The Confederate Congress

The Confederate Congress

The Confederate Congress

The Confederate Congress

Excerpt

THE TASK OF DESCRIBING THE WORK OF THE CONFEDERATE CONGRESS can be approached only in the light of the peculiar circumstances of war. During wartime the value of a single source of responsibility has given the American president a special predominance over the other branches of government. His powers as commanderin-chief are great; he epitomizes the war effort, and the people, whether they like or dislike his policies, recognize his leadership. On the other hand, Congress is a deliberative body designed to reflect varying interests. Its laws are ordinarily compromises, and when compromise is impossible important matters are delayed, abandoned, or ignored. But during a war, when survival issues face the government in quick succession, indecision seems weakness and inaction seems almost treasonable. If Congress passes an unpopular administration measure, it shares the responsibility of that measure with the president; if Congress rejects an administration measure, it is considered uncooperative; if Congress proposes alternatives to the president's suggestions, it is considered discordant. Consequently a wartime American Congress has difficulty distinguishing itself.

The Confederate Congress was no exception to this wartime legislative predicament, for all considerations in the Confederacy were secondary to winning the war. At first Congress and President Jefferson Davis were in essential agreement on how to win the war and, save for minor exceptions, the administration's program was obediently enacted. This program demanded few sacrifices from Southern people and was generally acceptable to them. The last half of the war saw this harmony change somewhat. The increased pace of war forced the administration's program to be more demanding; people then became restless and Congress began voicing their discontent by asserting itself in law-making. Generally Con-

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