The Confederate Government at Montgomery.
R. Barnwell Rhett (Editor of the Charleston Mercury, 1860-62).
Twenty-six years have passed since the delegates of six States of the South
that had seceded from the Union
met in a convention or Provisional Congress, at the Capitol
, at Montgomery, Alabama
. Twenty-one years have elapsed since the close of the war between the States of the North
and the eleven States of the South
that entered the Confederate Government then and there organized.
Most of the men who participated in the deliberations of that convention are dead, and the few now left will before long be laid away.
Of the debates of that body there is no record, and the proceedings in secret session have never been published.
the proceedings of the Congress of the United States were open, and at the North
there was an intelligent, well-informed, powerful public opinion throughout the war. Not so at the South
Secret sessions were commenced at Montgomery
, and at Richmond
almost all important business was transacted away from the knowledge and thus beyond the criticism of the people.
Latterly, accounts of the battles fought have been written from every standpoint; but of the course and policy of the Confederate Government, which held in its hands all the resources of the Southern
people, and directed their affairs, diplomatic, financial, naval, and military, little has been said.
During the war scarcely anything was known except results, and when the war terminated, the people of the South
, though greatly dissatisfied, were generally as ignorant of the management of Confederate affairs as the people of the North
The arrest and long imprisonment of the President
of the Confederacy
made of him a representative martyr, and silenced the voice of criticism at the South
And up to this time little has been done to point out the causes of the events which occurred, or to develop the truth of history in this direction.
It very well suits men at the South
who opposed secession to compliment their own sagacity by assuming that the end was inevitable.
Nor do men identified with the Confederacy
by office, or feeling obligation for its appreciation of their personal merits, find it hard to persuade themselves that all was done that could be done in “the lost cause.”
And, in general,
it may be an agreeable sop to Southern pride to take for granted that superior numbers alone effected the result.
Yet, in the great wars of the world, nothing is so little proved as that the more numerous always and necessarily prevail.
On the contrary, the facts of history show that brains have ever been more potent than brawn.
The career of the Confederate States
exhibits no exception to this rule.
Eliminate the good sense and unselfish earnestness of Mr. Lincoln
, and the great ability and practical energy of Seward
, and of Stanton
from the control of, the affairs of the United States
; conceive a management of third-rate and incompetent men in their places — will any one doubt that matters would have ended differently?
To many it may be unpalatable to hear that at the South
all was not done that might have been done and that cardinal blunders were made.
But what is pleasing is not always true, and there can be no good excuse now for suppressing important facts or perverting history.
The time has come when public attention may with propriety be directed to the realities of that momentous period at the South
On the 20th of December, 1860, South Carolina
passed unanimously the first ordinance of secession, in these words:
We, the people of the State of South Carolina in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, that the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also, all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.
On her invitation, six other Southern States sent delegates to a convention in Montgomery, Alabama
, for the purpose of organizing a Confederacy.
On the 4th of February, 1861, this convention assembled.
The material which constituted it was of a mixed character.
There were members who were constitutionally timid and unfit by character and temperament to participate in such work as was on hand.
Others had little knowledge of public affairs on a large scale, and had studied neither the resources of the South
nor the conduct of the movement.
A number of them, however, were men of
ripe experience and statesmanlike grasp of the situation — men of large knowledge, with calm, strong, clear views of the policies to be pursued.
Alexander H. Stephens
characterized this convention as “the ablest body with which he ever served, and singularly free from revolutionary spirit.”
In the organization of the convention, Howell Cobb
was chosen to preside, and J. J. Hooper
, of Montgomery
, to act as secretary.
It was decided to organize a provisional government under a provisional constitution, which was adopted on the 8th of February.
On the 9th a provisional President
were elected, who were installed in office on the 18th to carry the government into effect.
In regard to this election, it was agreed that when four delegations out of the six should settle upon men, the election should take place.
was put forward by the Mississippi
delegation and Howell Cobb
by that of Georgia
delegation proposed to vote for whomsoever South Carolina
The South Carolina
delegation offered no candidate and held no meeting to confer upon the matter.
The chairman, Mr. R. Barnwell Rhett
did not call them together.
