The Constitutional Convention (January 7 - March 21, 1861), which framed and ratified the Constitution of 1861, is widely known in history as the "Secession Convention". There is credence to this appellation, when one considers that all 50 of the Ordinances, beginning with Ordinance #1, the Ordinance of Secession, concern themselves with withdrawal from the Union, and later, attachment to the newly-organized Confederate States of America. Moreover, the convention itself was the result of much public debate in the late 1850's, as to the proper method to be employed for states wishing to break their ties with the Union. There were some advocates of a single, wholesale secession of slaveholding states, to be effected by a general convention. However, the leading secessionists of the day, such as William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama, were adamant that the only legal means by which a state could withdraw, was the identical method by which it had become a part of the Union: each state would have to hold a constitutional convention and sever their ties individually. This being done, the newly-independent states could then unite themselves in whatever compact they wished. South Carolina, the first to withdraw in this fashion, established the method by which other states seceded.
Much has been written about secession, both as theory and fact, and the decade of the 1850's was certainly a period in which the relationship between the federal government and the states, captured the attention of politicians and the citizenry of the Southern slaveholding states. The debate over slavery and the concept of secession began long before the firestorm of the 1850's. Friction in Congress, between northern and southern members, was evident during Alabama's infancy. When Alabama was admitted, as the 22nd state in the Union, the division between free and slave states was evenly matched at eleven. Threatening to upset this balance was the petition, by Missouri in 1819, to be admitted as a slave state. The petitions for statehood, by the two states, came virtually at the same time, but Alabama was already buttressed on three sides by the slave states of Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi. The battle, then, came over the admission of Missouri. The resultant Missouri Compromise, fashioned by Speaker of the U. S. House, Henry Clay, admitted Missouri as a slave state, balanced that with the admission of Maine as a free state, and established all territory north of 36 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude, as "forever free". It was a temporary expedient, and, in the twilight of their lives, both Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams accurately predicted the consequences of such division of the Union. It was Lincoln, forty years later, that would give it its name, but the "House" was already divided.
All of this may well have accelerated the events of the 1850's, had not the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency forestalled it. Jackson was widely popular in his native south. His populist ideas and policies toward territorial expansion were well received among the small farmers and merchants in Alabama. Throughout his presidency, 1829-1837, Jackson oversaw the final removal of Creek and Cherokee tribes from East Alabama, and the resultant explosion of new settlers caused a marked shift in the balance of power in Alabama's General Assembly. Even in the South, though, Jackson had his critics, most acutely among the larger plantation owners, to whom slavery and tariffs were the main concern. Above all, Jackson had a deep devotion to the Union. He found himself at war with his own Vice-President, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, then beat down attempts by early South Carolina secessionists in 1832. A series of Congressional compromises ensued, aimed at placating the cotton interests of the South.
But, when his second term ended in 1837, the wounds between North and South re-opened. There were no more Jacksons, and the presidents that followed in the next two decades were a muster roll of mediocrity. Left to their own devices, the extremists on both sides transformed Congress into an often violent cauldron of debate over the expansion of slavery into new territories, then finally to the existence of that institution anywhere. The growing sentiment in northern states for total abolition of slavery enabled such southern spokesmen as Alabama's William Lowndes Yancey, and South Carolina's Robert Barnwell Rhett, to become icons of southern resistance. Through countless speeches and newspaper editorials, the proponents of secession were able to reach even the small, slaveless farmers of the South, thus making the issue of slavery transcendent to one of state's rights.
Nevertheless, until the close of the decade, the pre-occupation among Alabamians with national issues was not all engrossing. As Alabama grew and matured as a state, so too did discontent with the Constitution of 1819. The monopolistic purview granted the General Assembly over the election of public officials left the electorate with only meager power at the ballot box. Increasingly sensitive to the temperament of the people, the Assembly placed before the people, then gave ratification to, the third amendment to the Constitution, allowing for the popular election of circuit and county judges. Going further, the Assembly placed before the people a referendum, allowing them to decide if a constitutional convention should be held for total revision. In 1852, the referendum was defeated after numerous newspaper editorials criticized the proposal for its absence of any provision for final ratification of a new constitution by the people. In 1856, the Assembly again placed the referendum before the people, this time stipulating that any new constitution framed in convention would require a majority vote of the electorate for ratification. Again, it was rejected. In 1859, two amendments were placed before the people for ratification: one, providing for biennial election of the State Comptroller of Public Accounts, the other allowing, for a return to annual sessions of the Assembly, but retaining biennial elections. Both lost, and in some counties, votes were not even taken on the amendments. Thus discouraged, when legislation was introduced in December, aimed at a third try for a constitutional convention, it never even made it out of the Assembly. But, by that year, national issues had so engulfed the attention of the state, that constitutional revision began to take on a whole new meaning.
