Some Surprising Facts About The Confederacy
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
In recent years it has become increasingly fashionable in some circles, especially on college campuses and in the media, to demonize anything and everything related to the Confederate States of America (CSA). Some critics have gone so far as to compare the Confederacy to Nazi Germany. Many politicians and liberal groups have sought to erase any trace of Confederate heritage. They’ve labeled the Confederate flag as a “loathsome, offensive” symbol and have tried to ban its display on public property. They’ve also campaigned to rename public schools, roads, buildings and parks that are named after Confederate heroes. In some towns, liberal groups have worked to prevent the Confederate flag from even being flown over the graves of Confederate soldiers in public cemeteries. In response to the ongoing campaign to demonize Confederate heritage, I offer the following facts about the Confederacy:
1. By the latter part of 1864 the CSA was moving toward ending slavery. In fact, there are indications that the Confederacy would have ended slavery even if it had survived the war, as prominent historians like J. G. Randall and David Donald have acknowledged (see Randall and Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction, Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1969, p. 522).
Critics will reply that the CSA only began to move toward emancipation as an act of desperation in the face of imminent defeat. If so, this proves that Southern independence was more important to Confederate leaders than was the continuation of slavery, that when push came to shove they were willing to abandon slavery in order to achieve independence.
However, this being duly noted, it should be pointed out that it was by no means clear in late 1864 that Southern defeat was imminent. Historians Herman Hattaway and Richard Beringer note that even in February 1865, just two months before the war ended, "a considerable degree of determination and high morale did still persist" in the South (Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, University Press of Kansas, 2002, p. 357). Militarily speaking, the situation was far from hopeless in late 1864. Even when the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered in April 1865, the situation was not completely hopeless. At the end of the war, fewer than one-third of Confederate troops on active duty were deployed against either of the two main Union armies. One of the arguments made by Southern leaders who opposed the arming and freeing of slaves was that the South's situation did not yet require such a measure. There is certainly room for debate about the CSA’s military prospects after the fall of Atlanta in September 1864. It’s also true that Confederate leaders felt that using slaves as soldiers was a matter of urgent military necessity. However, few if any Confederate leaders believed the South would be defeated by April if they didn’t arm and emancipate the slaves. George Rable noted that even after the fall of Richmond "a belief that somehow independence could yet be won persisted" (in Hattaway and Beringer, Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, p. 357). Historian Robert F. Durden of Duke University echoed the observations of Hattaway, Beringer, and Rable:
Wracked though the Southerners were with the agony of a war they were losing, most Confederates, contrary to those persons who prefer to read history backward, did not know in November 1864 that they were beaten. (The Gray and the Black: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation, Louisiana Paperback Edition, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2000, reprint of 1972 edition, p. 101)
One could correctly observe that the only reason the Union started using black troops was that Union casualties were mounting and that Northern resistance to the draft was increasing. One could also point out that Lincoln strongly resisted using black troops until intense pressure from the Radical Republicans coupled with mounting Union casualties caused him to change his mind. Even after Lincoln agreed to the use of free blacks and ex-slaves as troops, he refused to give them equal pay until forced to do so by Congress.
In his book Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 2000), African-American author Lerone Bennett presents evidence that Lincoln only issued the Emancipation Proclamation in response to increasing pressure from the Radicals and in order to blunt the effect of a more drastic confiscation measure that Congress had already passed. Bennett also discusses evidence that Lincoln worked to minimize the effects of the proclamation almost as soon as he issued it.
In the American Revolution, the Continental Army only began to use black troops as an act of desperation because the army was running short of soldiers and because the British had offered freedom to American slaves who would fight in the British army (Henry Wiencick, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003, pp. 196-22; James and Lois Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 55-71). George Washington initially barred blacks from enlisting in the army. He relented because he was desperate for more soldiers, because white enlistment was falling dramatically. (Wiencick, An Imperfect God, pp. 196-227). Even then, some New England militias continued to bar blacks from enlistment. It took the Continental Congress two years to formally agree to black enlistment. Another factor that influenced the decision to use slaves and free blacks as soldiers in the Continental Army was the fact that thousands of American slaves were flocking to British lines in response to the British offer of emancipation.
