History

The Confederate “Congress of States”

The Confederate Congress met in 11 sessions from February 1861 to March 1865. The last seven volumes of the Southern Historical Society Papers, published intermittently from 1923 to 1959, reprinted proceedings of the body’s sessions from February 1862 through March 1865. This book thus fills the void, reprinting proceedings of the first five sessions: February 1861–February 1862.

Following the U.S. precedent, the Confederate Constitution prescribed two senators per state. In the House, population-based representation gave Virginia 16 seats, Georgia and Alabama 12 each, and so forth.

On February 5, 1861, the second day of the Confederate Provisional Congress convened in Montgomery, Ala., Vice President Stephens declared, “This is a Congress of States.” He was being more than metaphorical. First it was a unicameral house (it split into House and Senate in February 1862). Moreover, in floor votes each state delegation got just one to cast.

One of Congress’ first tasks was to devise a plan for a national government, that the people’s “rights and social institutions may be forever maintained,” in the words of Georgia’s Francis Bartow. Congressional members in the first year were essentially delegates to the states’ secession conventions; elections were held in November 1861.

From the start, Congress allowed stenographers and reporters to attend and record sessions. This allows Dr. Carlson to draw not just from the congressional journal (scanty in detail), but also from Confederate newspapers, which frequently carried actions on the floor word for word. Accordingly, in compiling this book the editor has drawn on daily press reports in the Richmond papers as well as The Charleston Mercury, Montgomery Weekly Advertiser, and a few others.

Congress of States concludes with Howell Cobb’s address to the Congress, predicting the viability of the Confederate government, “relying on the harmony of our people; upon the justice of our cause; upon our own strong arms, and the smile of a kind and protecting Providence.”

Congress of States

Proceedings of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America

Edited by R. David Carlson, University of Alabama Press, 2023

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