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing these two would-be states to decide for themselves whether they would be admitted as free or slave states. The Act effectively nullified the old Missouri Compromise, and took the battle over slavery out of the halls of Congress and into the streets. The resultant violence was predictable, as the eastern portion of Kansas, along the Missouri border, came to be known as "Bleeding Kansas". Moreover, the 1850's witnessed the admission of California, Oregon and Minnesota, and the addition of these free states virtually guaranteed that a unified North could control the federal government. Such unification was born of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Meeting first in Ripon, Wisconsin, then later in Jackson, Michigan, disaffected Whigs and Democrats, disturbed over the possible expansion of slavery westward, formed the Republican Party, taking their name from the old National Republican party of Thomas Jefferson. Foremost among their aims was the determination to contain slavery in the states in which it then existed. To this end, they waged what today would be called a "public relations campaign", promoting themselves as the only hope for containment of slavery, and labeling the Democratic Party as the party of slavery. Through tireless efforts, their ideas took hold, and though they lost their first foray into presidential politics, in 1856, they were aided by the increasing split within the Democratic Party itself, as Southern Democrats began to realize that a solid South could no longer ensure victory in presidential elections.
At the close of the decade, the pace quickened. The execution, by federal authorities, of John Brown in December, 1859, did nothing to dissuade Southern suspicions. A week after this event, Southern Representatives in the Congress, unable to secure the election of a Democrat to the Speaker's chair, forced the election of a moderate Republican. In February, 1860, U. S. Senator Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, introduced legislation designed to provide an ironclad national slave code, to protect the rights of slave owners in the territories. When it became apparent that the legislation was not acceptable to Republicans, the Southern threats of secession were renewed, but now were ignored. In the same month, Republican presidential aspirant Abraham Lincoln was amassing large audiences in the North, running on a platform that prevented the introduction of slavery into any new territory, but protected it in the states in which it existed. Southern proponents of the expansion of slavery, knew that if slavery were forever confined to the areas in which it existed, it would eventually be abolished even there. They knew, also, that in Lincoln, the Republican Party had found a spokesman capable of uniting every free state in the Union.
All of these events had occurred since the convening of the Alabama General Assembly on November 14, 1859. On February 24, three days short of final adjournment, two resolutions were passed: 1) directing the governor to call for the election of delegates to a convention, to determine Alabama's options, should Abraham Lincoln be elected President, and 2) providing for cooperation between Alabama and other slaveholding states. No mere contingency, this was prophesy: Meeting in convention at Charleston, the Democratic Party imploded, as Southern delegates demanded that Senator Davis' proposals be incorporated into the party platform; Northern delegates refused to concur, stating that such provisions would be unacceptable to voters in their states. As it was, Southern delegates walked out and held their own convention in Baltimore. Meanwhile, no such rancor characterized the Republican Party convention in Chicago. In May, Lincoln became the nominee, and with 40% of the popular vote, defeated three candidates in the November general election.
Although the electoral college would not complete its final tally until the following February 13th, on December 6th, despite pleas to the contrary from North Alabama representatives, Governor Andrew Barry Moore, in compliance with the Resolution of the Assembly, issued his Proclamation, calling for the election of delegates to a convention, to be held January 7, 1861. Concurrent with this action, he dispatched commissioners to 16 states, to confer with those states as to their intentions.
On Christmas Eve, 1860, Alabama voters trudged to the polls and elected the delegates that would take them out of the Union.
Four days before, at 1:15 p.m., South Carolina had become the first state to secede, and established the method by which others would follow. South Carolina also proposed a general convention of all seceding states. Between the convening of the Convention, on January 7th, until the day of Alabama's own secession, Mississippi would secede on January 9th, Florida on the 10th.
