Benjamin H. Hill threw an inkstand at William Lowndes Yancey, and Yancey and Edward A. Pollard had such fierce attacks on one another that newspapers would not publish the exchange for fears of their personal safety. Military glory could be had on the battlefield, but Congress and Congressmen were held in contempt, in some part due to the members' habit of berating one another in personal terms.[61] Nevertheless, one historian of the Confederacy assessed the Congress as "better than its critics made it."[62] The Confederacy lived out its existence during wartime, and virtually all of Congressional action addressed that fact. While it took an interest in military affairs, it never followed the U.S. Congress' example of harassing either the President, his cabinet, or military commanders.[62] Despite Jefferson Davis' bitter Congressional critics, he dominated the Congress throughout most of the war until near the very end. Davis vetoed thirty-nine bills in total, deemed unconstitutional or unwise, and these were upheld in the Congress for all but the bill for free postage for newspapers addressed to soldiers.[63]

Second general election

The elections for the Second Confederate Congress took place at the time of the regular state and local elections held in each state. As a result, their dates ranged from May 1863 to May 1864. Only Virginia's on May 28, 1863 was held before the reverses at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and Virginia's delegation had a turnover of forty percent. The war was going badly for not only Virginia, but the South generally during the other elections, and citizens were adversely affected by conscription, taxes, food supply and the economy generally. Unlike elections to the First Congress which were often personality contests over who showed the most enthusiastic support of secession, Congressmen facing re-election had roll-call voting records that they had to defend. In Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas, the state delegations saw a turnover of half or more.[64]

anti-conscription cartoon
Resistance to Confederate conscription, by Currier and Ives, 1862

The major campaign issue was the Davis Administration and the conduct of the war. Central government policies had become specific and expansive to meet growing war needs compared to two years previously. The everyday life of every class and group were effected. Objections did not mean an abandonment of the Confederacy, but rather that a war weariness had fomented dissension in the public discussion.[65] Even in 1863, the pre-war party organizations continued to be influential. In the face of repeated Confederate military reverses, the early secessionists maintained that only "true" men could legislate in times of peril. Unlike the quiet campaigns of two years earlier, the campaigns of 1863 were marked by angry political acrimony.[66]

Generally candidates running on an anti-administration platform focused on one or two particularly unpopular issues in their local districts, without offering any alternative, although all appealed to states' rights, and most made direct appeals to the soldier vote with promises of pay increases or better rations, tobacco allotments and homesteads in the territories. Peace proponents sought independence but wanted negotiations to begin before the end of hostilities. They were important in half the districts of North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. Conscription and exemption laws were leading political issues all along the eastern seaboard and in Mississippi. Taxation, impressment of produce, and in-kind taxation were widely seen as confiscatory. This was especially important in Virginia. Elsewhere, the poor objected to regressive schedules and the rich called for the government to purchase entire crops of cotton. Administration suspension of habeas corpus to corral able-bodied men dodging military service was especially offensive in North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.[67]

The results overall did not result in a no-confidence majority against the administration. Former Democrats still outnumbered former Whigs 55-45 percent. But war weariness had taken its toll among the civilian population. The delegations from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia most antagonistic to the Davis Administration, and Alabama, Florida and Texas only slightly less so. The Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee delegations were largely elected by soldier vote, and so were solidly pro-administration.[68]At the time of elections in each state, just over forty percent of the Congressional Districts were occupied or disrupted by Union forces, yet the fragmentary Congressional results from army and refugee camps were accepted as representative of the majority of residents in each state, a practice that one historian has called delusional.[69] Historian Wilfred B. Yearns concluded, "Only the nearly solid support from occupied districts enabled President Davis to maintain a majority in Congress until the last days of the nation."[70]

Second Congress, First Secession

After a two-and-a-half month intercession from the end of the First Congress, the first session of the Second Confederate Congress sat from May 2 until June 14, 1864. During this period, Sherman began his Federal March to the Sea, and Grant advanced to the outskirts of Richmond at Cold Harbor, Virginia. Confederate forces fell back into defensive positions.[51]

Confederate partisan rangers became troublesome to loyal Confederates stealing property indiscriminately regardless of their loyalty, and so were regulated by Congress in February 1864, abolishing all units that were not operating in Union occupied territory.[71] At the same time, Congress again suspended the writ of habeas corpus from February 15 to August 1, 1864. It was seen as the most effective way to enforce conscription, maintain Confederate army coherence, and arrest potential traitors and spies.[72]

Second Congress, Second Session

Following an intercession from June 15 to November 6, 1864, the second session of the Second Congress sat from November 7, 1864 to March 18, 1865. This period saw the military collapse of the Confederacy, as Sherman turned northward in his Carolinas campaign, and both Fort Fisher and Charleston, South Carolina were captured. Union advances in the Valley of Virginia forced a collapse of Confederate forces onto Richmond. At the end of the Civil War, 45 percent of Confederate congressional districts were occupied, 20 percent were disrupted by military conflict, and only 33.9 percent were under Confederate control in three geographical pockets in Appalachia, the Lower South and the Trans-Mississippi West.[51]

Last Meeting of the Confederate Cabinet in Washington, Georgia.
Last Meeting of the Confederate Cabinet dissolving the Confederacy at Washington, Georgia.

