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Greetings, one of the seldom discussed events of the Civil War years is that Confederate election of 1861. The Confederacy only staged one election, as Union forces ended the Confederacy before they could hold another.
The Confederacy organized at a gathering of deputies and delegates at Montgomery, Alabama which they called the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States.
The Congress convened on February 4, 1861. The initial Congress included delegates from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. The purpose of this Congress was to draft a constitution and establish a government for seceding states. This first session drafted a provisional constitution and appointed Jefferson Davis as Provisional President and Alexander H. Stephens as Provisional Vice President. The Provisional Constitution governed the Confederacy until it adopted the Confederate Constitution, drafted during the Confederate States of America Constitutional Convention.
Jefferson Davis (June 3, 1808 – December 6, 1889)
The son of Samuel Emory and Jane Cook Davis, Jefferson was native to Fairview, Kentucky. While a boy, the Davis family moved twice, first to St. Mary Parish, Louisiana in 1811 and then to Wilkinson County, Mississippi in 1812. He received his primary education at Wilkinson Academy in Woodville, Mississippi, St Thomas in Kentucky, and spent his college years at Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi. Upon graduation he received an invitation to attend the military academy at West Point. He graduated twenty-third in his class of 33 in 1828.
He received assignment to the 1st Infantry Regiment, which was stationed in Wisconsin. Because he had taken a furlough and returned home to Mississippi, he did not see service during the Black Hawk War in 1832, however he returned to duty in time to escort the Sauk chief Black Hawk to prison.
He and his the daughter of his commanding officer, Zachry Taylor, had fallen in love and wished to marry. Taylor objected, as he did not wish his daughter to marry a military man. Thus, on April 20, 1835 he resigned from the military. He and Sarah Knox Taylor eloped and married in Louisville, Kentucky, after which he returned to Mississippi to take over an 1800 acre plantation his brother gave him. He and his wife moved to the plantation, which he named Brierfield Plantation because the land contained mostly briars and brush. He began clearing the ground, however Sarah and he both contracted malaria. Sarah died, however Jefferson lived. In grief and still recovering, Davis traveled for several years, going to Cuba, New York and Washington D. C. before returning to Mississippi in 1840.
He and Varina Banks Howell married in 1844. The couple would have six children. Davis became active in the Democratic Party after returning to Mississippi. He attended the party convention and campaigned heavily for James Polk. He gained election to the United States House of Representatives in 1845.
When the Mexican War broke out in 1846 Davis resigned from Congress, raised a regiment and served under his former father-in-law during the Battles of Monterrey (1846) and Buena Vista (1847). During the latter battle he played a key role in repulsing an attack by Mexican force, getting wounded in the battle. Later that same year the Mississippi governor appointed him to the United States Senate.
In the Senate he gained a reputation as a staunch advocate of state’s rights and proponent of expanding the practice of slavery in the territories.
He resigned the Senate in 1851, after which he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Mississippi. President Franklin Pierce nominated him as his Secretary of War, a post he held until 1857.
He returned to the United States Senate in 1857. Even though he opposed secession, he resigned his seat in January 1861 when Mississippi seceded from the Union. On February 18, 1861 he accepted the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States appointment as President of the Confederate States. He had expected to be appointed as a general in the now forming Confederate army and did not want the presidency, however he agreed to take the post.
Alexander H. Stephens (February 11, 1812 – March 4, 1883)
The son of Andrew Baskins and Margaret Grier Stephens, Alexander was native to Crawfordville. Georgia. His mother died shortly after his birth. His father married Matilda Lindsay two years later, however both died of pneumonia in 1826, leaving Alexander and his siblings to be raised separately by different relatives. His mother’s brother, General Aaron W. Grier, took him in. The general had a large library that the boy, a voracious reader, devoured. A bright boy, he received his education at a school in Washington, Georgia and later at Franklin College. He graduated near the top of his class in 1832.
The first years out of college he spent teaching school but did not like teaching. He studied law and gained admittance to the Georgia bar in 1834. He opened a successful law practice in Crawfordville. His success allowed him to purchase land and slaves. In 1836 he gained election to the Georgia House of Representatives, a position he held until his election to the Georgia Senate in 1841 as a Whig.
In 1843 he gained election to the United States House of Representatives. He would hold his seat in the House until 1859. During those years he left the Whig Party, helped found the Constitutional Union Party and finally became part of the Democratic Party. He opposed the Wilmot Proviso and played a key role in the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act. He did not run for reelection in 1859.
After Lincoln’s election as President, Stephens gained election as a delegate to the Georgia Secession Convention. Initially he opposed secession, however ultimately he supported it. He attended the Provisional Confederate Congress, which chose him as Provisional Vice President.
On March 11, 1861 the Congress adjourned and reconvened at Richmond, Virginia on April 29, 1861.
Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States
The Provisional Congress appointed 12 men, two from each of the states in attendance, to serve on the committee that would draft the Provisional Constitution. The need to establish a framework quickly was the committee’s main assignment. The delegates used the United States Constitution as a model, so the resulting document was similar. There were differences, that included:
A unicameral representative branch
The president had a line item veto, which meant he could veto parts of a bill and not have to veto the entire bill
It combined district and circuit courts into one court system
The Provisional Congress ratified this Provisional Constitution on February 8, 1861. It served as the framework for the Confederate government until the permanent constitution was ratified on March 11, 1861. The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond Virginia has a copy of this document on display.
Constitution of the Confederate States of America
The Provisional Congress adopted the permanent Constitution of the Confederate States on March 11, 1861, nullifying the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States. The Congress went on to set November 6, 1861 as the general election date.
1861 Confederate Election
The Congress nominated Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens for President and Vice President respectively. As the Democratic Party was the only party in existence, the men had no opposition and won with a unanimous vote. By the time elections were held, eleven states had joined the Confederacy, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri. Since the Confederate Constitution specified six year terms for President, this was the only national election held in the Confederacy, as the Confederate government dissolved on May 5, 1865.
This story is exerpted from my book, A History of United States Presidential Elections Book 2. Listeners can find the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other online retailers in both ebook and softbound formats. You can also purchase the book direct from me on my website, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can contact me at email@example.com.
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