Prior to the convening of the Constitutional Convention on January 7th, Governor Moore had taken steps of his own, at the urging of Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown. On January 3rd, Moore, certain that the upcoming Convention would vote to secede, ordered state troops to seize Forts Morgan and Gaines, and the federal arsenal at Mt. Vernon. He then dispatched a rather cordial letter to President Buchanan, informing him that he had done so. Later, the Convention sanctioned his actions by passing Ordinances to that effect.
Under the provisions of the enabling resolution, each county was to elect the same number of delegates as it had members of the Alabama House of Representatives. Of the 100 delegates elected, the "immediate secessionists" held 54 votes, while the "cooperationists" held 46. But, the cooperationists were divided, some advocating an absolute pro-Union stance, while others proposed a convention of southern states, in order to decide a future course of action. As it was, the votes of those favoring immediate secession were solid, while the votes of the cooperationists amounted to various sum totals. William McLin Brooks, ardent secessionist of Perry County, was elected President of the Convention, but the true driving personality was William Lowndes Yancey.
One of the most nationally recognized secessionists, Yancey was a restless spirit. Born in Hancock County, Georgia, Yancey was forty-six years of age at the time of the Convention, and had led a rather peripatetic life. His father had served in the South Carolina House of Representatives before moving the family to Georgia. There, he died at the age of thirty-four, and when his wife married the headmaster of William Lowndes Yancey's school, the new family removed to New York, where Yancey attended Bennington and Lenox. After a brief stay at Williams College in Massachusetts, Yancey headed South, to study law. In Greenville, South Carolina, he studied in the firm of Governor B. F. Perry, and developed a taste for public issues. In an age when newspaper editorials carried great weight, Yancey became editor of the Greenville Mountaineer before finally moving to Dallas County, Alabama in 1836. There, he edited the Cahaba Democrat, then in 1839, moved to Wetumpka, where he edited the Argus. Having honed his political and communications skills, Yancey won election to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1841, and to the Alabama Senate in 1843. Restless for more, he left the Senate the very next year, upon election to Congress. But, even that forum could not hold him. Leaving Congress after 1846, he moved back to Montgomery and practiced law. He did not, however, leave politics. Steadily developing the mindset that would make him one of the "firebrands" of secessionism, Yancey walked out of the 1848 Democratic Convention in Baltimore, and, for a brief period, out of politics. All the while, he made speech after speech, promoting the Southern grievances of the 1850's, though he held no public office. His brother, Benjamin, took a more formal, yet quieter, course, serving in the Assembly, and as President of the Alabama Senate in the 1855-56 session. By 1860, Yancey was one of the most widely acknowledged spokesmen for Southern independence. He led the walkout of the 1860 Democratic Convention in Charleston, and when he arrived at the State Capitol, in Montgomery, on January 7, 1861, there was no doubt whose Convention it would be.
Yancey's position was clear: the convention was being held for the purpose of deciding Alabama's status as one of the United States, and that "no proffered compromises, no amendments to the Constitution, no proffered additional guarantees, can delay her action for independence a moment." He stated that the convention should not concern itself with matters of general constitutional revision, as "there is no defect in our fundamental law; therefore it needs no alteration." He was appointed Chairman of the "Committee of Thirteen", charged "to consider and report what action should be taken by this convention in order to protect and preserve the rights and liberties of the people of the state of Alabama." Decidedly pro-secessionist, the Committee followed Yancey's lead, and on January 10th, Yancey stood in the Hall of the House of Representatives and presented the majority report, as embodied in Ordinance #1, the Ordinance of Secession. The Ordinance was short and direct: Alabama was to secede immediately from the United States of America, and become a sovereign and independent state. It also included language inviting the other 14 slaveholding states to send delegates to meet in convention, February 4th, in Montgomery. Submitting the minority report, promoting a southern convention of slaveholding states prior to any further secession of states, was cooperationist Jeremiah Clemens, delegate of Madison County, and cousin of Samuel Clemens, later to be known to the world as Mark Twain.