I might add that after the Revolutionary War, American negotiators insisted on a provision in the treaty that ended the war, the Treaty of Paris, that the British return any American slaves who had fled to British lines during the war. One of those negotiators was none other than John Adams. In fact, Adams warmly endorsed the provision (Wiencick, An Imperfect God, p. 254). To their credit, the British later violated this provision and evacuated thousands of slaves with them when they left America.
I might also add that when it began to appear that the British weren't going to return the runaway American slaves, George Washington demanded a meeting with the British general who was in charge of enforcing the Treaty of Paris during the evacuation from New York, General Guy Carleton. Washington tried to persuade Carleton to honor the treaty provision on the return of runaway slaves. To his credit, Carleton stood his ground and refused to hand over the slaves. Carleton said the Americans could apply for compensation for the slaves, but that he would not return them. Carleton insisted the slaves were now free and that it would bring dishonor on England to return them after promising them safe refuge. Lord North, the British prime minister, called Carleton's stand "an act of justice." King George III himself voiced support for Carleton's action "in the fullest and most ample manner." One very rarely finds any mention of these facts in American history books.
The American colonies’ policies on black troops during the Revolutionary War and their insistence on the return of American slaves after the war are admittedly embarrassing and contrary to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. However, to my knowledge, no American historian has expressed regret that the Americans won the war.
2. The Confederate president himself, Jefferson Davis, came to strongly support ending slavery. So did CSA Secretary of State Judah Benjamin, Governor William Smith of Virginia, and leading CSA Congressmen Ethelbert Barksdale and Duncan Kenner (who was one of the largest slaveholders in the South).
3. The CSA's two highest ranking generals, Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston, both disliked slavery and supported emancipation in various forms. Lee called slavery "a moral and political evil." Johnston called it "a curse." (Johnston initially opposed using slaves as soldiers only because he feared it would be disruptive and ineffective, not because he had any sympathy for slavery. He later came to support the proposal.) Other Confederate generals who supported emancipation included General Daniel Govan, General John Kelly, and General Mark Lowrey.
4. The majority of Confederate generals did not own slaves and did not come from slaveholding families (Hattaway and Beringer, Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, p. 37).
5. Thousands of African Americans, Hispanics, and Indians fought for the Confederacy. Many of the slaves who served in the Confederate army did so because they hoped that by doing so they would be granted freedom after the war or because they were specifically promised freedom if they would serve. The same was true of most of the slaves who fought for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
The chief inspector of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Dr. Lewis Steiner, reported that he saw about 3,000 well-armed black Confederate soldiers in Stonewall Jackson’s army--he added that those soldiers were "manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army" (Issac W. Heysinger, Antietam and the Maryland and Virginia Campaigns of 1862, New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1912, pp. 122-123; cf. John J. Dwyer, general editor, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War, Denton, Texas: Bluebonnet Press, 2005, p. 409).
Three Confederate states authorized free blacks to enlist in state militia units. The first to do so was Tennessee, which passed a law on June 21, 1861, authorizing the recruitment of state militia units composed of "free persons of color" between the ages of 15 and 50. In 1862, Louisiana assembled the all-black 1st Louisiana Native Guard, and Alabama authorized the enlistment of creoles for a state militia unit in Mobile.
