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Chapter 7:

  • Early acts of the Confederate Congress
  • -- laws of the United States continued in force -- officers of customs and revenue continued in office -- commission to the United States -- navigation of the Mississippi -- restrictions on the coasting trade removed -- appointment of commissioners to Washington.

The legislation of the Confederate Congress furnishes the best evidence of the temper and spirit which prevailed in the organization of the Confederate government. The very first enactment, made on February 9, 1861—the day after the adoption of the provisional Constitution —was this:
That all the laws of the United States of America in force and in use in the Confederate States of America on the first day of November last, and not inconsistent with the Constitution of the Confederate States, be and the same are hereby continued in force until altered or repealed by the Congress.1

The next act, adopted on February 14, was one continuing in office until April 1 next ensuing all officers connected with the collection of customs and the assistant treasurers entrusted with the keeping of the moneys arising therefrom, who were engaged in the performance of such duties within any of the Confederate states, with the same powers and functions which they had been exercising under the government of the United States.2

The provisional Constitution itself, in the second section of its sixth article, had ordained as follows:

The Government hereby instituted shall take immediate steps for the settlement of all matters between the States forming it and their other late confederates of the United States, in relation to the public property and public debt at the time of their withdrawal from them; these States hereby declaring it to be their wish and earnest desire to adjust everything pertaining to the common property, common liabilities, and common obligations of that Union, upon the principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith.3

In accordance with this requirement of the Constitution, the Congress, on February 15—before my arrival at Montgomery—passed a resolution declaring “that it is the sense of this Congress that a commission of three persons be appointed by the President-elect, as early as may be convenient after his inauguration, and sent to the Government of the United States [211] of America, for the purpose of negotiating friendly relations between that Government and the Confederate States of America, and for the settlement of all questions of disagreement between the two Governments, upon principles of right, justice, equity, and good faith.”4

Persistent and to a great extent successful efforts were made to inflame the minds of the people of the northwestern states by representing to them that, in consequence of the separation of the states, they would lose the free navigation of the Mississippi River. At that early period in the life of the Confederacy, the intercourse between the North and South had been so little interrupted, that the agitators, whose vocation it was to deceive the masses of the people, could not, or should not, have been ignorant that, as early as February 25, 1861, an act was passed by the Confederate Congress, and approved by the President, “to declare and establish the free navigation of the Mississippi River.” That act began with the announcement that “the peaceful navigation of the Mississippi River is hereby declared free to the citizens of any of the States upon its borders, or upon the borders of its navigable tributaries,” and its provisions secure that freedom for “all ships, boats, or vessels,” with their cargoes, “without any duty or hindrance, except light-money, pilotage, and other like charges.”5

By an act approved on February 26, all laws which forbade the employment in the coasting trade of vessels not enrolled or licensed, and all laws imposing discriminating duties on foreign vessels or goods imported in them, were repealed.6 These acts and all other indications manifest the well-known wish of the people of the Confederacy to preserve the peace and encourage the most unrestricted commerce with all nations, surely not least with their late associates, the Northern states. Thus far, the hope that peace might be maintained was predominant; perhaps the wish was father to the thought that there would be no war between the states lately united. Indeed, all the laws enacted during the first session of the provisional Congress show how consistent were the purposes and actions of its members with their original avowal of a desire peacefully to separate from those with whom they could not live in tranquillity, albeit the government had been established to promote the common welfare. Under this state of feeling the government of the Confederacy was instituted.

My own views and inclinations, as has already been fully shown, were [212] in entire accord with the disposition manifested by the requirement of the provisional Constitution and the resolution of the Congress above recited, for the appointment of a commission to negotiate friendly relations with the United States and an equitable and peaceable settlement of all questions which would necessarily arise under the new relations of the states toward one another. Next to the organization of a cabinet, that of such a commission was accordingly one of the very first objects of attention. Three discreet, well-informed, and distinguished citizens were selected as said commissioners, and accredited to the President of the Northern states, Lincoln, to the end that by negotiation all questions between the two governments might be so adjusted as to avoid war, and perpetuate the kind relations which had been cemented by the common trials, sacrifices, and glories of the people of all the states. If sectional hostility had been engendered by dissimilarity of institutions, and by a mistaken idea of moral responsibilities, and by irreconcilable creeds—if the family could no longer live and grow harmoniously together—by patriarchal teaching older than Christianity, it might have been learned that it was better to part, to part peaceably, and to continue, from one to another, the good offices of neighbors who by sacred memories were forbidden ever to be foes. The nomination of the members of the commission was made on February 25—within a week after my inauguration—and confirmed by Congress on the same day. The commissioners appointed were A. B. Roman of Louisiana, Martin J. Crawford of Georgia, and John Forsyth of Alabama. Roman was an honored citizen and had been governor of his native state; Crawford had served with distinction in Congress for several years; Forsyth was an influential journalist, and had been minister to Mexico under appointment of Pierce near the close of his term, and continued so under that of Buchanan. These gentlemen, moreover, represented the three great parties which had ineffectually opposed the sectionalism of the so-called Republicans. Ex-Governor Roman had been a Whig in former years, and one of the Constitutional Union, or Bell-and-Everett party in the canvass of 1860; Crawford, as a state-rights Democrat, had supported Breckinridge; Forsyth had been a zealous advocate of the claims of Douglas. The composition of the commission was therefore such as should have conciliated the sympathy and cooperation of every element of conservatism with which they might have occasion to deal. Their commissions authorized and empowered them, “in the name of the Confederate States, to meet and confer with any person or persons duly authorized by the Government of the United States, being furnished with like power and authority, and with him or [213] them to agree, treat, consult, and negotiate” concerning all matters in which the parties were both interested. No secret instructions were given them, for there was nothing to conceal. The objects of their mission were open and avowed, and its inception and conduct throughout were characterized by frankness and good faith. How this effort was received, how the commissioners were kept waiting, and, while fair promises were held to the ear, how military preparations were pushed forward for the unconstitutional, criminal purpose of coercing states, let the shameful record of that transaction attest.

1 Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, p. 27.

2 Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, pp. 27, 28.

3 See provisional Constitution, Appendix K, in loco.

4 Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, p. 92.

5 Statutes at Large, Provisional Government, Confederate States of America, pp. 36-38.

6 Ibid., p. 38.

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