The Confederate Constitution
Editor, The Herald:
The Confederate Constitution was ratified on March 11, 1861. Most of us would be astounded at the similarities between it and the US Constitution. The Confederate document mirrors the US document nearly word for word except for a few instances. This fact helps to reinforce the claim by the Confederacy that they left the Union in order to preserve the Constitution in its' original form and intent. It also dispels the notion that the Southern States seceded from the Union to destroy the form of government as handed down to us from The Founders. The changes incorporated into the Confederate Constitution simply corrected the features that had caused so much strife, disagreement and abuse. Let's examine some of the more important changes.
The preamble clarifies that each state is acting in its' “sovereign and independent character” in the establishment of their new Constitution. The preamble also invokes the favor of “Almighty God”.
The Confederate document stated that Representatives could represent up to 50,000 people, the U.S. document allowed a Representative for every 30,000. This of course would have had the effect of a smaller Congress.
Article One, Section 5 of the Confederate document provides that Cabinet members can be called up before either house of Congress to answer questions.
Article One, Section 7 of the Confederate Constitution includes a provision that we hear debated today and that many wish was a part of our Constitution which would help to avoid wasteful spending by the Federal Government. And that is the line item veto. This provision gave The President the power to sign into law portions of any bill while rejecting other parts.
Article One, Section 8 forbids the use of government tariffs to protect local industry which drives up the cost of imported goods as was the case for years prior to The War of 1861. The practice of “protecting” Northern industrial interests forced the South to buy Northern goods at inflated prices. Also the practice of paying out “bounties” or subsidies from the national treasurery to non-competitive industry was forbidden. This abuse was particularly used to prop up Northern fishing interests.
Let me share a very interesting addition also found in Section 8, especially in light of government bailouts for corporations in recent years. Under the Confederate Constitution, the Federal Government was forbidden to spend money from the treasury to “facilitate commerce”. This would effectively limit the power and influence of big business in politics. Finally, Section 8 provides that expenses for the post office would be paid out of its' own revenues.
Article One Section 9 of the Confederate Constitution forbids the importation of slaves from any foreign country other than the slave holding states of the United States (at the time the Confederate Constitution was adopted it was not known which, if any, states remaining in the United States might join the Confederacy). Each state of the Confederacy would decide for itself if slavery would be legal within their borders, but at the same time any citizen of the Confederacy would be allowed to travel, sojourn, etc. anywhere in The Confederate States of America with their slaves. Slavery would be recognized and protected in any territory of the Confederate States prior to becoming a state.
Section 9 includes two new clauses intended to encourage and enhance the fiscal responsibility of the legislative branch. The first clause states that congress can only appropriate money in response to a specific request from the executive branch, pay for its “own expenses or pay for the national debt or claims against the national government.” It further states that no money shall be paid out of the treasury except by a vote of two thirds of both houses. In addition, the Confederate Congress could only issue money bills that cite an exact dollar amount.
At the end of Section 9 the Confederate Constitution demands that bills may only relate to one subject and the subject must be declared in the title. This would prevent what we see today where several riders are attached to bills which allows Congress to pass a multitude of laws regulating unrelated topics.
Another feature we hear debated today which was incorporated into the Confederate document is that of term limits. Article Two, Section One provides that the president may only serve one six year term.
The Constitution of The Confederate States of America reflects a philosophy of government that was debated during and after the constitutional debates and is still debated today. The Southern Statesmen who wrote this document believed in a strict constructionist view of the constitution. The changes they made reflect an effort to put a stop to wasteful government spending, financial support of special interests and “pork barrel projects.” Safeguards were also put in to place to prevent abuses of selfish majorities. Some changes were made simply for clarification, to prevent ambiguity or settle controversy. All of which would go a long way towards strengthening the fraternal bonds between a group of sovereign states who voluntarily entered into a compact known as the constitution. The result, a federal government which would be less intrusive into the lives of “We the People”.