Formation of the Confederacy preceded American Civil War


Threats of separation from the Union by the South were made as early as the Compromise of 1820. That was followed by the Cherokee land crisis in Georgia during John Q. Adams term of office, and the tariff issue of 1832 during Andrew Jackson’s presidency. The slavery question emerged after the Mexican War and the compromise of 1850.

Both the North and South showed threatening signs of seceding during the first half of the 19th century. In fact, threats of secession had been the last resort of the minority to protect its interests under the Constitution and had been constantly present from the American Revolution to the American Civil War.

South fired up

The campaigning of 1860 and Abraham Lincoln’s election caused the South to hit the wall. The Election of 1860 served to emphasize how deep the line of cleavage between the sections had become.

Few presidential elections have aroused the intense interest that touched every section of the country during the entire year of 1860. Southern “fire-eaters” persuaded the deep South states to leave the Union before they heard Lincoln’s inaugural remarks in March of 1861.

News of Lincoln’s election had reached the Palmetto State by Nov. 7, and on Nov. 13, the legislature authorized the calling of a state convention. On Dec. 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded.

Secession was justified, according to the convention members, under the ancient “compact theory” that individual states were sovereign. They had voluntarily entered into the Union which they could lawfully leave whenever they wished.

It was the “fire-eater” Robert Rhett, a southern journalist and Confederate congressman, who prodded South Carolina into fast action and is often called the “Father of Secession.”

Most southerners believed that their liberty, way of life, political influence and property, particularly their slaves, were threatened by the election victory of a political party composed exclusively of northerners. The western territories would, it was assumed, become free states and the political imbalance would be perpetuated and increased in all phases of American life.

The other states of the deep South shared South Carolina’s view that to remain in the Union would be intolerable. In fact Mississippi was prepared to take the initiative had South Carolina delayed. Starting Jan. 9, 1861, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama seceded on successive days.

In Georgia, the future vice-president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, urged a “wait and see” policy, since the Republican government had not yet taken office. Other powerful Georgians such as Robert Toombs and Howell Cobb, however, called for separation, and Georgia voted for secession Jan. 19.

Louisiana, where Union sentiment was considerable, adopted an ordinance of secession Jan. 26. In Texas, the secessionists were opposed by a Union Democrat Governor Sam Houston, but a state convention voted to follow sister states Feb. 1. Texas was the last of the seven states to “fold the American flag” before Lincoln took office.

Confederate convention

Rhett, from South Carolina, saw the necessity of forming a national government for the Southern states. He urged the calling of a convention to be held in Montgomery, Alabama, for the purpose of forming a Southern Republic. Delegates met and elected ex-Gov. Cobb as president of the convention.

A committee quickly drafted a provisional constitution and Feb. 8, the Confederate States of America was born. The provisional constitution provided for the creating of an interim government for one year, and Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was elected president and Alexander Stephens of Georgia was selected vice president.

On Feb. 18, 1861, they were inaugurated, and Davis moved quickly to form a cabinet. On March 11, a permanent constitution similar to the Constitution of the United States was adopted but with some important differences.

State sovereignty was expressly recognized, the president and vice-president were elected for a six-year term with a one-term limitation, and slavery was protected.

Furthermore, protective tariffs were forbidden, internal improvements were the responsibility of the states, and a two-thirds vote of both House of Congress was required to admit a new state and pass on appropriation bill.

The firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, was followed by Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops from the various states, including those of the upper South, for three months of military service.

These states had sentiments that were divided by family blood and economic interests which bound them no less to the North than to the South. They found themselves forced to join the Confederacy or participate in the coercion of the states of the deep South.

Although there was strong Union sentiment in each state of the upper South, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas joined the Confederacy in April and May of 1861.

Missouri and Kentucky were divided and were claimed by both sides. Maryland and Delaware, the remaining slave states, did not join the Confederacy. The Confederate Congress welcomed Virginia into the Confederacy and moved its capital to Richmond.

In November 1861, elections were held and Davis and Stephens were elected president and vice-president of the “permanent” Confederacy. They were inaugurated Feb. 22, 1862, on George Washington’s birthday and in his home state.

Davis, like Washington, was the first president of his country, but he was also destined to be the last. That’s your history!


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Professor Emeritus Hugh Earnhart had a 32-year career in the history department at Youngstown State University, where he specialized in the Civil War and the South. Send suggestions, comments or questions to Hugh Earnhart in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460-0038; or via email to:



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