Through two days of often heated debate, the secessionists, led by Yancey, John Tyler Morgan, of Dallas County, and Thomas Hill Watts, of Montgomery, took on the opposition of the cooperationists, led by Clemens, Nicholas Davis, of Madison, and Robert Jemison, of Tuscaloosa. All the while, their debates, in as much as possible, were being taken down by William R. Smith, cooperationist delegate of Tuscaloosa, who, after having acquired as many copies of the various speeches as he could, would later publish his account of the Convention and its debates. The question was no longer one of adherence to the Union, but of loyalty to Alabama. Yancey, exasperated over the continued recalcitrance of North Alabama cooperationists, bluntly called them "traitors". Rising, and addressing President Brooks, Nicholas Davis of Huntsville threw down the gauntlet, declaring that "we will meet him at the foot of our mountains, and there with his own selected weapons, hand to hand, face to face, settle the question of the sovereignty of the people."
Finally, the debate ended. With secession eminent, even several of the cooperationists, including Jeremiah Clemens, cast their lot with the majority. The Ordinance of Secession passed on a vote of 61-39:
Messrs. President (Brooks, of Perry), Bailey (Perry), Baker (Barbour), Baker (Russell), Barclay (Talladega), Barnes (Chambers), Beck (Wilcox), Blue (Macon), Bolling (Butler), Bragg (Mobile), Catterlin (Choctaw), Clarke (Marengo), Clemens (Madison), Cochran (Barbour), Coleman (Sumter), Crawford (Bibb), Creech (Dale), Crook (Calhoun), Crumpler (Coosa), Curtis (Choctaw), Daniel (Barbour), Dargan (Mobile), Davis (Covington), Davis (Pickens), Dowdell (Chambers), Foster (Macon), Gibbons (Monroe), Gilchrist (Lowndes), Hawkins (Washington), Henderson (Macon), Henderson (Pike), Herndon (Greene), Howard (Russell), Humphries (Mobile), Jewett (Clarke), Johnson (Talladega), Ketchum (Mobile), Leonard (Coosa), Love (Pike), McClanahan (Shelby), McPherson (Butler), McKinney (Dale), Morgan (Dallas), Owens (Henry), Phillips (Dallas), Ralls (Cherokee), Rives (Autauga), Ryan (Calhoun), Shortridge (Shelby), Silver (Baldwin), Slaughter (Talladega), Smith (Henry), Starke (Pike), Stone (Pickens), Taylor (Coosa), Watts (Montgomery), Webb (Greene), Whatley (Calhoun), Williamson (Lowndes), Yancey (Montgomery), Yelverton (Coffee). - 61
Messrs. Allen (Marion), Beard (Marshall), Brasher (Blount), Bulger (Tallapoosa), Clark (Lawrence), Coffey (Jackson), Coman (Limestone), Davis (Madison), Earnest (Jefferson), Edwards (Blount), Ford (Morgan), Forrester (Randolph), Franklin (DeKalb), Gray (Randolph), Green (Conecuh), Guttrey (Walker), Hood (Jackson), Inzer (St. Clair), Jemison (Tuscaloosa), Jones (Fayette), Jones (Lauderdale), Kimball (Tallapoosa), Lewis (Lawrence), McClellan (Limestone), Posey (Lauderdale), Potter (Cherokee), Russell (Tallapoosa), Sanford (Cherokee), Sheets (Winston), Sheffield (Marshall), Smith (Tuscaloosa), Steadham (Marion), Steele (Franklin), Timberlake (Jackson), Watkins (Franklin), Whitlock (Cherokee), Wilson (Fayette), Winston (DeKalb), Wood (Randolph). - 39
Having achieved his Ordinance of Secession so quickly, Yancey relented somewhat in his opposition to other constitutional changes. On January 12th, President Brooks appointed a Committee of Nine, chaired by former legislator John Cochran, to draft proposed revisions of the Constitution of 1819. Meanwhile, the Convention began passing other Ordinances, most of which dealt with appropriation of federal property and governmental entities. The Port of Mobile, the federal arsenal at Mt. Vernon, and sundry other United States properties were declared property of the State of Alabama; likewise, the Convention transferred the purview of federal courts to Alabama courts, and took over the postal system. Once Alabama had dissolved its union with the United States, the moorings of federal power simply ceased to exist.
