Establishment of the Confederate States of America Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The secession of eleven southern states and the formation of the Confederacy set the United States on an irreversible path toward a devastating civil war.

Summary of Event

On December 20, 1860, the delegates of the Convention of the People of South Carolina voted 160 to 0 to adopt an ordinance of secession dissolving the “union now subsisting between South Carolina and the other States under the name of ’United States of America.’” Wishing to maintain their radical leadership of the South, the South Carolinians had moved quickly to take the initiative in the secession movement. News of Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency of the United States had reached South Carolina on November 7, and on November 13, the state legislature authorized the calling of a state convention. Delegates were quickly chosen in special elections, and the convention met on December 17. Three days later, South Carolina announced its secession from the union. Confederate States of America;formation of Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);formation of Confederacy South Carolina;secession of [kw]Establishment of the Confederate States of America (Feb. 8, 1861) [kw]Confederate States of America, Establishment of the (Feb. 8, 1861) [kw]States of America, Establishment of the Confederate (Feb. 8, 1861) [kw]America, Establishment of the Confederate States of (Feb. 8, 1861) Confederate States of America;formation of Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);formation of Confederacy South Carolina;secession of [g]United States;Feb. 8, 1861: Establishment of the Confederate States of America[3440] [c]Government and politics;Feb. 8, 1861: Establishment of the Confederate States of America[3440] [c]Organizations and institutions;Feb. 8, 1861: Establishment of the Confederate States of America[3440] Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;and secession[Secession] Cobb, Howell Davis, Jefferson [p]Davis, Jefferson;and secession[Secession] Rhett, Robert Barnwell Stephens, Alexander H. Toombs, Robert A.

Secession was justified, according to members of the South Carolina convention, under the ancient “compact theory” of states’ rights. According to this concept, individual states were sovereign. They had voluntarily entered into the union, and they could leave lawfully whenever they chose or whenever they believed the terms of the compact or agreement under which they were united were violated. This action could be taken by a specially elected state convention representing the sovereign power of a state.

Most white southerners believed that their liberty and their property, particularly their slaves, were threatened by the electoral victory of a political party composed almost exclusively of northerners. The western territories would, southerners assumed, become free states, and the political imbalance in the nation would be perpetuated and increased.

Confederate and Union Territories

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The other states of the Deep South shared South Carolina’s view that to remain in the union would be intolerable. In fact, Mississippi Mississippi;secession of was prepared to take the initiative had South Carolina delayed. Starting on January 9, 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Florida;secession of and Alabama Alabama;secession of seceded on successive days. In Georgia, Alexander H. Stephens Stephens, Alexander H. , among others, urged a wait-and-see policy, because the newly elected Republican government of the United States had not yet taken office. However, other powerful Georgians, such as Robert A. Toombs Toombs, Robert A. and Howell Cobb Cobb, Howell , called for separation, and the Georgia Georgia;secession of convention voted for secession on January 19. Louisiana, Louisiana;secession of where there was strong pro-Union sentiment, adopted an ordinance of secession on January 26. In Texas, Texas;secession of the secessionists were opposed by Governor Sam Houston Houston, Sam [p]Houston, Sam;and secession[Secession] , but a state convention voted to secede on February 1, subject to a popular referendum, which accepted secession three weeks later. Texas became the last of the seven states to secede before Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861.

Although Robert Barnwell Rhett Rhett, Robert Barnwell was a “fire-eater” secessionist, he saw the necessity of forming a new national government for the southern states. He introduced a resolution at the South Carolina convention calling for another convention to be held in Montgomery, Alabama, for the purpose of forming a southern republic. Delegates from South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Georgia met in the Alabama state capital on February 4, 1861; the Texas delegation arrived later. Cobb Cobb, Howell , a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and secretary of the Treasury, was elected president of the convention. A committee quickly drafted a provisional constitution Constitutions;Confederate Confederate States of America;constitution , which was adopted on February 8, and the Confederate States of America was born.

The provisional constitution provided for the creation of an interim government for one year or until a permanent government should be established. The members of the convention became the provisional congress and elected Jefferson Davis Davis, Jefferson [p]Davis, Jefferson;and secession[Secession] of Mississippi as provisional president and Alexander H. Stephens Stephens, Alexander H. of Georgia as provisional vice president. On February 18, 1861, Davis and Stephens were inaugurated, and Davis moved quickly to form a cabinet.

Confrederate troops bombarding Fort Sumter.

