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CHARACTER OF THE MONTGOMERY CONVENTION.
“ Palmetto State”--the perfect representative of the disloyal politicians of South Carolina—thought himself peculiarly fitted for a secretary of war, and evinced special sensitiveness because his claims to distinction were overlooked. Of this he wrote complaining letters to his son, the editor of the Charleston Mercury. Some of these are before me, and are rich revelations of disappointed ambition.' Memminger aspired to be secretary of the treasury, and James Chesnut, Jr., who had “patriotically” made a sacrifice of his seat in the National Senate,' was spoken of as a fitting head of the new nation.
The policy advocated by Rhett and his class, and the Mercury, their organ, had been that of violence from the beginning. From the hour when Anderson entered Sumter, they had counseled its seizure. In the Convention at Montgomery, Rhett urged that policy with vehemence, and tried to infuse his own spirit of violence into that assembly. He was met by calm and steady opposition, under which he chafed ; and privately he denounced his associates there as cowards and imbeciles. Men like Stephens, and Hill, and Brooke, and Perkins, controlled the fiery spirits in that Convention, and it soon assumed a dignity suited to the gravity of the occasion.
The sessions of the Montgomery Convention were generally held in secret. That body might properly be called a conclave--a conclave of conspirators. On the second day of the session, Mr. Memminger, of South Carolina, offered a series of three resolutions, declaring that it was expedient forthwith to form a confederacy of " seceded States," and that a committee be appointed to report a plan for a provisional government, on the basis of the Constitution of the United States; that the committee consist of thirteen members; and that all propositions in reference to a provisional government be referred to that committee. Alexander H. Stephens then moved that the word “Congress” be used instead of “ Convention," when applied to the body then in session, which was agreed to:
On the following day," commissioners from North Carolina ap• February 6, peared, and were invited to seats in the Convention. They came
only as commissioners from a State yet “a part of the Federal Union,” and had no right to appear as delegates. Their object was, according to instructions, to effect an “honorable and amicable adjustment of all the
1 " That they have not put me forward for office," said Rhett, “is true. I have two enemies in the (South Carolina] delegation. One friend, who, I believe, wants no ottice himself, and will probably act on the saine principle for his friend--and the rest, personally, are indifferent to me, whilst some of them are not indifferent to themselres. There is no little jealousy of me, by a part of them, and they never will agree to recommend me to any position whatever under the Confederacy. I expect nothing, therefore, from the delegation lifting me to position. Good-by, my dear son. I have never been wise in pushing myself forward to ottice or power, and, I suppose, never will be. I cannot change. Prepare for disappointment."— Autograph Letter, February 11, 1861. ? See page 51.
3 See page 139. 4 * If the people of Charleston," he said, “should burn the whole crew in effigy, I should not be surprised. No reasoning on earth can satisfy the people of the South, that within two months a whole State conld not take a fort defended by but seventy men. The thing is absurd. We must be disgraced."— Autograph Letter, February 11, 1861.
The Alabamians seem to have been special objects of Rhett's dislike.“ Alabama," he said, “has the meanest delegation in this body. There is not a statesman amongst them; and they are always ready for all the hasty projects of fear. Our policy has but little chance in this body."-Autograph Letter, February 13, 1961.
6 On one or two occasions, propositions were made to employ two stenographers to take down the debates. These propositions were voted down, and no reporters were allowed. They had open as well as secret sessions. Their open sessions they called the “ Congress," and their secret sessions they called the “ Convention."
• The Commissioners were David L. Swain, M. W. Ransom, and John L. Bridges. . See page 198.
THE PROVISIONAL CONSTITUTION.
difficulties that distract the country, upon the basis of the Crittenden Resolutions, as modified by the Virginia Legislature.” They soon perceived that their mission would be fruitless, and they returned to their homes.
On the 7th a resolution was received by the Convention, from the Alabama Legislature, placing at the disposal of the “Provisional Government of the Confederacy of the Seceding States” the sum of five hundred thousand dollars as a loan, for the purpose of setting the machinery of the new government in motion. It was accepted with thanks. The preliminary measures for the formation of that provisional government had been taken. Mr. Memminger, Chairman of the Committee to report a plan, had submitted one. It was discussed that day and a part of the next, in secret session, when the Constitution of the United States, with some important modifications, was adopted as a form of government for the new “Confederacy,” which was afterward known by the false title of “CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA.” It was a false title, because no States, as States, were parties to the unholy league. The "government,” so called, was composed only of a band of confederated traitors, who had usurped the powers and trampled upon the rights of the people, who constitute the State, and were about to make war upon the Republic to the hurt of that people.