The Convention was treading on new ground in its secessionist Ordinances, and the secessionist leaders could justly assert that the takeover Ordinances were the natural outgrowth of the Ordinance of Secession. It was when the Convention began to stray into such matters as the state militia, volunteer units and the issuance of state bonds, that they were called to account by the cooperationists. These were legislative matters, and until a new constitution was actually adopted, the Constitution of 1819 remained the framework for Alabama government, and the General Assembly held sole power over such matters as these. But, the Assembly was not scheduled to meet again until November and an alarmed Governor Moore, ardent secessionist though he was, summoned the Assembly into a Called (Special) Session on January 14th, in order to maintain some semblance of separation between the intended powers of the Convention and the constitutional powers of the Assembly, and more expediently, to pass an Act enabling the State to borrow $2 million for the purpose of purchasing arms and ammunition.
Yancey, however, was focused on a larger stage and on January 17th, succeeded in obtaining passage of a Resolution inviting delegates from all the slaveholding states to assemble in Montgomery for the purposes of forming a provisional confederated government. In addition to the other ten states that would eventually form the Confederacy, the invitation also went to the slaveholding states of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky. Historians have offered a variety of factors that resulted in the selection of Montgomery as the provisional Capital of the Confederacy. When South Carolina passed its Ordinance of Secession in December, 1860, it called on other slaveholding states to entertain the notion of convening together for the formation of a confederacy, but no location was proposed in that entreaty. It has been hinted that South Carolina's Robert Barnwell Rhett advocated Montgomery, owing to his deep friendship with Yancey. Others have noted Alabama's central location in the Deep South, and its adequate rail network. All of these were contributing factors, and the commissioner that South Carolina sent to observe Alabama's Convention, Andrew P. Calhoun, did in fact mention Montgomery as a possible site. On the face of it, Montgomery may well have landed the seat of the provisional Confederate government because it, in essence, selected itself by simply being the first to invite delegates to assemble in the city for that purpose.
Yancey's Resolution provided that each state select delegates equal to its former representation in the United States Congress. It stipulated that the Alabama Convention select its nine delegates, one from each of the seven congressional districts, and two at-large. Accordingly, at noon, January 18th, the Convention selected Richard Wilde Walker, Robert H. Smith, Colin J. McRae, William P. Chilton, Stephen F. Hale, David P. Lewis, Thomas Fearn, John Gill Shorter and Jabez L. M. Curry as its delegates to the convention of seceded states. The Alabama delegation was an interesting, yet diverse, group: Richard Wilde Walker, 38, son of Territorial Assembly Speaker, John Williams Walker, had been Speaker himself, 1855-56, and was a sitting Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court at the time of his selection by the Convention; Robert Hardy Smith, 47, was a former teacher and member of the Alabama House of Representatives. In the preceding year, he had been Governor Moore's Commissioner to North Carolina; Colin John McRae, 49, a prosperous Mobile cotton merchant, had once served in the Mississippi legislature; William Parish Chilton, 51, was at the time of his selection, serving across the Rotunda of the Capitol in the Alabama Senate, and had previously served as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court - after the war, the Assembly named Chilton County for him; Stephen Fowler Hale, 45, was, a sitting member of the Alabama House of Representatives and, like Chilton, was at the Capitol for its Called Session. In the previous year, he had served as Governor Moore's Commissioner to Kentucky. A fighting man at heart, Hale had served in the Mexican War of the mid-1840's, and a year and a half after his selection by the Convention, would die while serving with the 11th Alabama regiment at Gaines Mill, Virginia. In 1866, the Assembly named Hale County in his honor; David Peter Lewis, 41, was a member of the Convention from Lawrence County and, one week before his selection, had voted against the Ordinance of Secession. He served briefly as a delegate to the Confederate Congress, before resigning. During the War, he quietly slipped through the lines northward. After the War, he returned to Alabama, became a Republican and served as Governor, 1872-74; Dr. Thomas Fearn, at the age of 72, had witnessed all of Alabama history. A resident of Huntsville, he was perhaps Alabama's most prominent physician, had served as a surgeon in the War of 1812 and the Creek Wars of 1813-14, studied at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, and served in the Alabama House of Representatives, 1822-29; John Gill Shorter, 43, was a sitting circuit judge, a former member of each house of the General Assembly, and had recently served as Governor Moore's Commissioner to Georgia. He would serve as one of Alabama's wartime Governors, 1861-63; Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, 36, was preparing to resign his seat in Congress at the time of his selection. Leaving one Congress for another, he served in the Confederate Congress until 1864, at which time he joined the fighting himself. After the war, he became Alabama's foremost proponent of educational improvements and served as President Grover Cleveland's Minister to Spain. In 1903, a statue of him was placed in Congress' Statuary Hall, at the U. S. Capitol.
