Secrets from the Confederate Constitution

The "Battle Flag of the Confederacy,"...

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So many bad ideas have festered south of the Mason-Dixon Line that we often overlook the good.

In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a short list of the South’s contributions to American life: Slavery, secession, civil war, debutantes overcome by “the vapors”, segregation, racism, bigotry, Hee Haw, Colonel Sanders, the tractor pull, Jeff Foxworthy, mullets, Larry the Cable Guy, furniture on top of RVs, furniture anywhere outside the house, toilets as lawn ornaments, and the nifty little Confederate battle flag most kids simply think is a keen rooftop decal for a certain Dodge Charger on the Dukes of Hazzard.

Yet over at the New York Times’ online blog The Opinionator, John Miller of National Review noticed some rather interesting ideas in the constitution of the Confederate States of America.

In his contribution to the Disunion series on the Civil War, Miller mentions that, by and large, the Confederate constitution was a carbon copy of our own.  Yet he also notes two important “improvements” made by the Confederate founding fathers: the line-item veto and the 6-year presidential term.

The first is a power that Presidents have coveted for years.  According to the constitution, any bill brought to the President, especially the budget, has to be signed into law as it is.  It cannot be amended, or vetoed in part, by the executive–it’s a take-it-or-leave-it situation.  According to the Confederate Constitution, Article I, Section VII states that:

“The President may approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill. In such case he shall, in signing the bill, designate the appropriations disapproved; and shall return a copy of such appropriations, with his objections, to the House in which the bill shall have originated; and the same proceedings shall then be had as in case of other bills disapproved by the President.”

Its a pretty nifty gadget for old Jeff Davis to strike off all those pesky earmarks that get in the way of funding the inevitable Confederate defeat.

The second idea is one that, according to Miller, goes back to the original 1787 convention.  The Founding Fathers hemmed and hawed about the the power of the Presidency: some thought it should be limited further, others felt the honor should be for life.  The sons of Dixie managed to solve this situation with a one-term presidency of six years.  History shows that the second term of a two-term president is usually worse than the first: time, changing attitudes and midterm elections usually make the honeymoon period short.  The single term of longer duration allows the President more time to work, but not so much time as to drag on like a claim horse on the last race at Saratoga.

Miller does some pretty good work, and in perusing the Confederate Constitution myself (linked here) I found these other curiosities:

Article I, Section VIII, subsection 18: “Congress shall have the power to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the Confederate States, or in any department or officer thereof.” – all that business about states’ rights, and they kept the Elastic Clause?  Its like leaving rat traps with no bait on them.

Article I, Section IX, subsection 1: “The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.” – Nice to know the slaveholding planters had a heart and kept the 1808 prohibition of the transatlantic slave trade in place.  A little too late for Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Uncle Tom and Kunta Kinte, don’t you think?

Article I, Section IX, subsection 10: “All bills appropriating money shall specify in Federal currency the exact amount of each appropriation and the purposes for which it is made…” – you know, if you want to be your own country, man up and use your own currency.  Don’t mooch off the greenback for fiscal solvency.  If you’re going to secede, then fucking SECEDE!

Article I, Section IX, subsections 11-19: Now here is an actual good idea.  Unlike the original Constitution, that needed to tack on a Bill of Rights after the fact as a bargaining chip, the Confederate Constitution folded them right into the original document.  Sure, it buries them somewhere where they can’t be found easily, but it also allowed future jurists to interpret them without sanctimonious drooling as if they were brought down from Sinai.

Article II, Section II, subsection 1: “The President shall be Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States, and of the militia of the several States, when called into the actual service of the Confederate States…” – again, big talk for a country that claimed to respect states’ rights.  I’m sure the state governors were really pleased when Jeff Davis invoked this codicil.

Article IV, Section II, subsection 3: “No slave or other person held to service or labor in any State or Territory of the Confederate States, under the laws thereof, escaping or lawfully carried into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor; but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such slave belongs; or to whom such service or labor may be due.” – Well, you kind of half-expected this one.  This is the 1857 Dred Scott decision codified into constitutional law.  Slaves were property, and nothing was going to change that…except for half a million armed men in blue uniforms.

Article IV, Section III, subsection 3: “The Confederate States may acquire new territory…In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and  protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.” – again, this is your textbook explanation for the Civil War itself: the South wanted to expand slavery to the new territories in the West.

And finally we have Article VI, Section VI: “The powers not delegated to the Confederate States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people thereof.”

That 10th Amendment–the states’ rights one that segregationists and literal-minded judges loved so much.

What was funny was…well…Jeff Davis and the CSA were a tad confused as to who had the power.

Here’s a hint at who did–they wore blue coats.


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5 responses to “Secrets from the Confederate Constitution

  1. Mr. D – with all due respect here are the top 5 things you left off in terms of Southern contributions:

    5. B.B. King
    4. Public Education
    3. Pork BBQ
    2. Me.
    1. Grits!

    Other than that, great article.

    • Of course, I was only referring to somewhat negative traits of our Southern brethren. You also forgot the separation of church and state, codified in the Virginia declaration of rights during the Revolution.

      Just reading your list is making me hungry. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Funny enough.

    But you clearly don’t know much about antebellum south.

    For example, you seem to think the South’s ban on future slave trade was a magnamous gesture. Far from it.

    The basic problem the South had was the hyper abundance of slaves. In fact, two governors in the South spoke bluntly about having to kill their slaves if they had to free them.
    Slaves were so numerous, because the forced the women to breed, many of them had 10-12 children. Plus, the South was importing even more slaves, despite the falling prices for them.

    As slaves became worth less — due to the oversupply, slave owners just doubled down, and force the women to birth even more. The smugglers of slaves did the same — bring more, to make up the difference.

    In 1820, you could double, then double your money again, just buying a few slaves, and have them do your work, and frankly, get your sex from the females. This was a great deal to slave owners. They thought it would ALWAYS be this way.

    But by 1850, slaves went from 1/5 of the population, to 1/2 in some areas. In Mississsippi and South Carolina, many whites were terrified because in some areas, blacks out numbered whites 2 to 1.

    That is why they had to EXPAND slavery — the territories. They had a fantastic oversupply of slaves. So the expansion of territory was critical.

    SO when they prohibited the slave TRADE — that meant the importation of more slaves from Africa. That didn’t have a thing to do with slavery in the US. Some people are so stupid that they read the part of the CSA constitution, and think it meant a future time when slavery would be outlawed.

    Hell no.

    • “For example, you seem to think the South’s ban on future slave trade was a magnamous gesture. Far from it.”

      Let’s take your point on two fronts: (1) YOU have absolutely no sense of sarcasm. I was pointing that out in jest. Not noting sarcasm is a serious sign of a lack of intelligence.

      (2) The word you seek to spell is “magnanimous.” Before pointing out the ignorance of others, make sure you don’t sound like an idiot, either.

  3. Oh you were being sarcastic! I see.

    So you knew that the reason some in the South wanted to ban imported slaves, is that they didn’t believe in free trade! They wanted to protect the domestic suppliers of slave babies?


    Only, you didn’t use your sarcasm font. So, neither will I.

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