, however, was an active supporter of Mr. Davis
, and it was afterward said that while in Washington
in December, as a commissioner to treat for the evacuation of Fort Sumter
, he had committed himself to Mr. Davis
At any rate, he was zealous.
afterward stated to the writer and others in Charleston
William L. Yancey, member of the Confederate Senate, Confederate Commissioner to Europe in 1861.
from a photograph.|
a majority of the delegation were opposed to Mr. Davis
, but that, not having compared opinions, they did not understand one another, and that Mr. Davis
received the vote of South Carolina
, and was elected, by the casting vote of Mr. Rhett
Personally Mr. Rhett
knew little of Mr. Davis
He regarded him as an accomplished man, but egotistical, arrogant, and vindictive, without depth or statesmanship.
Besides this, he judged him not sufficiently in accord with the movement to lead it. His speech on the 4th of July, 1858, between New York and Boston
, was reported as denunciatory of secessionists, and as comparing them to “mosquitoes around the horns of an ox, who could annoy, but could do no harm.”
The strong Union sentiments uttered in his New England
electioneering tour, which secured to him the vote of B. F. Butler
and others at the Democratic convention at Charleston
, in 1860, were confirmatory of the newspaper report.
As late as November 10th, 1860, after the South Carolina convention was called, Mr. Davis
had written a letter, within the cognizance of Mr. Rhett
, and published by himself since the war, in which he unmistakably indicated the opinion that if South Carolina
seceded, neither Georgia
, nor Alabama
, nor Mississippi
, nor Louisiana
, nor any other State would secede unless
Robert Toombs, first Secretary of State of the Confederacy; member of the Confederate Senate; Brigadier-General, C. S. A. From a photograph.|
the United States Government should attempt to coerce South Carolina
back into the Union
, or to blockade her ports.
His expectation, at that late period, apparently was that South Carolina
would be left out of the Union
alone, and that the United States Government would simply collect duties off the bars of her seaports; and he expressed himself “in favor of seeking to bring those [the planting States] into cooperation before asking for a popular decision upon a new policy and relation to the nations of the earth.”
These views did not strengthen him with Mr. Rhett
for the executive head of the Southern Confederacy; nor did the published report of his shedding tears on retiring from the United States Senate after the secession of Mississippi
But Mr. Rhett
's contemporary and second cousin, Mr. Barnwell
, called three times to solicit his vote for Mr. Davis
The impression was produced upon his mind that he, Mr. Rhett
, was the only man in the delegation opposed to Mr. Davis
In reply to objections suggested by Mr. Rhett
, Mr. Barnwell
said that Mr. Rhett
's standard of the statesmanship requisite was higher than he might be able to get. He added that he knew Mr. Davis
, and although he considered him not a man of great ability, yet he believed him just and honorable, and that he would utilize the best ability of the country, as Monroe
and others had done, and would administer the powers intrusted to him as President
, with an eye single to the interests of the Confederacy
Upon this presentment Mr. Rhett
concluded to forego his own mistrust, and to give his vote for Mr. Davis
, along with the rest, as he supposed.
On taking the vote in the convention (February 9th) Georgia
gave hers to Mr. Cobb
, and the other States theirs to Mr. Davis
then changed her vote, which elected Mr. Davis
Robert Barnwell Rhett, chairman of Committee on Foreign affairs, Confederate Provisional Congress.
From a Photograph..|
was chosen Vice-President
. 3 Mr. Rhett
was made chairman of the committee to notify the President-elect
, and to present him to the convention for inauguration.
This office he performed in complimentary style, reflecting the estimate of Mr. Barnwell
rather than his own fears.
Within six weeks the Provisional Congress found out that they had made a mistake, and that there was danger of a division into an administration and an anti-administration party, which might paralyze the Government
To avoid this, and to confer all power on the President
, they resorted to secret sessions.
offered the office of Secretary of State
to Mr. Barnwell
, but he declined it, and recommended Mr. C. G. Memminger
, also of South Carolina
, for the Treasury portfolio, which was promptly accorded to him. Both of these gentlemen had been cooperationists, and up to the last had opposed secession.
would not have been sent to the State convention from Beaufort
but for the efforts of Edmund Rhett
, an influential State senator.
