|Confederate States Congress|
House of Representatives
President pro tempore ad interim
|Confederate States Constitution|
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.
Responding to a call from the South Carolina Secessionist Convention in Charleston held in December 1860 before Abraham Lincoln's inauguration as president, 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.
Deputies from the first seven states to convene as the Confederate Provisional Congress, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas, met in the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, in two sessions in February through May 1861. There was one vote for each sovereign state. They drafted and approved the Confederate States Constitution on February 8, and elected Jefferson Davis President of the Confederate States on February 9.
The Provisional Constitution adopted by the Montgomery delegates established a unicameral Provisional Congress, and the convention then sat as the Provisional Congress. On February 28, 1861, the Provisional Congress adopted the Permanent Confederate Constitution that provided for a bicameral national legislature consisting of a House of Representatives and a Senate. On March 4, 1861, the Confederacy adopted its first flag.
Following the 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. Following 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 unsure Kentucky and Missouri.
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 western theater military decisions otherwise uncalled for, and providing a solid two-state delegation support for the Jefferson Davis government throughout the existence of the Confederacy. 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. 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.
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. The Confederate Congresses and the Jefferson Davis administration were the only two national civilian administrative bodies for the Confederacy.
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.
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 membership, in part 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. 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 Richmond Daily Examiner began objecting to the closed sessions.
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.
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.
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.
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. In addition to its "class-exemption system" deferring school teachers, 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.
Following an intercession, 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. By summer 1862, every southern state had some Union occupation.
In the third session of the First Congress ran from January 12, 1863, until May1. 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. In 1863 Lee's Confederate strike into Pennsylvania was turned back at Gettysburg, and Kirby Smith's invasion of Kentucky was ended at Perryville.
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. Although authorized in the Confederate States Constitution, Congress did not establish a Supreme Court. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
Following an intersession from May 2 to December 6, 1863 during the 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.
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.
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.
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 and May 1864. Only Virginia's on May 28, 1863 was held before the reverses at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, and it had a turnover of forty percent. The war was going badly for the South during the other elections, and citizens were adversely affected by conscription, taxes, food supply and the economy generally. Unlike the earlier personality contests over most enthusiastic support of secession in the elections to the First Congress, 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. At the time of elections in each state, just over forty percent of the House was 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.
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 Democrats 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.
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". 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 redounded to those on the battlefield, but Congress and Congressmen were held in contempt, in some part due to members habit of berating one another in personal terms. Nevertheless, one historian of the Confederacy assessed the Congress as "better than its critics made it." 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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
On February 6, 1865, Congress made Robert E. Lee commanding general of all Confederate armies. 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.
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". 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.
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. 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.
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.
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The 1989 motion picture Glory portrayed an act of the Confederate States Congress to execute black troops as well as white officers captured in command of them. This was loosely based on General Order 111 by Jefferson Davis calling for the return of any African Americans caught bearing arms be delivered to respective state governments where they were to be treated as "armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of this Confederacy" instead of being treated as prisoners of war. The same statement also called for similar penalties for white officers in command of black troops as well as execution of white officers serving under the command of Benjamin Butler "as robbers and criminals deserving death." The last measure was due in part to Butler's General Order No. 28. The Confederate States Congress fully endorsed Jefferson Davis' order in 1863, declaring "That every white person, being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes or mulattoes in arms against the Confederate States, or who shall arm, train, or organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military service against the Confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death, or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the court."
A passing mention of the Confederate States Congress is made in the mini-series Roots. In the final episode of the series, set during Reconstruction, a former Confederate States Senator named Arthur Johnson (played by Burl Ives) arrives in the local county to begin several business ventures including buying up all available land and keeping the black population from leaving through heavy interest on sharecropping supplies. The mini-series depicts the former senator as being highly respected by the white population, seemingly to imply that even after the American Civil War ex-Confederate Congressmen were still regarded with a sense of reverence. For instance, former Confederate Congressman John Brown Baldwin was elected Virginia's Speaker of the House of Delegates in 1865 and served throughout Reconstruction.