[CIVIL WAR]. CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA. Constitution of the Confederate States of America. [Montgomery, Alabama: Shorter & Reid? for the Provisional Congress, 9 or 10 February 1861].
Folio, 29 broadsheets printed on rectos only (14 x 8 in.). Printed on fine-quality laid paper, in Roman and italic types, each line of text numbered (within sections), wide space (leading) between lines of text to facilitate annotation and revision. Printed heading: "In Congress-March 9, 1861--Amended Constitution--100 copies ordered to be printed." Beneath, in large type: "Constitution of the Confederate States of America." Neatly sewn together at top margin with string, small marginal tear to first leaf, scattered foxing to a few leaves at beginning and end. WITH 11 CONTEMPORARY MANUSCRIPT CORRECTIONS AND REVISIONS by Alabama delegate Thomas Fearn (1789-1863), M.D., of Huntsville, Ala., the original owner.
"WE THE PEOPLE OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES": THE BIRTH OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA. THE FINAL DRAFT PRINTING OF THE CONFEDERATE CONSTITUTION, ONE OF ONLY TWO SURVIVING COPIES
Delegates from the states of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas--all of which had voted articles of secession in the wake of the 1860 election--convened at Montgomery, Alabama, on February 4, 1861, a month before the scheduled inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. Faced with the dire necessity of devising a plan to unite and federate the newly seceded states, to provide for their common fiscal, political and judicial stability, as well as their probable defense, the Provisional Congress drafted a provisional Constitution. Several drafts produced at various stages of the process were sent to a local printer, who hurriedly ran off working copies for the use of the delegates in debate. When the process of revision was complete, the Constitution was unanimously adopted by the Convention in a historic vote on March 11. (See Parrish 5 and 6 for two earlier draft printings and Parrish 8 for the final version.) By the end of 1861, a total of thirteen states had ratified the Constitution.
From the preamble, the close resemblance to the United States Constitution is evident:
WE, the People of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent Federal government, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity--invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God--do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.
As a result of its superficial resemblance to the Federal constitution, the Confederate Constitution has been generally dismissed as a poor imitation of a shining original, while in fact, it actually embodies very distinctive Constitutional principles of republican government for which the southern states felt compelled to fight. Only recently have constitutional scholars begun to accord it the objective consideration it merits as an ambitious and carefully crafted experiment in American constitutional theory. The Confederacy itself, one such scholar argues, "was the consequence of a constitutional crisis the origins of which could be traced back to the U.S. Constitution of 1787," and, rather than abandoning constitutional principles or the objectives of a federal system, the southern states actually "reaffirmed their commitment to constitutional government" under a revised constitution embodying principles similar in many aspects to those argued by the anti-federalist delegates at the 1787 convention. In addition "the period in which the Confederate Constitution was drafted," De Rosa points out, "marks an important crossroad in American political and constitutional development, the consequences of which are to this day topics of intense debate--topics such as the nature of American federalism, civil rights and liberties, laissez-faire economics and the scope of governmental power." A careful analysis of both "the C.S.A. and U.S. Constitutions," he observes, "makes evident the distinctive constitutional principles to which the Confederacy of 1861 was committed and brings to light the conservative nature of those principles and their relevance to American constitutional development" (M. De Rosa, The Confederate Constitution of 1861: An Inquiry into American Constitutionalism, 1991, pp.3,17).
The differences between the 1787 Federal Constitution and the Confederate one, "small as they might at first glance appear, "are extremely important," writes another scholar, for "the people who wrote the southern Constitution had lived under the Federal one," and consequently "knew its strengths, which they tried to copy, and its weaknesses, which they tried to eliminate" (R.G. Holcombe, "The Confederate Constitution," in The Free Market, v.10, no.6 [June 1992]). Under the Confederate Constitution, the President was limited to a single, six-year term. The controversial so-called "general welfare" clause of the Federal Constitution (which gave Congress the power to impose taxes, duties and excises "for the common defence and general welfare") was deliberately eliminated from the Confederate Constitution, in order to limit the power of government. For the same reason, the President was allowed a line-item veto of Congressional appropriations. The Constitution also prohibited general treasury funds from being applied to fund expensive local "internal improvements" (canals, bridges, etc.) of primarily local benefit. One remarkable provision powerfully affirmed the principle of free trade by prohibiting both government subsidies to particular industries and tariffs on commodities imported from overseas.
While the issue of slavery and its expansion had been the precipitating cause of the constitutional crisis that ended in secession and civil war, the Confederate Constitution--like its parent, the Federal Constitution--did not mandate involuntary servitude. But Article IV, section 3 stipulated that "the institution of Negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate states, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and the territorial government," although in theory, any Confederate state could, if its electorate desired, prohibit slavery; additionally, certain provisions would have permitted non-slave-holding states to join the Confederacy.
While only a few of Fearn's neat handwritten revisions in the text are of a substantive nature, all are of interest since they constitute a direct reflection of the debates and discussions on the floor of the Confederate Congress. They provide some of the only direct evidence as to those formative debates. In the first line of the preamble ("We, the people"), Fearn has indicated the insertion of the word "state" in the phrase "each state acting in its sovereign and independent character"; In Section 7 clause 3, which specifies a two-thirds vote in Congress to over-ride a Presidential veto, Fearn has altered the word "may" to "shall." In Section 8, enumerating the powers of the Confederate Congress, the phrase "may be necessary" is inserted in the last line of clause 3. In Article 9 of section 9, dealing with treasury and budgetary matters, "shall have" is inserted in the phrase "the justice of which shall have been judicially declared by a tribunal." Most of the other instances of revision constitute corrections of printers' errors, or the deletion or addition of punctuation.
ALL THE DRAFT PRINTINGS OF THE CONFEDERATE CONSTITUTION ARE OF EXTREME RARITY: Parrish and Willingham locate two complete copies of the first draft, but only one complete copy each of the second and the present final draft printing. De Rosa, The Confederate Constitution of 1861: An Inquiry into American Constitutionalism, 1990; Parrish and Willingham, Confederate Imprints 7 (the former Streeter copy, now with Reese); Streeter sale 1275; Yearns, Confederate Congress, 1960, pp.20-30 ("the completed document was a mixture of rigid adherence to tradition, a desire to write a truly Southern Constitution, and further recognition of practical flaws in previous ones...").
Provenance: Thomas Fearn, M.D. (1789-1863) of Huntsville, Alabama, a member of the Provisional Congress (8 February-29 April 1861) and one of the signers of the Confederate Constitution.