-- Dilemmas of Compromise --

Monday February 4, 1861

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Montgomery Convention

Originating in a recommendation by South Carolina, a convention of delegates from six seceding states gathered on this warm and sunny day in the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. Texas, which awaited its referendum, was not involved in the early deliberations. The delegates rapidly put together a provisional constitution, which was adopted just four days later, on February 8. Shortly after, the delegates drafted a permanent constitution, which was adopted on March 11. However, the slow process of ratifying the permanent constitution meant that the provisional version remained in effect until February 1862.

The delegates to the Montgomery convention were largely chosen by the state conventions. They were a distinguished group of southern leaders, and a surprising number were moderates. Prominent fire-eaters, as ardent secessionists were called, were often passed over in favor of more moderate men. Not surprisingly, therefore, they chose the United States Constitution as their model, and retained its basic features. There were significant changes, however, such as references to state sovereignty, slavery, and God. The Confederate constitution also provided for an item veto of appropriations, a single six-year term for the President, and for the seating of cabinet members in Congress for discussions of department matters. It expressly protected slavery in the Confederacy and its territories, but much to the dissatisfaction of radicals, it prohibited the international slave trade. Ironically, the Confederate constitution implied, but did not assert, the principle of peaceable secession. It spoke about sovereign and independent states, but also referred to a permanent federal government.

Bibliography: Thomas, Confederate Nation, pp. 56-66; Potter, Impending Crisis, p. 499; Nevins, Emergence of Lincoln, 2: 433-35.

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