The Confederate Constitutions

By Charles Robert Lee Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII

Conclusion

The problem which all federated nations have to solve is how to secure an efficient central government and preserve national unity, while allowing free scope for the diversities and free play to the authorities, of the members of the federation.

James Bryce

The greatest constitutional question in the United States between 1787 and 1861 was: "What is the nature of the Union under the Constitution?" Basic to this question was the location of sovereignty in the Federal Union. Expressing the Southern view, William S. Oldham, a Texas delegate to the Montgomery Convention, wrote: "I have defined sovereignty to be the inherent power to establish, organize, sustain, and administer government. This power always rests primarily in the State—the people constituting the political community." 1. A natural concomitant to the theory of the sovereignty of the states was the Southern belief in the compact theory of government. Oldham again expressed the Southern view when he described the United States Constitution as "an agreement, a compact, a treaty, entered into by and between sovereign States, creating a common agent, and delegating to that agent certain specified powers, to be exercised in common for the good of all." 2.

The constitutional concept as defined by Oldham in the 1860's was neither so clearly articulated nor so specifically relevant in 1787. The compact theory of government as understood during the latter part of the eighteenth century called for the establishment of government by the consent of the people. Whether such a compact was a voluntary or binding agreement between

____________________
1.
William Simpson Oldham, "True Causes and Issues of the Civil War," DeBow's Review, VII (September, 1869), 738.
2.
Ibid., p. 735. The following discussion of the growth of federal power is necessarily abbreviated and attempts only to establish historical perspective pursuant to treating the significance of the two Confederate Constitutions.

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