Jefferson Davis becomes president of the Confederate States of America
Confederacy passes Conscription ActU.S. Congress passes Confiscation Act
Bread riots in Richmond, Virginia
President of the Confederacy; struggled throughout the war to unify the Southern states under their central government
A feeling of triumph erupted throughout the South when the Confederate government was formed in 1861. A sense of liberation pervaded the secessionist states, as Southerners believed they could finally be free from the tyrannous North, which sought to undermine the slave-based economy and Southern way of life. Most secessionists saw themselves as neopatriots, carrying on the revolutionary tradition of their forefathers to safeguard liberty. Many in the South saw Lincoln as the new King George III of Britain and viewed the South as the righteous underdog.
Southerners were also optimistic about their chances of winning the war. They realized that the North would have to fight an offensive war on Southern territory, whereas the South had only to fight a limited war to defeat Union armies or match them in a stalemate. As a result, many Southerners saw victory as inevitable.
Delegates from the first seven states to secede—South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Texas, and Louisiana—formed the government of the new Confederate States of America in Montgomery, Alabama, in February 1861. They wrote a new constitution, established a new capital at Richmond, and chose Jefferson Davis as president.
Although the government of the Confederacy looked on the surface much like the government of the United States—the Confederacy used the U.S. Constitution as a template—the two were in reality quite different. As states’ righters, the drafters of the Confederate constitution made sure that their federal government was relatively weaker than the governments of the individual states. Whereas the United States was a federation of states bound by a strong central government, the South was a decentralized confederation of states loosely allied with each other for common defense. In many ways, the Confederacy resembled the United States under the Articles of Confederation. As it turned out, though, the Confederacy’s weak central government proved to be a major handicap during the war.
Although Davis had had more political experience than Lincoln—he had served as secretary of war and as a U.S. senator—he proved an ineffective commander-in-chief. Unlike Lincoln, he underestimated the importance of public opinion and as a result did not connect well with voters. Moreover, his nervousness and refusal to delegate authority alienated many of his cabinet secretaries, cabinet members, and state governors. As a result, he often had difficulty controlling his government.
The Confederacy’s greatest weakness was the difficulty Davis’s government had in controlling the individual states—the same problem the national Congress had faced under the Articles of Confederation. Though Davis attempted to assemble a national army to match the powerful Union forces, the Southern states did not work together to facilitate the undertaking, and Davis had no real way to force the state governors to comply and send men. As the war dragged on, some governors even refused to let their troops cross state lines to assist fellow Confederates who needed backup.