6. The Confederate Congress specified that black soldiers in the Confederate army were to receive the same pay, rations, and clothing that white soldiers received. In contrast, black soldiers in the Union army were paid much less than white soldiers were paid for over a year. The Union army began using former slaves and free blacks as soldiers in September 1862. They were paid $7 per month. Technically, they were paid $10 a month, but they were forced to pay a clothing allowance of $3, which meant their net monthly pay was only $7. White soldiers, on the other hand, received $13 per month and were not forced to pay a clothing allowance. Thus, in the Union army white soldiers were paid nearly twice as much as black soldiers were paid. Black Union soldiers didn’t start receiving equal pay until June 1864. When the Confederate Congress authorized the recruitment of slaves as soldiers, it stipulated that they were to receive “the same rations, clothing and compensation as are allowed to other troops” (An Act to Increase the Military Force of the Confederate States, March 13, 1865, Section 3). In addition, when the Confederate Congress authorized salaries for black musicians in the Confederate army in 1862, it specified that they were to receive the same pay as white army musicians, stating "whenever colored persons are employed as musicians in any regiment or company, they shall be entitled to the same pay now allowed by law to musicians regularly enlisted."
7. According to the 1860 census, only 31 percent of Southern families owned slaves. Seventy-five percent of the families that owned slaves, owned less than ten and often worked side by side with them in the fields. Approximately half of the free blacks in America lived in the South. The percentage of Southern citizens who held slaves was probably no more than 25 percent (some scholars put the percentage as low as 10 percent).
8. The Confederate Constitution allowed for the admission of free states to the Confederacy, banned the overseas slave trade, and permitted Confederate states to abolish slavery within their borders if they wanted to do so. During the Confederate debate on emancipation, both sides readily acknowledged that under the Confederate Constitution each state had the absolute right to abolish slavery within its borders (see, for example, Durden, The Gray and the Black, pp. 98, 115, 170,195).
9. The Confederate Constitution protected every right for its citizens that the U.S. Constitution protected for U.S. citizens, if not more (Charles Roland, The Confederacy, University of Chicago Press, 1960, pp. 25-27; see also below). Even during the war, the Confederacy held free elections and enjoyed a vibrant free press (William J. Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, Vintage Books Edition, New York: Vintage Books, 2001, pp. 349-519; see also below).
10. The Confederate Constitution contained added protections against runaway government spending, excessive taxation, and harmful protective tariffs. Historian Allan Nevins said the following about the Confederate Constitution:
It differed from the old national model chiefly in its emphasis on State rights. . . . The general welfare clauses were omitted. Any Confederate official acting within the limits of a State might be impeached by the State legislature, though the Constitution, laws made under it, and treaties were declared “the supreme law of the land”. . . .
The most remarkable features of the new instrument sprang from the purifying and reforming zeal of the delegates, who hoped to create a more guarded and virtuous government than that of Washington. The President was to hold office six years, and be ineligible for reelection. Expenditures were to be limited by a variety of careful provisions, and the President was given budgetary control over appropriations which Congress could break only by a two-thirds vote.
Subordinate employees were protected against the forays of the spoils system. No bounties were ever to be paid out of the Treasury, no protective tariff was to be passed, and no post office deficit was to be permitted. . . . Some of these changes were unmistakable improvements, and the spirit behind all of them was an earnest desire to make government more honest and efficient. (Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln, Ordeal of the Union, Volume 2, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950, p. 435)
11. Unlike the federal government, the Confederate government did not imprison well over 10,000 of its own citizens without due process in order to suppress internal dissent (some scholars suggest the number of illegally imprisoned citizens was close to 30,000); it did not shut down the legislatures of two of its states because the citizens in those states elected anti-war majorities; it did not arrest members of a state legislature to prevent the legislature from even discussing a policy it didn’t like; it did not shut down over 300 newspapers for expressing "unpatriotic views"; it did not jail dozens of newspaper editors for expressing "unpatriotic views"; and it did not impose military rule on areas that were far removed from combat in order to suppress internal dissent. The federal government did all these things and more.
