The Confederate States of America, also referred to as the Confederacy and the CSA, was an unrecognized power established in early 1861 by eleven southern slave states that seceded from the United States of America.
Torn apart primarily by the issue of slavery, these states also had issues with the Federal Government that included states’ rights, policies favoring Northern over Southern economic interests, expansionism, modernization, and taxes.
Though many of the disagreements between the North and South had been brewing since the American Revolution ended in 1782, the crisis began to come to a head in the 1850’s as the nation was growing westward.
As new territories such as Kansas and Nebraska were added, the Southern factions felt that slavery should be allowed in these new territories, while the “Free Soilers” were set against it. This led to open warfare between Kansas and Missouri, generally referred to in history as “Bleeding Kansas.” One of the many precursors to the Civil War, these many battles pitted neighbor against neighbor.
This dispute over the expansion of slavery into new territories and the election of Abraham Lincoln as president on November 6, 1860, that finally led to the secession of eleven Southern states. Though Lincoln did not propose federal laws making slavery unlawful where it already existed, his sentiments regarding a “divided nation” were well known.
On December 20, 1860, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union and within two months, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas followed. On February 4, 1861 the Confederate States of America were organized, and a few days later on February 9, a provisional government was formed with President Jefferson Davis at its helm.
After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and Lincoln’s subsequent call for troops on April 15, 1861, four more states declared their secession, including Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
The border states of Kentucky and Missouri declared neutrality very early in the war, as their citizens were divided in their loyalties. Kentucky gradually came to side with the north; but, Missouri remained divided for the duration of the Civil War.
The southern parts of modern day New Mexico and Arizona also allied with the Confederacy and when the Union abandoned federal forts and installations in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), the South claimed this territory.
Breaking away from Virginia during the Civil War, Union loyalists would form a new state called West Virginia, officially admitted to the Union in June, 1863, but, like other border states, its population had mixed loyalties.
Organization of the Confederacy
The Confederate States of America were organized at a congress of delegates from the seceded states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana which met at Montgomery, Alabama on February 4, 1861. A provisional government was established within a few days and on February 9th; Jefferson Davis was made president and Alexander H. Stephens, vice-president. This temporary government was to continue only one year and its constitution was, therefore, not submitted to the states or the people of the states for ratification. But a ‘”permanent” constitution was drawn during the weeks immediately following, approved by the Congress on March 11th and submitted to the conventions of the seceded states. It was promptly adopted though it would not to become effective until February 22, 1862.
In the meantime, the provisional government assumed, with unanimous consent, all the common and general functions which the states could not exercise. All the initiatory steps of the Civil War, in so far as the South was concerned, were taken by this government. Texas joined the Confederacy in March; Virginia in April; North Carolina in May; Tennessee and Arkansas in June; while large portions of Kentucky and Missouri also cast in their lots with the South and sent delegates to the Confederate Congresses. The area thus embraced about 800,000 square miles exclusive of what was held in the Indian Territory and New Mexico, and the population of these states and parts of states was about 10,000.000, of which fully 4,000,000 were African-Americans.
With this organization accomplished, the Confederate authorities then appointed commissioners to Europe and to the Federal Government to ask for recognition as an independent power. The commissioners appeared in Washington D.C. and demanded jurisdiction over the forts and other property of the older government within the bounds of the seceded states.
Meanwhile, the Confederate Government assumed the jurisdiction in question, hastened the organization of an army and a navy and made appropriations and loans for these and other purposes, all in the most orderly manner and without any opposition on the part of the people of the southern states, though there was grave dissatisfaction in the mountain districts where slavery and its influence had not penetrated. The Federal authorities refused to recognize the Confederate agents or to concede any rights whatever concerning the forts or other property. But, the European powers acknowledged the existence of the new nation by granting it the standing of a belligerent in international law, an important concession especially in commercial matters and in the application of the rules of war. It was generally expected that formal diplomatic recognition would soon follow; and in the North there was a strong party, supported by the great financial interests of New York, which advised that the southern states be allowed to “depart in peace.” Even President Abraham Lincoln thought seriously of such a solution of the problem and William H. Seward, the Secretary of State, gave the southern commissioners, A.B. Roman, John Forsyth and Martin Crawford, assurance that the forts and other property of the Federal Government would be surrendered without a struggle.
The War Begins
However, the meaning of a separation, the injury to northern commerce and manufactures as well as the probable difficulties about boundaries and the equally probable conflicts of the future wrought a change in sentiment, and President Abraham Lincoln, always a true interpreter of public opinion, finally decided not to negotiate with the southern representatives and especially, not to surrender Fort Sumter. This decision was reached between April 9th and 12th, 1861.
At the same time the southern leaders began to fear a restoration of the Union on some such basis as the proposed Crittenden Compromise; and the Confederate Government found it necessary, in order to hold its own ardent supporters together, to hasten a decision. The firing upon Fort Sumter on the night of April 12, 1861, aroused the latent military spirit of both the people of the North and South and war soon followed.
The immediate outcome of President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers on April 15th was the official loss to the Federal Government of the Border States. The accession of so much territory north of the lower southern states added greatly to the enthusiasm of the South and caused the removal of the Confederate capitol from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia and in the early summer, the armies of the two sections of the United States prepared for actual conflict on the soil of northern Virginia.
Troubles in the Government
In the meantime, the new Confederate Government was showing early troubles as the first Cabinet was composed of men who had either opposed the secession movement or who had been rivals of Jefferson Davis for years. Vice-President Alexander Stephens had never been on friendly terms with Davis and he had been the most powerful opponent of secession in the South as late as January 1861. The first Secretary of State, Robert Toombs was hostile to Davis, and within months of his appointment, stepped down to join the Confederate States Army as a brigadier general in July 1861. Christopher Memminger, the first Secretary of the Treasury, had consistently fought the separatist movement since 1832; L. Pope Walker, the first Secretary of War, had been a leader of the unionist forces of North Alabama and even Davis himself had advised South Carolina not to secede as late as November 10, 1860.
Of the great generals whom the president of the Confederacy called to the leadership of the armies, only Albert Sidney Johnston really believed in the propriety and necessity of the movement. Robert E. Lee had never been a state rights man and late in April, 1861, he lamented the “revolution” which the lower South had precipitated. Joseph E. Johnston was of the same opinion, though his political antecedents were less strongly national than those of Lee. In the Senate and House, a large minority — sometimes a majority –of the leaders was made up of men who had never believed in the wisdom of secession, though most of them acknowledged the right of a state to withdraw from the Union.
Recognition of the Confederate States
Despite the persistent efforts of Confederate agents from 1861 to 1865 to secure recognition, it failed. The U.S. Federal Government refused al to hold any official communication that could be interpreted as recognition of the existence of the Confederacy as a separate power. In addition, the U.S. Federal Courts held that the Confederate States were “an unlawful assemblage without corporate power.”
In the meantime, the Confederacy pinned its hopes for survival on military intervention from Europe. The South based their expectations on the fact that Europe, especially England, could not endure the lack of cotton. These expectations would prove mistaken. When the U.S. Federal Government made it clear that any diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy meant war with the United States, no nation was willing to go to war and would not assist or recognize the Confederacy.