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View Of The Permanent Confederate Constitution

By Alexander Hamilton Stephens (1812-1883)

Vice President of the Confederate States of America

Alexander Hamilton Stephens (1812 -1883) Here is the Constitution for the Permanent Government as finally unanimously adopted by the seven States. It is, as will be seen, based on the general principles of the Federal Constitution, framed by the Philadelphia Convention, in 1787, with the amendments thereafter adopted. Several changes in the details appear. Some of the more prominent of these may very properly be specially noted.

The first is the Preamble. In this, the words "each State acting in its Sovereign and Independent character" were introduced to put at rest forever the argument of the Centralists, drawn from the Preamble of the old Constitution, that it had been made by the people of all the States collectively, or in mass, and not by the States in their several Sovereign character.

The official term of the President was extended, in the new Constitution, to six years instead of four, with a disqualification for re-election.

The question of the "Protective Policy," as it was called, under the old Constitution, was put to rest under the new, by the express declaration that no duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations should be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry. Under the new Constitution, Export duties were allowed to be levied with the concurrence of two-thirds of both Houses of Congress.

In passing acts of Bankruptcy, it was expressly declared that no law of Congress should discharge any debt contracted before the passage of the same. Considerable controversy had existed on this point under the old Constitution.

The President, under the new Constitution, was empowered to approve any appropriation, and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill, returning to the House those portions disapproved as in other like cases of veto.

The impeachment of any judicial, or other Federal officer, resident and acting solely within the limits of any State, was allowed by a vote of two-thirds of both branches of the Legislature thereof, as well as by the House of Representatives of Congress. The Senate of the Confederate States, however, still having the sole power to try all impeachments.

No general appropriation of money was allowed, unless asked and estimated for by some one of the Heads of Departments, except by a two-thirds vote in both branches of Congress. The object of this was to make, as far as possible, each Administration responsible for the public expenditures.

All extra pay or extra allowance to any public contractor, officer, agent, or servant, was positively prohibited as well as all bounties. Great abuses had grown up under the old system in this particular.

Internal improvements by Congress, another subject which had given rise to great controversy under the old, were prohibited by the new Constitution, but Congress was empowered to lay local duties, to support lights, beacons, buoys, and for the improvement of harbors, the expenses to be borne by the navigation facilitated thereby.

The general power of the President to remove from office was restricted to the extent that he could remove for special cause only, and in all cases of removal, he was required to report the same to the Senate, with his reasons, except in the case of the principal officer in each of the Executive Departments, and all persons connected with the Diplomatic service. These, and these only, he could remove at pleasure, and without assigning any reasons therefore.

Citizens of the several States, under the new Constitution, were not permitted to sue each other in the Federal Courts, as they are under the old Constitution. They were left to their actions in the State Courts.

The right of any citizen of one State to pass through or sojourn in another with his slaves or other property, without molestation, was expressly guaranteed.

The admission of other States into the Confederacy required a vote of two-thirds of the whole House of Representatives, and two-thirds of the Senate, the Senate voting by States, instead of a bare majority of each.

A Convention of the States to consider proposed amendments of the Constitution was to be assembled for that purpose upon the call of any three States legally assembled in their several Conventions; and if a Convention so called should agree to the proposed amendments, the vote on them being taken by States, and the same should afterwards be ratified by the Legislatures of two-thirds of the several States, or by Conventions in them, then the proposed amendments were to form a part of the Constitution.

Congress was authorized by law to grant to the principal officer in each of the Executive Departments a seat upon the floor of either House, with the privilege of discussing any measures appertaining to his Department.

And, lastly, the power of Congress over the Territories was settled, in express language, in opposition both to the doctrine of the Centralists and the doctrine of "Squatter Sovereignty," so called.

There are the more prominent of the changes made. Several others will be seen upon a close examination. Some of them, however, verbal merely. Most of the prominent ones noticed emanated from Mr. (Robert Barnwell) Rhett, the Chairman. A few of them from Mr. (Robert Augustus) Toombs. Those proposed by Mr. Toombs were the ones prohibiting bounties, extra allowances, and internal improvements, with some others of less importance. The leading changes proposed by Mr. Rhett, were the ones in relation to the Protective policy, the Presidential term, the modification upon the subject of removal from office, and the mode provided for future amendments. The clause in relation to the admission of new States occupied the special attention of Mr. (John) Perkins, (Jr.) of Louisiana. The change in the old Constitution, which authorized Congress to pass a law to allow Cabinet Ministers to occupy seats in either House of Congress, and to participate in debates on subjects relating to their respective Departments, was the one in which I took the most interest. The clause, as it stands, did not go as far as I wished. I wanted the President to be required to appoint his Cabinet Ministers from Members of one or the other Houses of Congress. This feature in the British Constitution, I always regarded as one of the most salutary principles in it. But enough on this subject.

All of these amendments were decidedly of a conservative character. It is true, I did not approve of all of them. They were all, however, such as in the judgment of a majority of these States, the experience of seventy years had shown were proper and necessary for the harmonious working of the system. The whole document utterly negatives the idea which so many have been active in endeavoring to put in the enduring form of history, that the Convention at Montgomery was nothing but a set of "Conspirators," whose object was the overthrow of the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and the erection of a great "Slavery Oligarchy," instead of the free Institutions thereby secured and guaranteed. This work of the Montgomery Convention, with that of the Constitution for a Provisional Government, will ever remain not only as a monument of the wisdom, forecast and statesmanship of the men who constituted it, but an everlasting refutation of the charges which have been brought against them. These works together show clearly that their only leading object was to sustain, uphold, and perpetuate the fundamental principles of the Constitution of the United States.


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