Of Mr. Memminger
it was said that when a bill was on its passage through the Legislature of South Carolina in 1859, appropriating a sum of money for the purchase of arms, he had slipped in an amendment which had operated to prevent Governor Gist
from drawing the money and procuring the arms.
he was known as an active friend of the preschool system and orphan house, a moral and charitable Episcopalian, and a lawyer, industrious, shrewd, and thrifty.
As chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means in the House of Representatives, he was familiar with the cut-and-dried plan of raising the small revenue necessary to carry on the government of South Carolina
Such was his record and experience when appointed to the cabinet of Mr. Davis
. Mr. Memminger
received no recommendation for this office from the South Carolina
delegation; nor did the delegation from any State, so far as known, attempt to influence the President
in the choice of his cabinet.
Mr. Robert Toombs
, of Georgia
, was appointed Secretary of State
This was in deference to the importance of his State and the public appreciation of his great mental powers and thorough earnestness, not for the active part he had taken in the State convention in behalf of secession.
In public too fond of sensational oratory, in counsel he was a man of large and wise views.
Mr. Leroy Pope Walker
, of Alabama
, was appointed Secretary of War
on the recommendation of Mr. William L. Yancey
Ambitious, without any special fitness for this post, and overloaded, he accepted the office with the understanding that Mr. Davis
would direct and control its business, which he did. After differing with the President
as to the number of arms to be imported, and the number of men to be placed in camp in the winter of 1861-62 (being in favor of very many more than the President
), he wisely resigned.
Mr. Stephen R. Mallory
, of Florida
, was appointed Secretary of the Navy
He was a gentleman of unpretending manners and ordinary good sense, who had served in the Senate with Mr. Davis
, and had been chairman of the Committee
on Naval Affairs.
With some acquaintance with officers of the United States Navy, and some knowledge of nautical matters, he had small comprehension of the responsibilities of the office.
His efforts were feeble and dilatory, and he utterly failed to provide for keeping open the seaports of the Confederacy
But he was one of the few who remained in the cabinet to the end.
Mr. Judah P. Benjamin
, of Louisiana
, was appointed Attorney-General
, and held that office until the resignation of Mr. Walker
, when he was transferred to the post of Secretary of War
Upon the fall of New Orleans, public indignation compelled a change, and he was made Secretary of State
A man of great fertility of mind and resource and of facile character, he was the factotum of the President
, performed his bidding in various ways, and gave him the benefit of his brains in furtherance of the views of Mr. Davis
Although a provisional government was more free to meet emergencies and correct mistakes, it was determined to proceed to the formation of a permanent government.
It was apprehended that in the lapse of time and
Howell Cobb, President of the first Confederate Congress; Major-General, C. S. A. From a photograph.|
change of circumstances and of men, the cardinal points for which the South
had contended, and on which the separation of sections had occurred.
might be lost sight of; so it was decided to impress at once upon the new government the constitutional amendments regarded as essential.
The committee, of which Mr. Rhett
was chairman, agreed at its first meeting that the Constitution of the United States
should be adopted, with only such alterations as experience had proved desirable, and to avoid latitudinarian constructions.
Most of the important amendments were adopted on motion of the chairman.
But the limits of this paper do not permit a specific statement of their character and scope.
The permanent constitution was adopted on the 11th of March, 1861, and went into operation, with the permanent government, at Richmond
, on the 18th of February, 1862, when the Provisional Congress expired.
Those men who had studied the situation felt great anxiety about the keeping open of the ports of the Confederacy
Much was said and published about the immediate
necessity of providing gun-boats and shipping suitable for that purpose.
In the winter of 1861 Mr. C. K. Prioleau
, of the firm of John Fraser
& Co., of Liverpool
, found a fleet of ten first-class East Indiamen, available to a buyer at less than half their cost.
They belonged to the East India Company, and had been built in Great Britain
for armament if required, or for moving troops and carrying valuable cargoes and treasure.
Four of them were vessels of great size and power and of the very first class; and there were six others, which, although smaller, were scarcely inferior for the required purpose.
On surrendering their powers to the British
throne, the company had these steamships for sale.
secured the refusal of this fleet.
The total cost of buying, arming, and fitting out the ten ships and putting them on the Southern
coast ready for action was estimated at $10,000,000, or, say, 40,000 bales of cotton.
