South Carolina, the first Southern state to secede (Dec. 20, 1860) after the election of the Republican President Abraham Lincoln, was soon followed out of the Union by six more states—Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. On Feb. 4, 1861, delegates from these states (except the Texans, who were delayed) met at Montgomery, Ala., and organized a provisional government. The convention passed over the radical secessionists R. B. Rhett and W. L. Yancey and elected (Feb. 9) Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia president and vice president respectively. The convention also drafted a constitution (adopted on Mar. 11) and functioned as a provisional legislature pending regular elections.
The constitution closely resembled the Constitution of the United States, even repeating much of its language, but naturally had states' rights provisions. Slavery was "recognized and protected," but the importation of slaves "from any foreign country other than the slave-holding States or Territories of the United States of America" was prohibited. The general welfare clause of the old Constitution was omitted, protective tariffs were forbidden, and for most appropriations a two-thirds vote of congress was required. There were other, less important, departures from the U.S. Constitution, e.g., the president and vice president were to be elected for six years, but the president was not "reeligible"; members of the president's cabinet might be granted seats in either house of the Confederate congress to discuss legislation affecting their departments; and amendment to the constitution (by two thirds of the states, with congress having no voice) was made easier.
The new government seized or pressed its claims for U.S. property within its domain, especially forts and arsenals, and, when the Union declined to surrender Fort Sumter, ordered the firing (Apr. 12–13) that formally began the hostilities. Lincoln's immediate call for troops brought four more Southern states—Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee—into the Confederacy, which now comprised 11 states. The border slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri remained in the Union although they contained many Southern sympathizers; Confederate state governments were established at Neosho, Mo., and Russellville, Ky., in opposition to the official governments. In May it was decided to transfer the capital from Montgomery to Richmond, Va., because of Virginia's prestige; that move, considering Richmond's proximity to the North, has generally been regarded as a serious mistake.
The new constitution was ratified (the approval of only five states was needed), general elections for congress and for presidential electors (as under the federal Constitution) were held in Nov., 1861, and on Washington's birthday in 1862, the "permanent" government was inaugurated at Richmond. Davis and Stephens had been chosen without opposition to head it. Judah P. Benjamin, successively attorney general, secretary of war, and secretary of state, was the most important figure in Davis's cabinet. Only two other men remained in the cabinet for its entire brief existence—Stephen R. Mallory, secretary of the navy, and John H. Reagan, postmaster general.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.