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Chapter 3: the Confederate States' rebellion.

On the fourth day of February, 1861, while the Peace Conference met in Washington to consider propositions of compromise and concession, the delegates of the seceding States convened in Montgomery, Ala., to combine and solidify the general conspiracy into an organized and avowed rebellion.

Such action had been arranged and agreed upon from the beginning. The congressional manifesto from Washington, as far back as December 14th, advised that “we are satisfied the honor, safety, and independence of the Southern people require the organization of a Southern confederacy--a result to be obtained only by separate State secession.” This agreement of the Washington caucus was steadily adhered to. The specious argument invented in Georgia, that “we can make better terms outside of the Union than in it,” and the public declaration of Mississippi's commissioner in Baltimore, that secession “was not taken with the view of breaking up the present government, but to assure to her (Mississippi) those guarantees and principles of liberty which had been pledged to her by the fathers of the Revolution,” were but tricks of the conspiracy for local use and effect. The managers well understood that if the States were once committed to secession, the mere revolutionary momentum of the crisis would carry them to whatever combination they might devise. [40]

The whole plan appears to have been more fully matured and adopted in a Washington caucus held on the night of January 5, 1861, at which time four important points were arranged: 1st, the Cotton States should immediately secede; 2d, that delegates should be chosen to meet in Montgomery, “to organize a confederacy,” not later than February 15th; 3d, that the conspirators would remain in Congress as long as possible, to obstruct coercive legislation; and 4th, that Jefferson Davis, Slidell, and Mallory be appointed a committee to carry out the objects of the caucus. Thus, more than a month before his inauguration as rebel president, the leader of the conspiracy was entrusted with the supervision and management of the plot. The caucus programme was executed with but slight deviation. The States seceded, appointed delegates to Montgomery, and the conspirators withdrew from Congress at the last moment to assume the more active control of the rebellion in their respective States.

As events progressed it became evident to the leaders that it was important to complete their new government before the expiration of Mr. Buchanan's term. They understood perfectly his temper and purpose. Though he denied them the treasonable complicity they had hoped and asked, and discontinued the important concessions with which he began, he still stood committed to non-coercion. What his successor might decide was uncertain. Repeated efforts had been made to draw from Lincoln some expression of his intention --some forecast of his policy, but they had been uniformly unsuccessful.

Accordingly the secession delegates met in Montgomery on February 4th, instead of the 15th, as had been first arranged, and organized a provisional Congress, and a few days thereafter (February 8, 1861) adopted a provisional [41] government, to be known as “The Confederate States of America.” There was little difficulty in arriving at this result; most if not all the seceders' State conventions had declared a wish that their proposed new government should be modelled on that of the United States.

From this they proceeded to the work of framing a permanent constitution. This was a somewhat slower process, though it was also completed and adopted by the provisional Congress on March 11, 1861. Few changes from the Constitution of the United States were made. The new constitution professed to be established by “each State acting in its sovereign and independent character,” instead of simply by “We the people.” It provided that in newly acquired territory “the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial Government” ; also for the right of transit and sojourn for “slaves and other property,” and the right to reclaim “slaves and other persons” to service or labor. It did not, as consistency required, provide for the right of secession or deny the right of coercion; on the contrary all its implications were against the former and in favor of the latter, for it declared itself to be the supreme law of the land, binding on the judges in every State. It provided for the punishment of treason; and declared that no State should enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation, grant letters of marque and reprisal, coin money, lay duties, keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, make any compact with another State or with a foreign power — a sweeping practical negation of the whole heretical dogma of State supremacy upon which they had built their revolt.

The day after the rebel Congress adopted its provisional government, it elected (February 9, 1861) Jefferson Davis, [42] of Mississippi, President, and Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, Vice-President of the new Confederacy. The reported vote for Davis is unanimous; but it is historically related by Stephens that Howell Cobb and Robert Toombs were also aspirants, and that Davis himself preferred the chief command of the rebel armies. For the moment, however, offices were plenty, and each of the leaders received a prominent station. Cobb remained presiding officer of the rebel Congress; Toombs became Secretary of State; and if not completely satisfied, all acquiesced in the distribution of honors. Davis was sent for and inaugurated at Montgomery, on Monday, February 18th. In his inaugural address he intimated that they would permit the non-seceded Slave States to join their confederacy; “but, beyond this,” he continued, “if I mistake not the judgment and will of the people, a reunion with the States from which we have separated is neither practicable nor desirable.”

If the remotest doubt remained, from previous indications and this official hint, that the whole purpose and animus of the revolt was the establishment of a powerful slaveocracy, that doubt was removed by the public declaration of Mr. Stephens, the new Vice-President. In a speech which he made at Savannah, Ga., on the 21st of March, he defined the ruling idea of the conspiracy in the following frank language:

The prevailing ideas entertained by him (Jefferson) and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of that day was, that somehow or other, in the order of Providence the institution would be evanescent and [43] pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the Constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The Constitution it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the storm came and the wind blew. Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Mr. Stephens was no less enthusiastic in his estimate of the material resources of the new confederacy. “We have all the essential elements of a high national career,” continued he. “The idea has been given out at the North, and even in the Border States, that we are too small and too weak to maintain a separate nationality. This is a great mistake. In extent of territory we embrace 564,000 square miles and upwards. This is upwards of 200,000 square miles more than was included within the limits of the original thirteen States. It is an area of country more than double the territory of France or the Austrian Empire. France, in round numbers, has but 212,000 square miles; Austria, in round numbers, has but 248,000 square miles. Ours is greater than both combined. It is greater than all France, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain, including England, Ireland, and Scotland together. In population we have upwards of 5,000,000, according [44] to the census of 1860; this includes white and black. The entire population, including white and black, of the original Thirteen States was less than 4,000,000 in 1790, and still less in 1776, when the independence of our fathers was achieved. If they, with a less population, dared maintain their independence against the greatest power on earth, shall we have any apprehension of maintaining ours now?”

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