The harbor of Port Royal
, selected before the war as a coaling station for the United States Navy, with 26 feet of water at mean low tide, was admirably adapted for a rendezvous and point of supply.
, was another good harbor, fit for such a fleet.
The proposal was submitted to the Government
through a partner of Mr. Prioleau
, Mr. George A. Trenholm
, who forwarded the proposition by his son, William L. Trenholm
Its importance was not at all comprehended, and it was rejected by the executive.
Captain J. D. Bulloch
, the secret naval agent in Europe
, who had the Alabama
built, states that “the Confederate Government wanted ships to cruise and to destroy the enemy's mercantile marine.”
It was of infinitely more importance to keep Southern ports open, but this does not seem to have been understood until too late.
The opportunity of obtaining these ships was thrown away.
They were engaged by the British Government
To show the narrow spirit of those in office, an incident concerning Captain Maffit
, who figured afterward in command of the Florida
, may be mentioned.
In May, after the reduction of Fort Sumter
came from Washington
to offer his services, and when he met the
Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Attorney-General until Sept. 17th, 1861; Second Secretary of War; Third Secretary of State.
From a photograph.|
writer was in a state of indignation and disgust.
He said that after having been caressed and offered a command in the Pacific
, he had sneaked away from Washington
to join the Confederacy
, and that he had been received by the Secretary of the Navy
as if he (Maffit
) had designs upon him.
The Secretary of War
has stated that before the Government
moved from Montgomery
366,000 men, the flower of the South
, had tendered their services in the army.
Only a small fraction of the number were received.
was worn out with personal applications of ardent officers, and himself stated that in May, 1861, he was constantly waylaid, in walking the back way from his office to the Exchange Hotel
, by men offering their lives in the Confederate
Another instance of narrowness may be named in the case of William Cutting Heyward
He was a wealthy rice-planter and an eminently practical and efficient man, a graduate at West Point
in the class with Mr. Davis
He went to Montgomery
to tender a regiment.
He sent in his card to the President
and waited for days in the lobby without obtaining an interview, and then returned home.
He finally died from exposure, performing the duties of a private in the Home Guard at Charleston
The reason alleged for not accepting more men was the want of arms, and Mr. Davis
's book is an apology for not procuring them.
Insisting that a great war was probable, and
inaugurated on the 18th of February,--there was no declaration of war before the middle of April and no efficient blockade of the ports for many months,yet it was in May that he started Major Huse
over to England
with instructions to purchase 10,000 Enfield
By these facts may be gauged his estimate of the emergency or of the purchasing ability of the Confederate States
The provisional constitution provided that “Congress shall appropriate no money from the Treasury unless it be asked and estimated for by the President
or some one of the heads of departments, except for the purpose of paying its own expenses and contingencies.”
The Congress could, therefore, do nothing about the purchase of arms without a call from the executive.
But for the Treaty
in 1778, made by Benjamin Franklin
, Silas Dean
, and Arthur Lee
, with France
, the independence of the thirteen original States would not have been established.
It was deemed important in the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States
to send commissioners abroad to negotiate for a recognition of their independence, and, in case of war with the States of the North
, perhaps for assistance.
The chairman of the Committee
on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Rhett
, reported such a resolution, which was unanimously adopted.
As the treaty-making power of the Government
belonged to the President
, Congress could not dictate to him the limit of authority that should be conferred upon the commissioners, in the negotiations desired.
all those who had reflected upon the subject expected the President
to give extensive authority for making treaties.
The views held by the chairman were that the commissioners should be authorized to propose to Great Britain
, and other European
nations, upon the conditions of recognition and alliance, that the Confederate States
for twenty years would agree to lay no higher duties on productions imported than fifteen or twenty per cent. ad valorem
; that for this period, no tonnage duties would be laid on their shipping, entering or leaving Confederate ports, but such as should be imposed to keep in order the harbors and rivers; that the navigation between the ports of the Confederate States
for the same time should be free to the nations entering into alliance with the Confederate States
, while upon the productions and tonnage of all nations refusing to recognize their independence and enter into treaty with them, a discriminating duty of ten per cent. would be imposed.