The Confederacy showed an amazing degree of respect for civil rights during the war. Renowned Civil War scholar (and pro-Lincoln biographer) David Donald has observed that the Confederacy was "astonishingly libertarian" and that "disloyal elements throughout the South had almost unrestricted freedom." His comments on the Confederacy’s respect for civil rights and on the contrast between the Confederacy’s policies and the Lincoln Administration’s policies deserve to be quoted at length:
If we could free ourselves of the notion that democracy (a “good” thing) must inevitably have been connected with the winning (hence “good”) Lincoln government, we would discover abundant evidence that the Confederacy, not the Union, represented the democratic forces in American life.
The democratic tendencies of the Confederacy were all too plainly reflected in its army. . . .
The Confederacy’s tolerance of democracy was not confined to military affairs. In civil rights, too, the South had an astonishingly libertarian record. Though engaged in deadly war, the Davis government preserved the traditional rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom from arbitrary arrest. . . .
Both Davis and his government were subjected to tirades of abuse. Davis, said T. R. R. Cobb of Georgia, was “the embodiment and concentration of cowardly littleness. . . .” The editor of the influential Richmond Examiner, E. A. Pollard, described Davis as “a literary dyspeptic who had more ink than blood in his veins, an intriguer, busy with private enmities.” Robert Toombs, the Confederacy’s first Secretary of State, declared: “Davis’s incapacity is lamentable. . . .” “How God has afflicted us with a ruler!” exclaimed Linton Stephens, the Vice President’s brother, a leader in the Georgia House of Representatives. “He is a little, conceited, hypocritical, sniveling, canting, malicious, ambitious, dogged, knave and fool.”
Not one of these, nor any of the other critics, of the Confederate President had his liberty of utterance impaired. . . . “When Davis’s advisers were to urge that anti-Administration papers be restrained, he would not hear of it,” Hudson Strode points out. “As a democrat, he believed in maintaining complete freedom of the press.” It is true that in January 1862, the Confederate Congress did pass a law forbidding the publication of unauthorized news of troop movements, but even this slight regulation was bitterly protested and flagrantly ignored. No Southern newspaper was ever suppressed by the Confederate government for its opinions, however critical or demoralizing. The ardent wish of Secretary of War George W. Randolph was realized: that “this revolution may be . . . closed without suppression of one single newspaper in the Confederate States.”
More significant militarily was the Confederacy’s insistence upon maintaining the cherished legal rights of freedom from arbitrary arrest and upon preserving due process of law. This sentiment was so strong that, though the Confederacy was invaded and Richmond was actually endangered, President Davis did not dare institute martial law until he had received the permission of his Congress. While General George B. McClellan was about to assault the Confederate capital in 1862, the Southern Congress debated the question and concluded that their President was “subject to the Constitution and to the laws enacted by Congress in pursuance of the Constitution. He can exert no power inconsistent with law, and, therefore, he cannot declare martial law.” Grudgingly Congress permitted Davis to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus [protection against arbitrary arrest and denial of due process] for three brief periods—once when McClellan was within sight of Richmond, again during the Fredericksburg-Chancellorsville threat, and once more when [General Ulysses] Grant was pushing through the Wilderness. Even then he was allowed to suspend the writ only in limited areas, not throughout the Confederacy. When he came to Congress for a renewal of his authority during the grim winter of 1864-1865, he was refused. . . .
The result, of course, was that disloyal elements throughout the South had almost unrestricted freedom.
(Donald, "Died of Democracy," in Donald, editor, Why the North Won the Civil War, Touchstone Edition, New York: Touchstone, 1996, pp. 82, 86-88)
Donald then examines the federal government’s very different approach to civil rights, noting that “in comparison with the Confederacy, the Union government did curtail civil liberties” (Why the North Won the Civil War, p. 88). Says Donald,
As soon as the fighting started, President Lincoln, without delaying to consult Congress, suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, at first for a small area of the East, later for the entire nation. At a subsequent date he reported his fait accompli to Congress. . . . Congress had little choice but to ratify, and the disloyal citizen [i.e., the citizen who opposed Lincoln and/or the war] had no alternative but to acquiesce. Thousands of citizens were imprisoned in the North for alleged disloyalty or sedition. They were arrested upon a presidential warrant and were kept incarcerated without due process of law. It did the disaffected citizen no good to go to court for a writ of habeas corpus to end his arbitrary arrest. On orders from President Lincoln himself, the military guard imprisoning him refused to recognize a judicial writ even when it came from Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.
