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The Confederate Constitution: An Improved Version of the Original Compact

Patrick Henry opposed adoption of the U.S. Constitution and warned the South about its partners, the New England “Puritans.” Realizing the antagonistic regional economic interests, Henry reasoned that once the North gained a firm majority, Southern rights would be trampled. He said: “I am sure that the dangers of this system are real, when those who have no similar interests with the people of this country are to legislate for us—when our dearest interests are to be left in the hands of those whose advantage it will be to infringe them.” Henry’s predictions soon became reality.

Seventy-five years of struggle with New England interests and the election of the entirely sectional Abraham Lincoln led several Southern States to leave the union. Before being militarily coerced back into the “union,” the Confederate States created a constitution that removed most flaws within the original compact. Structurally, the Confederate Constitution mirrored the old document: Article I: legislative powers; Article II: executive powers; Article III: judicial powers; Article IV: defined relations of States to each other and to the general government; Article V: the process for amendments; Article VI: legal principle and international law; and Article VII: provisions for ratification.

The Confederate Constitution began with “We, the people of the Confederate States, each acting in its sovereign and independent character…” instead of the more ambiguous “We, the people of the United States…” Both constitutions were voluntary creations of the States—the Confederate Constitution removed all doubts.

Article 1, Section 2 of the Confederate Constitution forbade non-citizens and foreigners from voting in elections. Additionally, the power of impeachment was expanded beyond the House of Representatives to include giving States power to impeach corrupt federal officers (including judges) operating within said State.

Article 1, Section 3 stated when a senatorial election would be held. Previously, senators were elected by each State’s legislature with no specific time limit for election.

Article 1, Section 7 expanded Executive power by allowing a line-item veto whereby the President could veto parts of a spending bill without vetoing the entire bill. The South had been frequently pummeled with the North’s pork and “internal improvements.” The Confederate Constitution prevented Congress from appropriating money “‘for any internal improvement to facilitate commerce,’ except for improvement to facilitate waterway navigation. But ‘in all such cases, such duties shall be laid on the navigation facilitated thereby, as may be necessary to pay for the costs and expenses thereof…’”

The U.S. Constitution stated Congress had power to collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises to “promote the general welfare.” Patrick Henry and others pointed out the ambiguity of this “General Welfare Clause.” The Confederate Constitution remedied this problem, stating Congress could collect taxes, duties, etc., to “carry on the Government of the Confederate States…” This was key in limiting special interests.

Article I, Section 8 of the Confederate Constitution had no parallel. It was pro-trade/anti-protectionist, stating, “no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importation from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry [over another].” This was a strike against corporate welfare and protectionism of favored industries, tactics employed by the Protectionist Whigs and a considerable sector of the Republican Party (e.g., the Radical Republicans), at the expense of the Southern States. You could say they approved the fusion of favored corporations and government.

Article 1, Section 9 outlawed the international slave trade, making it the first American constitution to do so in the original text. Slave labor was allowed (as in the U.S. Constitution) and it was left up to the individual States (existing or future) to decide how its citizens would handle it. In the same article and section, there was an attempt to eliminate entitlements: “All bills appropriating money shall specify…the exact amount of each appropriation, and the purposes for which it is made…Congress shall grant no extra compensation to any public contractor, officer, agent, or servant, after such contract shall have been made or such service rendered.” In other words, the bid amount was final, there would be no cost over-runs, and politicians could not enrich their “friends.”

Article II of the Confederate Constitution called for one six-year presidential term (no second term). Article III, Section 2 eliminated Diversity Jurisdiction, which allowed federal intervention when two States had a legal dispute. Finally, in Article V, Section 1 the States, rather than Congress, initiated the amendment process.

The Confederate States produced a constitutional gem to rebut Lincoln’s regime “of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations.” The Republicans were the original “corporate welfare” party but, as fellow Alabama Gazette columnist John Sophocleus noted, “The Democrats have learned to out-Republican the Republicans.” Indeed, we still suffer from the rotten fruit borne out of Lincoln’s forced union.

Sources: Constitution of the Confederate States, March 11, 1861, The Avalon

Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library; Randall G. Holcombe, “The Confederate Constitution,” The Free Market, Mises Institute, June 1992; Admiral Raphael Semmes, Memoirs of Service Afloat, Blue and Grey Press, 1987; and John M. Taylor, Union At All Costs: From Confederation to Consolidation.


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