The Confederate Constitution

Since the Governor of Virginia just declared April as Confederate History Month (because that’s the month they lost the war?), I thought I’d do a post about the Confederate Constitution.  It’s interesting to look at because it mostly apes the 1787 Constitution, thus the distinctions are pretty easy to spot. Here are some notable differences:1.  The Preamble refers to “each State acting in its sovereign and independent character.”  It also expressly invokes “the favor and guidance of Almighty God.”

2.  The document uses the word slaves instead of the code words employed in 1787.  The text also bars any law “denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves.”

3.  The President was given a line-item veto and was limited to a single six-year term.

4.  Two-thirds of each house of a State Legislature could impeach a federal officer (who acted within that State) and refer that matter to the Confederate Senate for trial.

5.  The Commerce Clause was expressly limited to exclude most internal improvements.

6.  Omnibus bills were prohibited.

7.  Congress was not allowed to propose constitutional amendments.  The only way that could be done was through a new Constitutional Convention requested by three state conventions.

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5 Responses

  1. Just out of curiosity, where there any significant opinions issued by the Confederate Supreme Court? Did the Confederacy constitute inferior courts? This site has a very good comparison and breakdown between the United States and Confederate Constitutions.

  2. Gerard Magliocca says:

    Hi Josh,

    That’s an interesting question and I do not know the answer. Anyone out there have any insights?

  3. Nate Oman says:

    There was a book published in the 1940s that is a history of the Confederate judicial system entitled, Justice in Grey. According to Amazon, used copies of the book sell for over $1,000. There seems to be a market in writing on the topic if anyone is interested…

  4. arthur says:

    No justices were ever appointed to The Confederate Supreme Court, and the Court never convened. There are some decisions interpreting the Confederate Constitution from the state Supreme Courts of the Confederacy.

  5. The Confederate Supreme Court was never constituted. However, the state courts heard a number of important cases. The state supreme courts of the Confederate states freely cited US Supreme Court (even Marshall Court) opinions. Want to read some of these opinions? They’re in the state reporters. So, sandwiched between the opinions of the VA, GA, ALA, Miss, and NC reports in the pre-war period and the post-war period are the opinions issued when the states were part of the Confederacy.

    In addition to Justice in Grey, which as I recall focused on lower court opinions in the Confederate courts (the successor to the federal courts), Don Fehrenbacher’s Constitutions and Constitutionalism in the Slaveholding South deals with Confederate state supreme court opinions.

    J.P. Norman published a very nice piece on the Confederate state courts’ approach to conscription in the Alabama Law Review recently:

    And there’s a really terrific article by Don Nieman on the Confederate Constitution and republicanism in Kermit Hall and Jim Ely’s An Uncertain Tradition