Freedom of the press was also seriously abridged in the North. . . . Over three hundred Northern newspapers were suppressed, for varying periods, because they opposed the [Lincoln] administration’s policies or favored stopping the war. . . . (Why the North Won the Civil War, pp. 88-89)
Donald further notes that political democracy thrived in the Confederacy, and that the record was quite different in the North under Lincoln:
Political democracy, too, was unimpaired in the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis took care to abridge no Southerner’s political rights. Elected provisional president through no solicitation of his own, reelected as the first—and only—regular President of the Confederacy, Davis did not believe that he should interfere in politics, either to solicit votes for his friends or to win support for his measures. . . . When North Carolina held a critical gubernatorial election in 1864 to choose between Zebulon Vance, pledged to sustain the war effort, and William H. Holden, dedicated to withdrawing the state from the Confederacy and making an independent peace, Davis expressed no public preference between the candidates. Nor did he make any attempt to secure the defeat of Governor Joseph E. Brown, of Georgia, though Brown, with the backing of Vice President Stephens, did all he could to hamstring the Richmond government. . . . Davis did not try to replace his arch-rival, Stephens. . . .
The record of the Lincoln government is in marked contrast. Lincoln regularly used patronage to build up a political machine dedicated to supporting his policies. . . .
When Republican Governor O. P. Morgan of Indiana was faced in 1863 with a hostile Democratic majority in the state legislature [which majority that had been elected by the citizens of the state], which threatened to curb his appointing powers and his control of the state militia, the Republicans, by prearrangement, walked out of the chamber, leaving the legislature without a quorum and unable to transact any business. The Democrats then adjourned the session, believing that Morton, in order to carry on the government, must call them promptly back. Instead, the Indiana governor made a flying trip to Washington, saw Lincoln and Secretary of War E. M. Stanton, and returned to Indianapolis bearing $250,000 [about $47 million in today’s dollars] extracted from war department funds, on which he ran the state government until the next election, blithely ignoring constitutional regulations and majority rule.
Having learned a lesson from 1862, Lincoln was prepared to take a more active, preventive role in the presidential elections two years later. When he saw that the Northwestern states were going to show a closely balanced vote, he wrote in September 1864 to General W. T. Sherman, whose army was in a tight spot before Atlanta: “Any thing you can safely do to let soldiers, or any part of them, go home to vote at the State election, will be greatly in point.” Although Lincoln added that “this is, in no sense, an order,” he was clearly giving a directive, and it was one which Sherman promptly obeyed. The Republicans carried the Northwest by narrow majorities. In Pennsylvania, too, the Democrats were threatening, and it was found possible to furlough several thousands from Grant’s army before Richmond. Not all soldiers were Republicans, to be sure—but Democratic soldiers found it strangely difficult to secure furloughs.
In 1864 a number of Northern states permitted their soldiers to vote in the field. Republican canvassers were afforded every facility for getting to the front, but Democratic politicians were often harassed by long delays in Washington. (Why the North Won the Civil War, pp. 89-91)
Donald states that most Northern citizens supported the Union cause and either didn’t know or didn’t care “that freedom of the press was abridged or that arbitrary arrests were numerous.” Saying that “most” Northern citizens felt this way might be a bit of an overstatement, since Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 election, George McClellan, received 41 percent of the vote, in spite of everything the Republicans did to try to keep McClellan supporters from going to the polls. In any case, Donald correctly observes that “the test of civil liberties is not the freedom of the majority but that of the dissenter,” and that “in the Confederacy the dissenter retained his democratic rights down to Appomattox” (Why the North Won the Civil War, p. 89). Indeed, Donald argues that the real "weakness" of the Confederacy was that "the Southern people insisted upon retaining their democratic liberties in wartime" (Why the North Won the Civil War, p. 92).
