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 Provisional Constitution is currently located at The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, and differs slightly from the version later adopted. The final, 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. However, there are crucial differences between the two documents, in tone and legal content.
Changes from U.S. constitution
- The Preamble The elastic clauses in the preamble "to promote the general welfare" and the powers of congress, Article I section viii, "to provide . . . for the general welfare" are both absent, reflecting the confederate founders wariness of a growing and ever more powerful federal government. The words "invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God" are added to the confederate 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 (and possibly half of another if serving as Vice President before the terms) (today). This is thus perhaps the earliest term limits provision in North American History.
- The following provisions were added to the original text of Article 1 of the Constitution of the United States;
- Amended Article 1 Sec. 1 Clause 1 to prohibit persons "of foreign birth" who were "not a citizen of the Confederate States" from voting "for any officer, civil or political, State or Federal." While some would argue that amendment is the result of the lingering influence of the Nativist theology advance by the Know-Nothing Party further research would suggest it is simply an attempt to install a safety mechanism within the new government that would prevent U.S. citizens from moving into the Confederacy and installing pro-union or anti-slavery representatives into the new nation's government, a practice already established and utilized by anti-slavery forces during their efforts to prevent the spread of slavery into Kansas, a series of events referred to as Bleeding Kansas. While Article 2 Sec. 1 Cl. 7 of the Confederate Constitution provides citizenship to people "born in the United States prior to the 20th of December, 1860" it also requires candidates for the President of the Confederacy to have resided "within the limits of the Confederate States" for 14 years. While these restrictions allow for the growth of the Confederacy, by offering citizenship to the population of any state which joins the Confederacy it also insures that citizens of the now foreign nation of the United States could not simply move into member states of the Confederacy and gain citizenship and voting privileges. It may seem odd to label U.S. citizens as foreign born, but upon the creation of the Confederate States of America the states remaining in the Union and therefore members of the union of states known as the United States would have been a wholly separate and foreign nation, and most likely a hostile nation at that.
- Amended Article 1 Section 2 Clause 5 to allow the state legislatures to impeach federal officials who live and work only within their state with 2/3 vote in both houses of the state legislature.
- Amended Article 1 Section 6 Clause 2 to allow the House of Representatives and Senate the ability to grant seats to the heads of each Executive Department, or the Presidential Cabinet, in order to discuss issues involving their departments with Congress.
- Amended Article 1 Section 7 Clause 2 to provide the President of the Confederate States of America with a line item veto but also required any bill which the president used the veto in to be resubmitted to both houses for a possible override vote by 2/3 of both houses.
- 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. By adding the text at the end of Article I, Section 9, the Framers of the Confederate Constitution made clear that only the conduct of the federal (confederate) government was restrained, and that the provisions did not limit the powers of the states.
- The Powers of Congress, Article I section viii
- The Congress shall have power -
- 1. To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises for revenue, necessary to pay the debts, provide for the common defense, and carry on the Government of the Confederate States; but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry; and all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the Confederate States.
- The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
Notice the break in the confederate constitution's first power of congress which leaves no doubt that Congress only has power to levy taxes for the following powers and not just for anything at all that is in the common defense or general welfare. The phrase "to promote or foster any branch of industry" was added to the "tax uniformity clause" in Article I, Section 8(1) 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 third power of the confederate congress prohibits all federal expenditure on internal improvements except those of waterways and oceans, and even these cost will not be externalized on the public coffer but billed to the industries that benefit from the improvements.
- 3. To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes; but neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce; except for the purpose of furnishing lights, beacons, and buoys, and other aids to navigation upon the coasts, and the improvement of harbors and the removing of obstructions in river navigation; in all which cases such duties shall be laid on the navigation facilitated thereby as may be necessary to pay the costs and expenses thereof.
- 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 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.
:20. Every law, or resolution having the force of law, shall relate to but one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title.
Such a provision minimizes the chance of logrolling, which is the practice of including multiple subjects in the same bill, hoping to attract supporters who might not vote for one or more subjects if presented separately.
- 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.
Whereas the original constitution did not even use the word slavery, but "Person[s] held to Service or Labour" which included whites in indentured servitude, the confederate constitution addresses the legality of slavery directly and by name.
Continuing the US government's prohibition of importation of slaves after the year 1808, which is in the Articles of the confederate constitution unlike the U.S. Constitution, the confederate constitution does make explicit the legal protection of owning slaves.
- 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). This did not necessarily mean that individual states could not ban slavery. However, section 2 of Article IV specified that "citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired".
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 believed that economics might persuade free states with strong economic ties to the South to join the Confederacy.
The Preamble to the Confederate Constitution begins: "We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character..."
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. The Confederate Congress had powers almost identical to the US Congress, however all the minor differences added together amounted to a much more constrained federal government than the US government of the times and of today. The Confederate Constitution contained clauses which increased the powers of the Executive Branch, such as the line item veto power given to the president. However, they also granted essentially a line item veto to the Senate and Congress by limiting each bill to one issue written in the name. By making both the executive and legislative branches of government more powerful they did more to tie the hands of the Federal government overall—enhancing the planned ineffectiveness of the central government, one of the founding premises of the US Constitution. 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 in that period.
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, Thomas Jefferson Withers.
- Georgia: Francis S. Bartow, Martin J. Crawford, Benjamin Harvey Hill, Thomas R. R. Cobb.
- Florida: Jackson Morton, James Patton Anderson, James Byeram Owens.
- Alabama: Richard W. Walker, Robert Hardy Smith, Colin John McRae, William P. Chilton, Stephen F. Hale, David P. Lewis, Thomas Fearn, John Gill Shorter, J. L. M. Curry.
- Mississippi: Alexander Mosby Clayton, James Thomas Harrison, William Taylor Sullivan Barry, William Sydney Wilson, Walker Brooke, Wiley Pope Harris, Josiah Abigail Patterson Campbell.
- Louisiana: Alexandre Etienne DeClouet, Charles Magill Conrad, Duncan F. Kenner, Henry Marshall.
- Texas: John Hemphill, Thomas Neville Waul, John H. Reagan, William Simpson Oldham, Sr., Louis T. Wigfall, John Gregg, William Beck Ochiltree.
- Missouri: Edward Davidson, Johnny J. Davis, Jr.
- Constitution of the Confederate States
- Constitution of the Confederate States
- Ekelund, Robert B. Jr.Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War Pg. 24-25
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- Text of the constitution
- Study on the differences between the United States and Confederate States Constitutions
- The Confederate Constitution, by Randall G. Holcombe A libertarian study of the Confederate Constitution.
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