(Gay Brothers and Company)

On March 11, the convention unanimously adopted a permanent constitution Constitutions;Confederate Confederate States of America;constitution . It was similar to the U.S. Constitution in that it provided for three branches of the central government, further dividing power between the state governments and the central government. However, there also were important differences, reflecting both the states’ rights principles and the interests of southern agriculture. State States’ rights[States rights];and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America] sovereignty was expressly recognized; the president and vice president were elected for six-year terms, with one-term limitations. The president was allowed to veto individual items in appropriations bills. Slavery Slavery;and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America] and the interests of the slaveholders were specifically upheld, including the right to transport slaves from state to state. Slavery was established in the territories, but participation in the international slave trade Slave trade;and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America] Confederate States of America;and slavery[Slavery] was outlawed, as a concession to Great Britain and France. Protective tariffs Tariffs;protective were forbidden, in recognition of the South’s primary economic role as an exporter of agricultural goods and an importer of manufactured goods. Confederate expenditures for internal improvements were prohibited, and a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Confederate congress was required to pass important appropriations bills.

The new government had hoped that its states would be permitted to depart from the United States in peace. However, after Confederate artillery units fired on Union troops at Fort Sumter Fort Sumter Civil War, U.S. (1861-1865);Fort Sumter South Carolina;Fort Sumter , on April 12-13, 1861, all hopes for voluntary recognition by the northern government vanished. The incident at Fort Sumter was followed by Lincoln’s Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;and secession[Secession] call for troops from the various states, including those of the upper South. Those states were forced to join the Confederacy or participate in the coercion of the states of the Deep South. Although in each state of the upper South there was strong Union sentiment, Virginia Virginia;secession , North Carolina North Carolina;secession , Tennessee Tennessee;secession , and Arkansas Arkansas;secession nevertheless joined the Confederacy in April and May. Missouri Missouri;and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America] and Kentucky Kentucky;and Confederate States of America[Confederate States of America] were divided and were claimed by both the Union and the Confederacy. Maryland Maryland;and Civil War[Civil War] and Delaware, Delaware;and Civil War[Civil War] the remaining slave states, did not join the Confederacy.

The Confederate congress welcomed Virginia into the Confederacy by moving its capital Confederate States of America;capital city to Richmond Virginia;Richmond Richmond, Virginia;and Confederacy[Confederacy] on July 20, 1861. On November 6, 1861, the first general elections were held under the permanent constitution Constitutions;Confederate Confederate States of America;constitution . Davis Davis, Jefferson [p]Davis, Jefferson;and secession[Secession] and Stephens Stephens, Alexander H. were then elected president and vice president of the “permanent” Confederacy. The fourth and last sessions of the provisional congress closed in February of 1862, when the new senate and house assembled. On February 22, 1862, Jefferson Davis Davis, Jefferson [p]Davis, Jefferson;and secession[Secession] was inaugurated president for a term of six years. The first congress under the permanent constitution of the Confederacy held four sessions and the second congress held two sessions, with the final adjournment of the body taking place in March, 1865.

Significance

The formation of the Confederate States of America and the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter made it evident that no peaceful settlement between the North and the South would be possible. Under the strong leadership of President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln, Abraham [p]Lincoln, Abraham;and secession[Secession] the North resolved to preserve the union, and the only way that goal could be achieved would be through an armed conquest of the South, and that could only be effected through an all-out civil war. On July 21, 1861—only one day after the capital of the Confederacy was moved to Richmond Richmond, Virginia;and Confederacy[Confederacy] —the first great battle of the war was fought at Bull Run Creek in Virginia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cooper, William J., Jr. Jefferson Davis: American. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. Balanced and comprehensive biography of the Confederacy’s first and only president. Cooper argues that although Davis supported secession, he continued to see himself as a patriotic and faithful American.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davis, William C. A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy. New York: Free Press, 1994. Detailed history of the process of secession and the creation of the Confederate States of America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Union That Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs and Alexander H. Stephens. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001. Study of the close friendship between Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens and Robert Toombs, the secretary of the Confederacy, both of whom had served in the Georgia legislature and U.S. Congress.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gienapp, William E. Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Revealing study of Abraham Lincoln’s private and public lives during his presidency, which was dominated by the Civil War.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hathaway, Herman, and Richard E. Beringer. Jefferson Davis: Confederate President. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002. Scholarly study of Jefferson Davis’s leadership of the ill-fated Confederacy.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roland, Charles P. The Confederacy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960. Comprehensive and easy-to-read history of the creation, rise, and fall of the Confederate States of America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Emory M. The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1991. Summarizes the major events and problems of the Confederacy; discusses the background of secession and the formation of the government.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Yearns, Wilfred B. The Confederate Congress. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1960. Thorough description of the work of the Confederate Congress, which generally followed the administration’s leadership.

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Lincoln Is Elected U.S. President

Lincoln Is Inaugurated President

U.S. Civil War

First Battle of Bull Run

Union Enacts the First National Draft Law

Battles of Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga

Sherman Marches Through Georgia and the Carolinas

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