12. Even though it was being invaded and ravaged, the Confederacy showed more respect for private property and limited government than did the federal government. Critics unfairly claim that the CSA became a highly centralized, micromanaging state, contrary to the doctrines of states' rights and limited government. For one thing, this is hardly a fair argument to begin with, since the Confederacy wouldn't have had to take any centralizing measures if it hadn't been invaded and ravaged. Furthermore, the federal government became highly centralized during the war and engaged in just as much micromanaging as did the Confederate government, if not more.
Moreover, the degree of CSA centralization has been somewhat misrepresented by critics. McPherson notes that while Republicans in the U.S. Congress gave Lincoln the power to seize all railroads at his discretion and that it established a bureau to build and manage railroads, the Confederate government “did not achieve similar control over southern railroads until May 1863 and thereafter rarely exercised this power” (The Battle Cry of Freedom, pp. 514-515). In fact, the Confederate Congress did not mandate strict wartime, emergency control over railroads, telegraph lines, and water transportation until February 1865 (Hattaway and Beringer, Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, p. 355).
Critics point out that the Confederate government resorted to impressment to support the war effort. But so did the federal government. When Confederate officials impressed goods, each impressing agent had to show written authority and had to issue the owner of the goods a certificate indicating the value of the goods that were being impressed.
In addition, when the Georgia supreme court ruled that major sections of the 1863 Act to Regulate Impressments were invalid within the state, the Confederate government respected the decision. Marshall DeRosa, a professor of political science, observes that the Confederate government's response to the Georgia supreme court's ruling was "conciliatory" and that there was no support in the Confederate Congress for any legislation that would force the state to comply with the entire impressment act (The Confederate Constitution of 1861: An Inquiry Into American Constitutionalism, University of Missouri Press, 1991, pp. 117-119).
13. One of the first things the Confederacy did after it was formed was to send a peace delegation to Washington, D.C., in an effort to establish friendly relations with the federal government. Lincoln wouldn’t even meet with the delegation, not even informally.
14. The Confederacy publicly offered to pay the federal government the Southern states’ share of the national debt, to pay compensation for all federal installations in the South, and to allow Northern ships free use of the Mississippi River. The Confederacy also hoped to establish good, extensive trade relations with the United States. But Lincoln refused to even consider any Confederate peace proposals.
15. The Confederacy was created by delegates from the seven states of the Deep South soon after those states seceded from the Union. A provisional constitution was produced and a president and vice president were selected, subject to the approval of voters several months later. The Deep South states separated from the Union in a peaceful, democratic manner. In fact, they seceded in the same manner in which the U.S. Constitution was ratified, i.e., by state conventions whose delegates were elected by the citizens of their respective states in special elections. Historian James McPherson estimates that about 80 percent of those states’ citizens supported secession (The Battle Cry of Freedom, New York: Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 235).
The Confederacy grew from seven states to eleven states when Lincoln made it clear he was going to launch an invasion to force the seceded states to rejoin the Union. Voters in the Upper South states of Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia initially rejected secession by substantial margins. They were willing for their states to remain in the Union as long as Lincoln allowed the Deep South states to leave in peace. However, when Lincoln left no doubt he was going to use force, new votes were held in the Upper South states, and this time the results were strongly in favor of secession. It should be noted that these four states did not secede because of slavery but because they believed it was illegal and immoral to maintain the Union by violence.
16. Anti-Semitism was more of a problem in the North than it was in the South (Hattaway and Beringer, Jefferson Davis, Confederate President, p. 137). In relation to this, it should be pointed out that the Confederate Secretary of State, Judah Benjamin, was Jewish.