He believed, moreover, that they should be authorized to make an offensive and defensive league, with special guarantees, as was done in 1778.
Here was a direct and powerful appeal to the interests of foreign nations, especially England
Would any British Minister have dared to reject a treaty offering such vast advantages to his country?
And if so, when the fact became known to Parliament, could he have retained his place?
Up to September, 1862, the United States Government was committed, both by diplomatic dispatches and by the action of Congress, to the declaration that the war was made solely to preserve the Union
and with the purpose of maintaining the institutions of the seceded States, unimpaired and unaltered.
Hence, at this period, the issue of slavery had not been injected into diplomacy, and was no obstacle to negotiating treaties.
When Mr. Yancey
received the appointment at the head of the commission, Mr. Rhett
conferred with him at length, and found that the commissioner fully concurred in the views just mentioned.
But he surprised Mr. Rhett
by the statement that the President
had given no powers whatever to make commercial treaties, or to give any special interest in Confederate trade or navigation to any foreign nations, but relied upon the idea that “Cotton is King
“Then,” rejoined Mr. Rhett
, “if you will take my advice, as your friend, do not accept the appointment.
For you will have nothing to propose and nothing to treat about, and must necessarily fail.
Demand of the President
the powers essential to the success of your mission, or stay at home.”
On the reassembling of the Provisional Congress in April, ascertaining that these powers had not been conferred upon the commission, Mr. Rhett
prepared a resolution requesting the President
to empower the commissioners to propose to European
nations, as the basis of a commercial treaty, a tariff of duties for 20 years no higher than 20 per cent. ad valorem
on their imports into the Confederate States
This he submitted to Mr. Toombs
, the Secretary of State
, who promptly approved it and appeared before the Committee
on Foreign Affairs to urge it. It was reported, with the indorsement of the committee, to the Congress
, and was not opposed in debate; but Mr. Perkins
moved, as an amendment, six years instead of twenty.
As this was carried, Mr. Rhett
moved to lay the resolution on the table, which was done; and this was the only effort made to appeal to the interests of foreign nations, to secure recognition of the independence of the Confederate States
, or to obtain assistance.
Upon his return from abroad, Mr. Yancey
met Mr. Rhett
and said: “You were right, sir. I went on a fool's errand.”
In December, 1863, at Richmond
, James L. Orr
, chairman of the Committee
on Foreign Affairs of the Senate, said to the writer, “The Confederate States
have had no diplomacy.”
In March, 1863, proposals were made for a loan of $15,000,000 on 7 per cent. bonds, secured by an engagement of the Confederate Government to deliver cotton at 12 cents per pound within 6 months after peace.
The loan stood in the London
market at 5 per cent. premium; and the applications for it exceeded $75,000,000. In the Provisional Congress at Montgomery
, Mr. Stephens
proposed that the Confederate Government should purchase cotton at 8 cents per pound, paying in 8 per cent. bonds, running 20 or 30 years. He believed that 2,000,000 bales of the crop of 1860 could be obtained in that way from the planters, and that, of the crop of 1861, 2,000,000 more bales might be obtained afterward.
By using this cotton as security, or shipping it abroad, he maintained the finances of the Confederate States
could at once be placed on a solid basis.
His plan met with much favor, but was opposed by the administration and was not carried through.
Money for the long war was to be raised by loans from Confederate citizens on bonds supplemented by the issue of Treasury notes and by a duty on exported cotton.
In April, 1865, after the collapse of the Confederacy
, Mr. Barnwell
, who had steadfastly supported Mr. Davis
in the Confederate Senate, met the writer at Greenville, S. C.
, where Governor Magrath
had summoned the Legislature of the State to assemble.
There, in conversation, Mr. Barnwell
explicitly expressed his judgment in the following words: “Mr. Davis
never had any policy; he drifted, from the beginning to the end of the war.”
For practical regret at the issue of the secession movement, the time has long passed by. The people of the South
have reconciled themselves to the restoration of the Union
and to the abolishment of slavery.
They have bravely and strenuously endeavored to go through the transition period of an enormous change without wreck.
In complete harmony with the destinies of the Union
, they are working out the future of the United States
This is set down to prevent the suppression of important facts in history, and in justice to eminent men, now dead, who have been much misunderstood.