The Constitution of the Confederate States of America was the supreme law of the Confederate States of America, as adopted on March 11, 1861 and in effect through the conclusion of the American Civil War. The Confederacy also operated under a Provisional Constitution from February 8, 1861 to March 11, 1861. The original, hand-written document is currently located in the University of Georgia archives at Athens, Georgia.
In regard to most articles of the Constitution, the document is a word-for-word duplicate of the United States Constitution. The major differences between the two constitutions was the Confederacy's greater emphasis on the rights of individual member states, and an explicit support of slavery.
The constitution outlines a three branch government, consisting of the:
The constitution forbade the practice of importing slaves from outside the Confederacy, but disallowed the national government from outlawing slavery in the following key provision:
- No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed [by Congress]
The constitution likewise prohibited the Confederate Congress from abolishing or limiting slavery in Confederate territories (unlike the United States, where, prior to the Dred Scott decision, Congress had prohibited slavery in some territories). The legal basis for slavery in the Confederacy is largely presented as an extension of property rights.
A proposal to prohibit free states from joining the Confederate States of America was narrowly defeated, largely due to the efforts of moderates such as Alexander Stephens. Stephens reasoned that economics might persuade free states with strong economic ties to the South to join the Confederacy.
Changes from U.S. constitution
- The President was elected for a single six-year term, rather than an unlimited (at that time) number of four-year terms or a maximum of two four-year terms (today).
- Several provisions in Article I, as follows: prohibited non-citizens from voting (Sec. 2, Cl. 1 - a nativist provision showing the lingering influence of the Know-Nothing movement, though it was past its peak by the time of the Civil War), extended the power of impeachment of federal officials to state legislatures in certain cases (Sec. 2, Cl. 5), granted cabinet officers opportunity to address the House of Representatives (Sec. 6), and gave the Confederate President a line item veto over certain appropriations legislation (Sec. 7, Cl. 2).
- The first twelve amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, were directly incorporated into the Confederate Constitution. This was originally suggested by James Madison for the Bill of Rights in the time after the Constitution Convention, but he was defeated.
- There were several minor technical changes in the text adopted from the U.S. Constitution. Each clause within a section was numbered, whereas in the U.S. constitution clause numbers were only inferred, capitalization of nouns was closer to modern usage, and "Confederate States" was substituted for "United States" wherever necessary.
- The preamble maintained the structure of the preamble to the U.S. Constitution with several distinctions. The Confederate preamble added the words "each State acting in its sovereign and independent character" after "We the people of the Confederate States"; substituted "permanent federal government" for "more perfect Union"; deleted the phrases referring to providing for the "common defence" and "general welfare"; and inserted the words "invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God".
- Despite some opposition, the international slave trade was banned in the Confederacy, as it had been in the U.S. since 1808. Delegates feared that European governments would not recognize a CSA that did not prohibit the international trade. The international slave trade was distasteful to many slaveowners. Prohibition of foreign slave trade also protected the substantial domestic slave trade in Virginia and Maryland, who had yet to join the CSA.
- Confederate officials serving within a state could be impeached by the legislature of that state, as well as by the Confederate Congress.
- The phrase "to promote or foster any branch of industry" was added to the "tax uniformity clause" in Section I, Article 8 to stress the opposition of the Confederacy to non-uniform tariffs such as the Tariff of 1828, also known as the Tariff of Abominations.
- The process of amendment became easier, requiring two-thirds of the states rather than three-fourths.
- A bill, or any resolution carrying the force of law, could only deal with a single subject, which had to be stated in the title.
- If there was a vacancy in the House of Representatives, the governor of the state represented could fill the vacancy. He could do so for a Senate vacancy only during the recess of the legislature, and only for a term until the legislature met and made its own choice.
The Preamble to the Confederate Constitution begins: "We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character..."
The Confederate Constitution contains little evidence of an agenda to advance the cause of states' rights.. The constitution contained many of the phrases and clauses which had led to disagreement among the states in the original Union, including a supremacy clause, a commerce clause (albeit a more restrained version than in the U.S. Constitution, which itself had not been construed nearly as broadly as it is today), and a necessary and proper clause. By these clauses, the Confederate Congress had powers almost identical to those of the U.S. Congress. The Confederate Constitution contained clauses which increased the powers of the Executive Branch, such as the line item veto power given to the president. The Confederate Constitution also provided for a Supreme Court, which, through the supremacy clause, could acquire all the powers claimed for the U.S. Supreme Court by John Marshall. The Confederate Constitution was to take effect upon ratification by five states, like the U.S. Constitution, which took effect after nine states ratified it. This had been a major point of contention in the Anti-Federalist Papers. The framers of the Confederate Constitution, having studied the various constitutional crises which had arisen in the United States between 1787 and 1860, tried to revise the constitution to eliminate the grievances which had been raised by the southern States in that period, in particular by hedging the institution of slavery with Constitutional protections.
The signatories of the constitution were:
- Howell Cobb, President of the Congress.
- South Carolina: Robert Barnwell Rhett, C. G. Memminger, William Porcher Miles, James Chesnut, Jr., R. W. Barnwell, William W. Boyce, Lawrence M. Keitt, T. J. Withers.
- Georgia: Francis S. Bartow, Martin J. Crawford, Benjamin H. Hill, Thomas R. R. Cobb.
- Florida: Jackson Morton, J. Patton Anderson, Jas. B. Owens.
- Alabama: Richard W. Walker, Robert H. Smith, Colin J. McRae, William P. Chilton, Stephen F. Hale, David P. Lewis, Thomas Fearn, John Gill Shorter, J. L. M. Curry.
- Mississippi: Alex. M. Clayton, James T. Harrison, William S. Barry, W. S. Wilson, Walker Brooke, W. P. Harris, J. A. P. Campbell.
- Louisiana: Alex. de Clouet, C. M. Conrad, Duncan F. Kenner, Henry Marshall.
- Texas: John Hemphill, Thomas N. Waul, John H. Reagan, Williamson S. Oldham, Louis T. Wigfall, John Gregg, William Beck Ochiltree.
- Missouri: Edward Davidson, Johnny J. Davis, Jr.