After the election of Abraham Lincoln as president of the United States, many citizens of Southern states feared their property right in slaves would no longer be protected. Between 1860 and 1861, 11 slave-holding states seceded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America. Though the constitution establishing the Confederacy was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, differences reflected the many reasons these states chose to secede.
The Confederate constitution's preamble made it clear that states had more sovereign power in the Confederacy than they had in the Union. Just as the U.S. Constitution, the Confederate constitution began "We the people," but the people were represented within the central government by their states, each "acting in its sovereign and independent character." This focus on state sovereignty was reflected in the fact that, for example, Confederate state legislatures had the ability to impeach their own states' national government representatives, or national judges sitting in their states' courts. In contrast, the U.S. Constitution only allows federal government officials and judges to be impeached in the U.S. Senate.
The Institution of Slavery
The U.S. Constitution didn't guarantee the right of property in slaves. However, the Confederate constitution recognized the institution of slavery explicitly and forbade the Confederate Congress from passing any law denying or impairing a slave owner's right to property in slaves. Although the Confederate government prohibited further importation of slaves from Africa, it allowed such importation from slave-holding U.S. states that had not joined the Confederacy. The Confederate Constitution also guaranteed the institution of slavery would be protected in any new territories the country acquired.
Confederate presidents served six-year terms. However, the Confederate constitution forbade presidents from running for re-election. Despite the Confederate government's insistence on states' rights, the Confederate constitution gave the executive branch powers not included in the U.S. Constitution. For example, the president was given the ability to approve some appropriations while vetoing others in the same bill -- a line-item veto provision not available to the U.S. president. At the same time, the power of the Confederate president came with limitations, such as the requirement to report removal of non-cabinet officials to Congress along with the reason that employee was removed from office.
In keeping with the states' rights focus of the Confederacy, the Confederate congress had more limited power than that of the Union. For example, the Constitution prohibited the legislature's ability to levy duties or taxes on foreign imports for the purpose of promoting or protecting the products of Confederate industries. The Confederate Constitution also dictated any law passed by the Congress could only have one subject, which had to be clearly identified in the law's title. Congress couldn't make appropriations for internal improvements to the Confederacy -- the need for infrastructure was left up to the individual states.
- History.com: American Civil War -- Confederate States of America
- University of Houston Digital History: Establishing the Confederacy
- Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library: The Avalon Project: Constitution of the Confederate States; March 11, 1861
- National Archives: Transcript of the Constitution of the United States -- Official Text
- Hulton Archive/Hulton Archive/Getty Images