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Convention of Seceding States
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Politics
Convention of Seceding States
As delegates arrived in Montgomery, Alabama for the Convention of Seceding States Governor Pickens of South Carolina wired to let them know the situation at Fort Sumter was in hand and he did not expect it to flare up unless James Buchanan tried to reinforce the fort again. Reassured about Sumter, the politicians from six states could work on forming a government.
Just before the delegates began arriving on the weekend of February 2nd and 3rd, 1861, a seventh state, Texas, was completing its process of secession. They, too, would send delegates to participate in the convention. The largest delegation came from Georgia. Among its members were Alexander Stephens, Robert Toombs, and Howell Cobb, easily the most distinguished group of gentlemen attending. Only South Carolina's Robert Barnwell Rhett could be considered a peer to the nationally distinguished Georgians.
Delegates from South Carolina gave off a distinct impression of dissatisfaction with Rhett, who was their leader. It may have been because of an edict not permitting them to caucus before the convention, but it was most probably Rhett's tendency toward arrogance that drove them away. Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi met beforehand to determine as much as possible out of the public eye and came to Montgomery with plans on forming a Confederation. Rhett did bring one man, his cousin Robert Barnwell, who did not share the others distaste that William Poarcher Miles, James Chestnut, Chistopher Memminger, and Lawrence Keitt had. Wiley Harris had the strong support as leader of his fellow Mississippians as there leader. J. L. M. Curry was the most noted of the Alabama delegation and Lousiana had a delegation of 1, but he was Alexander deCoulet, a noted moderate.
The first discussions centered on the business of the convention. Mississippi felt that its legislators had not given it the power to create a country and urged returning any proposal back to the state bodies for approval, the Mississippi Plan. deCoulet proposed creating a provisional government, known as the Louisiana Plan. Georgia delegates used the problems at Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens to push for the creation of a country, known as the Georgia Plan. This involved the creation of a provisional government until the citizens could establish an elected one.
The Georgia Plan called for the adoption of the United States Constitution as is. There are a number of legal reasons for doing this, most notably the concept of precedence. The argument met with opposition because delegates were concerned that Virginia and Kentucky might not join them if the convention adopted the Constitution as is. Georgia, however, was pushing the plan because anything else would run the risk of not passing in Georgia. Stephens and Toombs were both aware that Georgia Governor Joseph Brown had illegally altered their January 1st vote for a state-wide convention on secession.
Persuasive as ever, Toombs and Stephens won a majority of South Carolinians over to their way of thinking, much to Rhett's chagrin. The Georgia Plan passed and with the intent of the convention decided it began laying the groundwork for creating a government.
First, Howell Cobb was chosen as president of the Convention. Cobb's choice came about for a number of reasons. The Georgia politician had been Speaker of the House before successfully running for Governor of Georgia on a pro-Union ticket. As James Buchanan's Secretary of the Treasury, Cobb started as a Unionist and finished as a secessionist. Cobb turned to Alexander Stephens to craft the rules of the convention. Stephens began by insisting that it wasn't a convention but a congress. He also pushed through an amazing set of floor rules including one requiring a single delegate from a majority of the states for a quorum.
Among the changes made by the body that differentiated it from the United States:
The document passed in the convention 6-0 on February 8.
Now came the time to choose a president. The obvious choice would have been John Breckinridge, a moderate who swept the Deep South in The Election of 1860. Young and charismatic, he was still Vice-President of the United States and would not commit to secession (at least not until March 5, when his term was up). R. M. T. Hunter of Virginia was also considered. He, too, had been Speaker of the House and U. S. Senator with a strong states rights stance, but Virginia had not yet joined the Rebellion and some had a bad opinion of Hunter - they felt he changed his mind a little too often.
Robert Toombs was a possibility, but he was a radical southern nationalist ("Fire-eater"), which alienated most of the moderates and abrasive which alienated the rest. Toombs was also a heavy drinker. Other fire-eaters were also considered including William Yancey and Robert Barnwell Rhett. Toombs friend Alexander Stephens was a problem as well - he did not support secession until after the states had seceded.
Jefferson Davis was the favorite of the Mississippi delegation and as others were discarded, Davis loomed larger and larger as the man to choose. He had a distinguished military career including a term as Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, he was a respected U. S. Senator and a moderate, only succumbing to secession early in 1860. He had experience dealing with foreign countries and he was not at the convention/congress so the other delegates couldn't see his flaws.
Of course, the selection wasn't cut and dried - politicians had to have intrigue and secret meetings in hotel rooms and bars, attempting to take support away from Davis. Tom Cobb and Francis Bartow tried to swing delegates towards Howell Cobb, but the movement failed. When Davis responded that he would accept the presidency if offered, his support in the convention swelled. In the end it was Stephens own "one state one vote" rule that probably cost Georgia the presidency.
When it came time to vote on February 9, Francis Bartow, Tom Cobb and Howell Cobb left the room. Toombs promoted Stephens for Vice-President and the Davis-Stephens ticket and they were selected. Because there was no direct route from Vicksburg (Davis's home) to Montgomery, the new President would have to travel 700 miles to accept the nomination. During the seven days that it took him to get to the Confederate capital, Alexander Stephens served as president.
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Convention of Seceding States was last changed on - November 14, 2006
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