Three days later, a drama of different proportions played out in the Congress of the United States. Members from the seceding states had designated January 21st, as the day of their mass resignations. One by one, Southern members of the House and Senate stood in the well of each, making their resignation speeches. In the Senate, Benjamin Fitzpatrick, former Governor of Alabama, and President Pro-Tem of the United States Senate, 1857-60, offered his good-byes, followed by Senator Clement C. Clay, Jr., son of Clement Comer Clay, who had chaired the Committee of Fifteen which drafted the Constitution of 1819, as a pre-requisite to Alabama statehood. In the House, Representatives James A. Stallworth, James L. Pugh, David Clopton, Sydenham Moore, George S. Houston and Jabez L. M. Curry did likewise. Only Williamson R. W. Cobb, that old Jacksonian populist of Bellefonte, did not join. Cobb was his own man, and would be no mere follower in the massive walkout. Instead, he waited nine days and on January 30th, this sole representative from Alabama submitted his own resignation.
Meanwhile, frictions of a different sort were coming to the surface in the Capitol at Montgomery. Having been called into Session by Governor Moore, the General Assembly attempted to halt the galloping legislative powers being assumed by the Constitutional Convention. Seeking some compromise, leaders of both entities appointed a joint committee to discriminate between the duties of the two bodies. Reporting on January 22nd, the Committee concluded that the convention should confine itself to changes in the state's organic law. But, the secessionist impetus of the Convention was too overwhelming. The report was tabled in the Convention, and for all intents and purposes, the Assembly was ignored. As McMillan states in Constitutional Development: "It was generally recognized that the power of the convention was superior to that of the legislature and in calling the convention the legislature authorized it to do whatever it found necessary to protect the 'rights, interests, and honor of the State.'"
To its credit, the Convention did address the issue of fundamental changes to the Constitution. On January 24th, the Committee of Nine made its report and many of its recommendations were adopted and incorporated into the final Constitution. Many of the changes made mirrored those advocated in the 1850's. The legislature reverted to annual sessions, limited to 30 days; a prohibition was inserted against passage of any special laws for the benefit of persons or corporations who could obtain similar relief through the court system; the legislature, except by two-thirds vote, was prohibited from incurring debt except for military purposes, an issue widely propounded in the previous decade; the state was given the right of eminent domain; divorce cases, previously requiring legislative action, were transferred to the jurisdiction of chancery courts; the Assembly retained its power to elect the secretary of state, state treasurer and comptroller of public accounts, but was required to do so biennially; and, emancipation of slaves was prohibited for any reason. The Declaration of Rights, embodied in the Constitution of 1819, was left untouched.
On January 29th, the Convention adjourned to meet again on March 4th, in order to wait upon whatever actions the provisional meeting of seceding states might take in their February 4th convention. The Assembly, meanwhile, stayed in session through February 9th.
As it was, the months of January through March were a period of intense activity in the Capitol, as the following meeting schedule suggests:
Constitutional Convention: January 7 - January 29, then March 4 - 21.
General Assembly: January 14 - February 9.
Provisional Confederate Congress: February 4 - March 16.
Altogether, there were 100 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 133 members of the General Assembly (100 House, 33 Senate), and eventually over 40 delegates to the provisional Confederate Congress. The House and the Constitutional Convention worked out a schedule for use of the House Chamber, but when the provisional Confederate Congress assembled in the Senate Chamber on February 4th, the Alabama Senate yielded it for their use, and removed, for the duration of the Called Session, to the Supreme Court Chamber on the first floor of the Capitol. Considering the large number of officials, combined with the reported vast amount of spectators, the Capitol in those months must have been a sight to behold.
