by Bryan Booher
In February 1861, 43 delegates met at a Constitutional Convention held in Montgomery, Ala. Represented were the states of South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana; all had recently seceded from the United States (the delegates from Texas were en route). They knew that time was limited, the winds of war were blowing, and they must form a new government before the newly elected United States president, Abraham Lincoln, took office. They drew up a Provisional Constitution that was to last for one year only. But one month later, the Convention drafted the third and final copy of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America.
The day after the Provisional Constitution was signed, a 12-man framing committee was appointed and work on the permanent constitution was convened, chaired by South Carolina secessionist leader Robert Barnwell Rhett, Sr. Rhett proposed using the U.S. Constitution as a model and “make only the most necessary changes.” Their task would be, he stated, “a matter of restoration, than of innovation.”
Among his proposals for the new constitution was the exclusion of a preamble; an idea that all residents of the new nation, excluding Indians, but especially African slaves, who were only counted as three-fifths in the U.S. were to be counted as a full person; a reform on taxation; the creation of a Capital similar to the District of Columbia with land given freely by a State or States; a six-year term for the president (limited to one, non-consecutive term at a time); the guaranteed extension of slavery into new territories; the expulsion of any State that should abolish slavery (he later wanted to add an amendment barring any free state from entering); and others. In the end, only the term of the president and the protection of slavery were kept.
Constitution of the Confederate
Structurally, the final draft of the Confederate Constitution is almost identical to the U.S. Constitution. One major difference is the inclusion, almost verbatim, of the first 12 amendments of the U.S. Constitution into the body of the Confederate Constitution under Article I, Section 9.
Rhett and his committee presented the draft to the Convention on Feb. 28, 1861, and it was ratified 11 days later, on March 11. By the end of 1861, all 13 states of the Confederate States of America had ratified the Constitution.
This draft, one of only four copies known, will be featured in Heritage Auction’s upcoming Manuscript Auction #6063, Dec. 8-9, 2011, in New York City. It fell into the hands of Albert Gaius Hills, a Boston Journal war correspondent (and for a three-month period in 1863, First Lieutenant in the United States Army) who was present throughout the expedition to capture New Orleans in 1862.
In his travels as a reporter, Hills collected numerous artifacts connected with the Confederacy. He never had children and his personal effects, his journals, collection of newspapers from the war, the draft of the Confederate Constitution, maps, etc. ended up in the sole possession of his brother, Frederick Calvin Hills. Upon Frederick’s death, the records were passed to Frederick’s eldest son, Frederick Albert Hills, who then passed it to his eldest daughter, Katherine Hills. The archive then went to Katherine’s son, Alfred Farrell, who began the painstaking process of transcription of Hills’ journals detailing the capture of New Orleans. Upon the death of Alfred, the collection was given to his daughter, Emily, whose husband, Gary Dyson, continued and completed Alfred’s work.
This copy of the Confederate Constitution will go up for sale at Heritage Auction’s Dec. 8-9, 2011, Manuscripts Grand Format Auction in New York, N.Y. For more info, log onto www.HA.com or call 212-486-3500.