The Provisional Constitution declared that the Convention at Montgomery was a “ Congress," vested with all the legislative powers of that of the United States. It provided that the Provisional President should hold his office for one year, unless superseded by the establishment of a permanent government; that each State should be a judicial district, and that the several district judges should compose the supreme court of the Confederacy; that the word “Confederacy" should be substituted for “Union," as used in the National Constitution; that the President might veto a separate appropriation without affecting a whole bill; that the African Slave-trade should be prohibited; that the Congress should be empowered to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of the Confederacy;' that all appropriations should be made upon demands of the President or heads of departments; and that members of the Congress might hold offices of honor and emolument under the Provisional Government. No mention was made of taxes, excepting those in the form of a tariff for revenue ; nor the keeping of troops and ships of war by the States; nor for any ratification of the Constitution, it being only provisional. The word “slave” was used where, in the National Constitution, it is avoided. The Provisional Government was required to take immediate steps for a settlement of all matters concerning property, between the United States and the “Confederacy." All legislative powers were vested in the “Congress" then assembled, until otherwise ordained. Only in the above-named features did the Provisional Constitution adopted by the Convention differ essentially from the National Constitution.
Notwithstanding the Provisional Constitution received the unanimous vote of the Convention, it did not satisfy all the members. The violent
1 The original draft of the Provisional Constitution is in the handwriting of Mr. Memminger. It is among the Archives of the “ Confederate Government," at Washington City.
? This would bear most injuriously upon Virginia, whose annual income from the sale of slaves to the cotton planters now included in the “ Confederacy," was counted by millions of dollars. This prohibition was calcnlated to make Virginia basten to join the Southern league against the Republic. See page 94.
SEDITIOUS CONDUCT OF A DELEGATE.
Rhett fulminated anathemas against it through the Charleston Mercury, especially on account of its tariff clause, the prohibition of the African Slave-trade, and the adoption of the three-fifths rule of representation for slaves, in the National Constitution. "Let your people,” he said, “ prepare their minds for a failure in the future permanent Southern Constitution, for South Carolina is about to be saddled with almost every grievance, except Abolition, for which she long struggled, and has just withdrawn from the United States Government. Surely McDuffie lived in vain, and Calhoun taught for naught, if we are again to be plundered, and our commerce crippled, destroyed by tariffs—even discriminating tariffs. Yet this is the inevitable prospect.
The fruit of the labors of thirty odd long years, in strife and bitterness, is about to slip through our fingers.” Of the threefifths rule, he said :—“It most unfairly dwarfs the power of some of the States in any Federal representation." He called that rule, which was really à compromise in favor of the slaveholders, “one of the many Yankee swindles put upon us, in the formation of the old Constitution.” As the slave population of South Carolina was the majority, he complained that two-fifths or more of the people were unrepresented. “South Carolina," he said, “is small enough without again flinging away what legitimate power she possesses.
That power is in her slaves-socially, politically, economically.” He complained of the prohibition of the Slave-trade. “A stigma.” he said, “is thus broadly stamped upon the whole institution, before the whole world, and sealed by ourselves. It is an infamous slur upon the whole
institution--the lives and the property of every slaveholder in the land." Rhett and his fellows were restive in view of the restraints to which the “sovereignty” of South Carolina would be subjected as a member of a Confederacy, and seemed inclined, at one time, to reject all leagues, and have their “ gallant State” stand alone as an independent nation."
On the sixth day of the • February 9, session, the President of
the Convention and all of the members took the oath of allegiance to the Provisional Constitution, and at
noon the doors of the hall were thrown open to the public, and the Convention proceeded to the election of a President and Vice-President of the “ Confederacy.” Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, received six votes (the whole number) for President, and Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, the same number, for Vice-President. The . announcement of the result was received with the most vehement applause
1 Sce third clause, second section of the first Article of the Constitution.
2 The arrogance of the South Carolina politicians was sometimes gently rebuked by their friends. The Mobile Mercury, at this time, said :-" They will bave to learn to be a little more conforming to the opinions of others, before they can expect to associate comfortably with even the Cotton States, under a federative Government."
STEPHENS'S ACCEPTANCE OF OFFICE.
by the vast multitude that thronged the building, inside and out; and a salute of one hundred guns, in honor of the event, was immediately given. That evening, Stephens was serenaded. He made a brief speech to the crowd, in which he spoke of the new government as one which, while it surrendered none of their ancient rights and liberties, would secure them more perfectly. He predicted for the “Confederacy” a glorious career, if it should be supported by “the virtue, intelligence, and patriotism of the people.” With institutions, he said, so far as regarded their organic and social policy, " in strict conformity to nature and the laws of the Creator, whether read in the Book of Inspiration or the great Book of Manifestations around us, we have all the natural elements essential to attainment in the highest degree of power and glory. These institutions have been much assailed, and it is our mission to vindicate the great truth on which they rest, and with them exhibit the highest type of civilization which it is possible for human society to reach.” He was followed by Keitt, and Chesnut, and Conrad, who all made predictions of the future grandeur of the nation they were then attempting to create.