On Monday, February 4th, delegates from the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina assembled in the Senate Chamber of the State Capitol. Georgia had seceded on January 19th, Louisiana on the 26th. Howell Cobb, of Georgia, was elected President of the Provisional Congress. An original portrait of President George Washington, by Gilbert Stuart, was hung behind the President's chair. The body spent the remainder of the week in "secret session" adopting rules and awaiting a report from a special committee appointed to draft a Constitution. In separate resolutions, passed January 25th and 28th respectively, Alabama's delegation was instructed to vote to keep the Mississippi River open to navigation, except against unfriendly belligerents, and to oppose any re-opening of the African Slave Trade.
Meeting also that day, was the Alabama General Assembly, which passed an appropriation of $500,000 for use of the Congress and the Provisional Government.
Late on the evening of Friday, February 8th, the convention adopted a provisional Constitution, using the United States Constitution as its basis - an instrument that William Lowndes Yancey had called "the Ark of the Covenant of liberties." Among its features, it provided the President with a single six-year term and the power to veto individual items of appropriations bills. Members of the President's Cabinet were eligible to debate issues on the floor of the Congress. Slavery was "recognized and protected", but the re-opening of the African slave trade was prohibited, as were the protective tariff and aid for internal improvements. The next day, Saturday, February 9th, the Convention elected former Secretary of War and Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis as President of the newly-formed Confederate States of America. Alexander H. Stephens, of Georgia, was elected as Vice-President. Davis arrived in Montgomery on February 17th, and was inaugurated the following day.
On February 23rd, Texas seceded, and its delegates joined the convention in Montgomery, March 2nd.
On March 4th, the Alabama Constitutional Convention reconvened in the Hall of the House of Representatives of the Capitol. In the Senate Chamber, the Provisional Confederate Government received a report from its special committee charged with designing a flag for the new nation. Known as the "Stars and Bars", the flag was raised over the Capitol that day by Miss Letitia Christian Tyler, granddaughter of former President John Tyler. It was no mere coincidence that this date was chosen. In Washington, D.C., Abraham Lincoln was being inaugurated as the country's 16th President. Because of the constitutional provision for elections and terms of office, Lincoln could only stand aside throughout the months of December, January and February, as one Southern state after another seceded.
The Alabama Constitutional Convention wasted no time in revising the Ordinances previously passed in January. Those that transferred federal property to state hands, now relinquished them to the Confederate government. Across the rotunda, in the Senate Chamber, the Provisional Confederate Congress finalized its constitution, and adopted it on March 11th. The final document designated Montgomery as the provisional Capital of the Confederacy, to be removed only by vote of the Congress. Ratification of the constitution was contingent upon approval of five Confederate states.
On March 12th, the Alabama Constitutional Convention ratified the Confederate Constitution, over the objections of the cooperationists, who once again demanded that ratification be put before the people. Again, the secessionist majority asserted that the Convention was given the right, in the legislative enabling act, to do whatever necessary in the interests of the people. Finally, having lost even this cause, many of the cooperationists yielded. The final vote on ratification was 87-5. The Ordinance ratifying the Confederate Constitution was placed in the new Alabama Constitution.
On March 16th, the Provisional Confederate Congress adjourned. It would meet again, in a Called Session, April 29 - May 21, but this session would be the last Montgomery would see of the Confederate government. On the final day of its called session, May 21st, the Congress voted to remove the Capital to Richmond, Virginia.
On March 20th, the Alabama Constitutional Convention gave final ratification to the Constitution of 1861. Again, the issue of submission of the constitution to the people was debated, and again, defeated. But, the man who had done so much to bring about the Convention, and then dominate it, was not there for its final ratification. William Lowndes Yancey had, only a few days before, resigned from the Convention upon being appointed a Confederate Commissioner to seek allies in Western Europe. A year later, he was in the Confederate Senate, where he remained until his death in July, 1863. He was succeeded in that office by his old cooperationist adversary, Robert Jemison.
The Constitution of 1861 became operable upon its adoption by the Convention, and the Convention adjourned the next day, March 21st.
Through almost three stormy months, the Alabama State Capitol had witnessed both state and national history being made, and now had not only a new state Constitution, but a new federal one as well.