On February 6, 1865, Congress made Robert E. Lee commanding general of all Confederate armies.[73] In March, one of its final acts was the passage of a law allowing for the military induction of any slave willing to fight for the Confederacy. This measure had originally been proposed by Patrick Cleburne a year earlier but met stiff opposition until the final months of the war, when it was endorsed by Lee. Davis had proposed buying 40,000 slaves and emancipating them, but neither Congress nor the Virginia General Assembly considering a similar proposal would provide for emancipation. Opponents such as Howell Cobb of Georgia claimed such an action would be "the beginning of the end of the revolution. If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong." Davis and his War Department responded by fiat in General Order Number Fourteen asserting emancipation: "No slave will be accepted as a recruit unless with his own consent and with the approbation of his master by a written instrument converting, as far as he may, the rights of a freedman." On March 23 the first black company of Confederates were seen drilling in the streets of Richmond.[74]

In the closing days of the Confederacy, the Congress and President Davis were at loggerheads. The executive recommendations were debated, but not acted upon. March 18, 1865, was the last day of official business in the history of the Confederate States Congress. The Senate was still in secret session and the House in open session, and although it adjourned with the hopeful sine die as a last entry, "the Confederate Congress, with its work still undone went silent forever".[75] The Congress of the Confederate States of America was dissolved along with the entire Confederate government by President Davis meeting with his cabinet on May 5, 1865, in Washington, Georgia.[76]

Apportionment and representation

The Confederate States Congress had delegations from 13 states, territories and Indian tribes. The state delegation apportionment was specified in the Confederate Constitution using the same population basis for the free population and a three-fifths rule for slaves as had been used in the U.S. Constitution.[77] There was to be one representative for every ninety thousand of the apportionment population, with any remaining fraction justifying an additional Congressman. After all thirteen states were admitted, there were 106 representatives in the Confederate Congress. The four most populous states were Upper South, and shortly after the war began, the Union occupied all of Kentucky and Missouri, along with large portions of western Virginia and western Tennessee. Nevertheless, these states maintained full delegations in both national legislative bodies throughout the war. The seven original Confederate states had a total of forty-six representatives, or 43 percent of the House.[78]

Except for the four states west of the Mississippi River (Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas) all Confederate states' apportionment in the U.S. Congress was going to decline into the 1860s. In the Confederate Congress, all would have larger delegations than they had from the census of 1850, except South Carolina, which was equal, and Missouri, which declined by one. The Confederate States Congress maintained representation in Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana throughout its existence. Unlike the United States Congress, there was no requirement for a majority of the voters in 1860 to vote for representatives for them to be seated. from 1861 to 1863, Virginia (east, north and west), Tennessee and Louisiana had U.S. representation. Then, for 1863-1865, only the newly made West Virginia had U.S. representation. West Virginians living in counties not under Federal control, however, continued to participate in Confederate elections.[79]

# State US 1850 US 1860 CSA
1. Virginia** 13 11 16
2. Tennessee** 10 8 11
3. Georgia 8 7 10
3. North Carolina 8 7 10
5. Alabama 7 6 9
6. Louisiana** 4 5 6
6. Mississippi 5 5 7
8. South Carolina 6 4 6
8. Texas 2 4 6
10. Arkansas 2 3 4
11. Florida 1 1 2
-- Kentucky** 10 9 12
-- Missouri** 7 9 6

Chart of Congresses and Sessions

Sessions of the Congress of the Confederate States of America and its Constitutional Convention
Congress Session Place Date Convened Date Adjourned States & Territories Attending
Provisional 1st S. Montgomery, Alabama Feb 4, 1861 Mar 16, 1861 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX
Constitutional Convention --- Montgomery Feb 28, 1861 Mar 11, 1861 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX
Provisional 2nd S. Montgomery Apr 29, 1861 May 21, 1861 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK
Provisional 3rd S. Richmond, Virginia Jul 20, 1861 Aug 31, 1861 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN
Provisional 4th S. Richmond Sep 3, 1861 Sep 3, 1861 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN
Provisional 5th S. Richmond Nov 18, 1861 Feb 17, 1862 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN, MO, KY -- AZ Terr.
1st Cong. 1st S. Richmond Feb 18, 1862 Apr 21, 1862 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN, MO, KY -- AZ Terr., Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation
1st Cong. 2nd S. Richmond Aug 18, 1862 Oct 13, 1862 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN, MO, KY -- AZ Terr., Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation
1st Cong. 3rd S. Richmond Jan 12, 1863 May 1, 1863 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN, MO, KY -- AZ Terr., Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation
1st Cong. 4th S. Richmond Dec 7, 1863 Feb 18, 1864 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN, MO, KY -- AZ Terr., Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation
2nd Cong. 1st S. Richmond May 2, 1864 Jun 14, 1864 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN, MO, KY -- AZ Terr., Cherokee Nation, Choctaw Nation
2nd Cong. 2nd S. Richmond Nov 7, 1864 Mar 18, 1865 AL, FL, GA, LA, MS, SC, TX -- VA, AK, NC, TN, MO, KY -- AZ Terr., Cherokee Nation, Creek and Seminole Nations