17. Confederate soldiers were among the bravest, most determined soldiers in the history of warfare. Even many Union soldiers testified to the courage and fortitude of Confederate soldiers. This is an especially interesting fact because Confederate troops were frequently poorly fed and often suffered from a lack of clothes and shoes. Some Northern citizens who saw Confederate troops in Maryland and Pennsylvania commented on how surprised they were to see that many of those troops wore ragged uniforms and had no shoes. Confederate leaders did all they could to supply their soldiers, but the Confederacy was being blockaded and invaded; so Confederate authorities had a hard time keeping their soldiers properly provisioned. In addition, Confederate forces were often outnumbered by two or three to one. Yet, in spite of these hardships, they fought bravely and tenaciously. One Union officer wrote with amazement that Confederate soldiers fought so courageously even though they were so poorly supplied:
It is beyond all wonder how such men . . . can fight on as they do; that, filthy, sick, hungry, and miserable, they should prove such heroes in fight, is past explanation. (In McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom, pp. 539-540; see also p. 535)
18. Even when the Confederacy was winning on the battlefield, Southern leaders wanted to end the war and desired peaceful relations with the United States (McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 650; Hudson Strode, Jefferson Davis: Confederate President, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959, pp. 299-302). The South hoped that, if nothing else, England and France would prevail upon the Lincoln Administration to end the war or that Lincoln would eventually grow tired of Union casualties and would decide to allow the Confederacy to exist in peace. Jefferson Davis did not desire to conquer the North. He said repeatedly that the South simply wanted to be allowed to go in peace, and that the Confederacy wanted peaceful relations with the federal government (see, for example, William Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, New York: Vintage Books, 2000, pp. 379-380). Davis expressed this position many times. For example, he said the following in his proclamation to the people of Maryland in 1862:
First, that the Confederate Government is waging this war solely for self-defense; that it has no design of conquest, or any other purpose than to secure peace and the abandonment by the United States of their pretensions to govern a people who have never been their subjects, and who prefer self-government to a union with them.
Second, that this Government, at the very moment of its inauguration, sent commissioners to Washington to treat for a peaceful adjustment of all differences, but that these commissioners were not received, nor even allowed to communicate the object of their mission; and that, on a subsequent occasion, a communication from the President of the Confederacy to President Lincoln remained without answer, although a reply was promised by General Scott, into whose hands the communication was delivered. . . .
Fourth, that now, at a juncture when our arms have been successful, we restrict ourselves to the same just and moderate demand that we made at the darkest period of our reverses, the simple demand that the people of the United States should cease to war upon us, and permit us to pursue our own path to happiness, while they in peace pursue theirs. (Proclamation of Jefferson Davis to the People of Maryland, September 7, 1862)
When judged fairly and objectively, it must be admitted that the Confederacy was one of the most democratic countries of its day, if not the most democratic country in terms of the rights that its citizens enjoyed. The Confederacy was more democratic than many countries in our day.
What about the fact that the Confederate States of America permitted slavery? How could the Confederacy have been a democratic country when it allowed slavery? This is a fair question. On the one hand, the Confederate Constitution established a marvelously democratic government for its citizens, but on the other hand it allowed its citizens to own slaves if they wanted to do so (though, as mentioned earlier, only about 25 percent of Southern citizens were slaveholders). Similarly, how could the United States of America have been a democratic country when it allowed slavery and when some New England states made huge profits from the overseas slave trade? This, too, is a fair question. The U.S. Constitution was the most democratic document of its era for the citizens who lived under it, but that document also protected slavery, guaranteed the continuation of the overseas slave trade for twenty years, and mandated the return of runaway slaves. Most Northern states that abolished slavery did so very gradually, so gradually that slaves were held in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island into the 1840s. When the Civil War began, there were over 400,000 slaves in Union states, and most of those slaves weren’t freed until several months after the war ended. Nevertheless, historians who are willing to fairly judge the United States as it was from 1789 to1860 generally conclude that America, for all her faults, was the most democratic nation in the world at the time. I would say much the same thing about the Confederacy.