The Confederate States of America, the title of the independent government, formed by the seceding Southern States at the opening of the American Civil War, in the winter of 1860-1861. These States contained roughly half the population of the Northern States which remained in the Union. In proportion to their population they had played a more important part in the previous political history of the United States than was their share. The formation of the new Confederacy was in the hands of experienced statesmen, well schooled in the politics of their respective states and in the halls of the Federal Congress to undertake such a task.
The personnel of the Confederate congress and administration was materially weakened by the military field's drawing off the most brilliant Southern leaders. It was largely owing to the strategical skill of these generals that the Southern armies, smaller and more poorly equipped than their opponents, maintained the unequal contest for four years. In the naval operations the North had an overwhelming advantage, which was promptly and effectively used.
During the entire war the notion that the South possessed a most efficient engine of war in its monopoly of cotton buoyed up the hopes of the Southerners, The government strained every effort to secure recognition of the Confederacy as a nation by the great powers of Europe. It also more successfully secured foreigners' financial recognition of the South by effecting a foreign loan based on cotton. This favourite notion was put into practice in the spring of 1863. The French banking house of Erlanger & Company undertook to float a loan of £3,000,000, redeemable after the war in cotton at the rate of sixpence a pound. As cotton at the time was selling at nearly four times that figure and would presumably be quoted far above sixpence long after the establishment of peace, the bonds offered strong attractions to those specula lively inclined and in sympathy with the Southern cause.
The placing of the bonds in Europe was mismanaged by the Confederate agents, but notwithstanding a considerable sum was secured from the public and used for the purchase of naval and military stores. It was proposed at that time that a loan of fifty times as much should be offered abroad in order to secure in foreign countries financial interest in the success of the Confederate arms, and also to give ground for interference in the American strife by the governments of France and England. Mr. Davis's government had not the courage to make this attempt, and those who had invested in his foreign securities eventually lost their money. At the close of the war these foreign bonds were ignored by the re-established Federal authorities like all the other bonds of the Confederate government.
Compared with the partial success of this financial recognition by Europe, the South conspicuously failed in securing the political recognition of the Confederate government. Early in 1861 W. L. Yanccy and others went to Europe to enlist the sympathy of foreign governments in the Southern cause. J. M. Mason and John Slidcll followed early in 1862, after a short detention by the Federal government, which had removed them from a British vessel en route to Europe. Though these Confederate commissioners made every effort to induce foreign governments, especially those of Great Britain and France, to recognize the Confederacy, they were foiled in their efforts, largely by the skill and persistence of the Federal minister in London, Charles Francis Adams.
The political history of the Confederate States is the culmination of an inevitable conflict, the beginnings of which are found in the earlier history of the Union. The financial and industrial history of the South during 1861 to 1865 is the story of a struggle with overwhelming odds. The mistakes of the Confederate government's policy arc overshadowed by its desperate efforts to maintain itself against the irresistible attacks of the North. In making that effort the South sacrificed everything, and emerged from the war a financial and industrial wreck.
The government degenerated into a military despotism, the act of habeas corpus was suspended, conscriptions grew severer, until all the white male population between 17 and 55 years of age was enrolled in subjection to military orders. Congress usually sat in secret session, but in November, 1864, it fell into useless criminations and complaints of Mr. Davis, and into an impotency which left all the vitality of the Confederacy to the President and General Lee.
The overthrow of the Confederate troops in the field put an end to the existence of the Confederate States of America. On the surrender of Lee, Mr. Davis and his cabinet fled from Richmond, some of them abandoning the country. Mr. Davis was taken prisoner in Georgia while on his way to the sea-coast of Florida. The last of the Confederate armies to surrender was that of General Kirby Smith, in the country west of the Mississippi, on the 26th of May, 1865.
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