On the following day, Stephens formally accepted the office to which he had been chosen, and made a speech to the Convention, acknowledging with gratitude the expression of their confidence in calling him to that high station. He was in an embarrassing position. His Union speeches in November and January' were yet ringing in the ears of the people, and his present attitude needed explanation. He thought it prudent not to attempt any explanation, and simply remarked : “ It is sufficient for me to say, that it may be deemed questionable if any good citizen can refuse to discharge any duty which may be assigned him by his country in her hour of need.” At Milledgeville, in November, Mr. Stephens's vision of his “country” embraced the whole Republic, from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, and from the region of ice to the region of perpetual bloom, with a population of more than thirty millions. At Montgomery, in February-sixty days later—he saw his "country" dwarfed to the insignificant are: of six Cotton-producing States on the coast, with a population of four millions five hundred thousand, nearly one-half of whom were bond-slaves, and a seventh (Texas) just marching up to join the sad assemblage of recusants.
After the election of Davis and Stephens, the Convention directed its chairman to appoint Committees on Foreign Relations, Postal Affairs, Finance, Commerce, Military and Naval Affairs, Judiciary, Patents and Copy-rights, and Printing. All the laws of the United States, not incompatible with
See pages 54 to 57, inclusive.
? See page 54. * The first application to the “Confederate Government" for a patent was made on the 16th of February, when J. M. Waldron, of Georgia, asked leave to file a caveat and drawings, setting forth an improvement he had made in railroad switches.
* The most important committees were constructed as follows:-
Mr. Brooke, of Mississippi, was made Chairman of the Committee on Patents and Copyrights-an almost useless office.
A FLAG FOR THE CONFEDERACY CONSIDERED.
the new order of things, were continued in force, temporarily. The Finance Committee, in the face of the solemn promises of the conspirators to the people and to foreign governments to the contrary, were instructed to report a tariff bill; and a committee was appointed to report a Constitution of Permanent Government for the “ Confederacy.” The committee consisted of twelve, or two from each State; and nothing was now wanting but the presence of the President elect to make perfect that powerful legislative and executive engine, of which Davis became chief manager, that waged a desolating war for four years against the Government of the Republic.
While the Committee had the matter of a permanent government under consideration, the Convention discussed the important subject of a national flag, during which much warmth of feeling was exbibited. Several models had been offered. Two of these were presented by Mr. Memminger. One of them was from some young women of Charleston, and was composed of a blue cross on a red field, with seven stars; the other was from a gentleman of the same city. It was a cross with fifteen stars. On presenting them, Mr. Memminger said :
“Now, Mr. President, the idea of Union, no doubt, was suggested to the imagination of the young ladies by the beauteous constellation of the Southern cross, which the Great Creator has placed in the Southern heavens, by way of compensation for the glorious constellation at the north pole. The imagination of the young ladies was, no doubt, inspired by the genius of Dante and the scientific skill of Humboldt. But, Sir, I have no doubt that there was another idea associated with it in the minds of the young ladies—a religious one—and although we have not seen in the heavens the * In hoc Signo vinces,' written upon the Labarum of Constantine, yet the same sign has been manifested to us upon the tablets of the earth; for we all know that it has been by the aid of revealed religion we have achieved over fanaticism the victory which we this day witness; and it is becoming, on this occasion, that the debt of the South to the Cross should be thus recognized. I have also, Mr. President, another commission from a gentleman of taste and skill in the city of Charleston, who offers another model, which embraces the same idea of a cross, but upon a different ground. The gentleman who offers this model appears to be more hopeful than the young ladies. They offer one with seven stars-six for the States already represented in this Congress, and the seventh for Texas, whose deputies we hope will soon be on their way to join us. He offers a flag which embraces the whole fifteen States. God grant that his hope may be realized, and that we may soon welcome their stars to the glorious constellation of our Southern Confederacy."
These remarks were highly applauded, and a committee, consisting of one delegate from each State, was appointed to report upon a device for a national flag and seal.' Mr. Brooke, of Mississippi, offered a resolution to instruct the Committee to report a design for a flag as similar as possible to that of the United States, making only such changes as should give them distinction. In his speech he talked with the fervor of a patriot of the associations which clustered around the old ensign — associations which
1 The Committee consisted of Messrs. Shorter, Mo
Bartow, Sparrow, Hari