See also


  1. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. vii-viii.
  2. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. vii-viii.
  3. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p.1.
  4. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p.1-2.
  5. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p.2.
  6. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p.3.
  7. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p.4-7.
  8. ^ Martis, Kenneth C., The Historical Atlas of the Congress of the Confederate States of America: 1861-1865, Simon & Schuster, 1994, ISBN 0-13-389115-1, p. 7
  9. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 7.
  10. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 7-8.
  11. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 9.
  12. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 8-9.
  13. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 9-10.
  14. ^ Warner, Ezra J., Jr. "Appendix I: Sessions of the Confederate Congress". Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress. Project Muse. p. 267. Retrieved 2017. 
  15. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 24.
  16. ^ Coulter, E. Merton. The Confederate States of America (1950, 1962), Louisiana State University Press, ISBN 978-0-8071-0007-3, p. 23, 25
  17. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 24.
  18. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 24.
  19. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 25.
  20. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 26, 29.
  21. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 26.
  22. ^ a b c Martis, p. 1
  23. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 26-27.
  24. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 28-29.
  25. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 28.
  26. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 28-29.
  27. ^ Coulter, E. Merton. The Confederate States of America (1950, 1962), Louisiana State University Press, ISBN 978-0-8071-0007-3, p. 23, 25
  28. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 36.
  29. ^ Coulter, p. 117
  30. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 39.
  31. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 16.
  32. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 40-41.
  33. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 13.
  34. ^ Coulter, p. 46,48
  35. ^ Martis, p. 10,12
  36. ^ Coulter, p. 51, 53
  37. ^ Coulter, p. 54
  38. ^ Martis, p. 13
  39. ^ a b c d Martis, p. 27
  40. ^ Coulter, p. 134-137
  41. ^ Coulter, p. 140
  42. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 42-43.
  43. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 43-46.
  44. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 46-47.
  45. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 48-49.
  46. ^ Coulter, p. 347-348
  47. ^ Thomas, Emory M., The Confederate Nation: 1861-1865, (1979) Harper Colophon Books ISBN 0-06-090703-7, p. 149-151
  48. ^ Thomas, p. 153
  49. ^ Thomas, p. 153-155
  50. ^ Coulter, p. 80
  51. ^ a b c d Martis, p. 28
  52. ^ Thomas, p. 194-195
  53. ^ Thomas 1979, p. 196
  54. ^ Thomas 1979, p. 196-197
  55. ^ Thomas 1979, p. 198
  56. ^ Thomas 1979, p. 197
  57. ^ Thomas 1979, p. 259-260
  58. ^ Thomas 1979, p. 264-265
  59. ^ Thomas, p. 258
  60. ^ Ward, G., Burns, R. and Burns, K; The Civil War, 1990, pgs 161-162
  61. ^ Coulter, p. 143-145
  62. ^ a b Coulter, p. 145
  63. ^ Coulter, p. 146-147
  64. ^ Martis, p. 66-67
  65. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 49, 53
  66. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 52-53.
  67. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 50-51.
  68. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 58-59.
  69. ^ Martis, p. 71
  70. ^ Yearns, Wilfred Buck. The Confederate Congress, (1935, 2010) ISBN 978-0-820-33476-9, p. 59.
  71. ^ Coulter, p. 338
  72. ^ Coulter, p. 392, 394
  73. ^ Thomas, p. 282
  74. ^ Thomas, p. 261, 290, 293, 296-297
  75. ^ Coulter, p. 558. The final sentence recorded in the proceedings of the Confederate States Congress (House of Representatives) reads, "The hour of 2 o'clock having arrived, / The Speaker announced that the House stood adjourned sine die." (7 J. Cong. C.S.A. 796 (Mar. 18, 1865).
  76. ^ "1861, Jefferson Davis elected Confederate president", Nov 06, This Day in History, viewed May 8, 2017.
  77. ^ Thomas, p. 64
  78. ^ Martis, p. 19
  79. ^ Martis, pgs. 137-139
  80. ^ Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. "Apportionment of the US Congress". 

Further reading

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