On January 11, 1861, the Alabama Secession Convention passed an Ordinance of Secession, declaring Alabama a “Sovereign and Independent State.” By a vote of 61-39, Alabama becomes the fourth state to secede from the Union. (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
When the southern states in the south began seceding from the United States of America, they needed a place to assemble and organize the provisional Confederate government. Montgomery, Alabama was the city where the delegates first met. The following depicts the events that took place when they initially met.
CONFEDERATE PROVISIONAL CONGRESS
The first place for the formal assembling of delegates and the organization of the provisional Confederate government was the Alabama Senate Chamber. This hall had been formally tendered for the sessions.
Senate Chamber in Montgomery ca. 1939
(Alabama Department of Archives & History)
Senate Chamber 2013 now restored
(Alabama Department of Archives & History)
The city of Montgomery, Alabama, showing the state house where the Congress of the Southern Confederacy meets on February 4, 1861 from Harper’s Weekly Feb. 9, 1861
On February 4, 1861 Montgomery had taken on cosmopolitan airs
The day appointed for the meeting, February 4, 1861, was clear and bracing. A bright sun shone, deemed auspicious as the birthday of a new Republic. The air was invigorating. The delegates had reached Montgomery one or more days in advance. At the same time came numbers of other public men, military leaders, and many interested observers of passing events. There are contemporary references to many faces on the streets of Montgomery, already long familiar on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. The hotels were thronged, boarding houses and private homes were taxed for accommodations. Within a day almost Montgomery had taken on cosmopolitan airs.
The galleries were thronged with men and women
At a little past noon, the delegates were in their places. The galleries were thronged with men and matrons. The deputy from the Montgomery district, Hon. William P. Chilton, “called the convention to order, and moved that the Hon. R. W. Barnwell, of South Carolina, be selected as temporary president.” The motion was adopted unanimously. After an acknowledgment the honor, a prayer was offered by Rev. Dr. Basil Manly, one of the most ardent secessionists of the south. The several delegates in alphabetical order by states then presented their credentials:
Florida: Jas. B. Owens, J. Patton Anderson.
Georgia: Robert Toombs, Howell Cobb, Francis S. Bartow, Martin J. Crawford, Eugenius A. Nisbet, Benj. H. Hill, A. R. Wright, Thomas R. R. Cobb; Augustus H. Kenan, Alex. H. Stephens.
Louisiana: John Perkins,Jr., Edward Sparrow, A. DeClouet, D. F. Kenner, Henry Marshall.
Mississippi: W. P. Harris, Walter Brooke, W. S. Wilson, W. S. Barry, J. T. Harrison.
South Carolina: R. B. Rhett, Sr., R. W. Barnwell, L. M. Keitt, James Chesnut, Jr., C. G. Memminger, W. Porcher Miles, Thomas J. Withers, W. W. Boyce.
Hon. Howell Cobb, of Georgia unanimously elected as president
The roll having been signed, Hon. R. Barnwell Rhett, Sr., nominated Hon. Howell Cobb, of Georgia, as president. His election followed unanimously, and he was immediately brought to the chair. He spoke briefly. He referred to the extraordinary occasion which had brought the deputies together, speaking of them as “representatives of sovereign and independent states, who by their solemn judgment, have dissolved the political association which connected them with the government of the United States.”
As secretary of the convention, Hon. Johnson J. Hooper, a distinguished political leader of Alabama, and a newspaper man of note, was unanimously chosen.
In response to a resolution offered by Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, delegate from Georgia, a committee of five t& report rules was named, consisting of Messrs. Stephens, Keitt, Curry, Harrison and Perkins.
The proceedings had taken only a little more than one hour.
Adoption of a resolution to form a Confederacy of the states
In the days immediately following, the congress proceeded with promptness, unanimity and enthusiasm to the performance of the task of fully and completely organizing the new government. On the second day, congressional printers were elected, the clergy of Montgomery was invited to attend and open the sessions with prayer, additional officers were provided, and rules for the government of congress adopted. In his discussion of the report of the committee on rules, Mr. Stephens, the chairman, among other things, said:
“These rules are made on the principle that we are a congress of sovereign independent states, and must vote, therefore, as states, and not individually as members.” The most important action of the day, however, was the adoption of the following resolution:
“That this convention deems it expedient forthwith to form a Confederacy of the states that have seceded from the federal union, and that a committee be reported to report a plan for the provisional government for the same upon the basis of the constitution of the United States.” The deliberations of the committee continued throughout the third and fourth days.
On Thursday, February 7, Mr. C. G. Memminger, chairman of the committee of twelve, submitted a report. On a divided vote the report of the committee was ordered printed, after which congress adjourned until the next day. On Friday, after perhaps an hour’s deliberation, congress went into secret session to consider the report of the committee. The discussions lasted throughout the afternoon, and were continued into the night. About 10:30 o’clock a provisional constitution was adopted unanimously, the instrument was ordered enrolled on parchment, and one thousand copies ordered printed for the use of congress.
A model flag of the Confederate states was presented
On the fifth day, Saturday, February 9, the delegates met at eleven o’clock a. m. Judge Richard W. Walker of the supreme court of Alabama, then administered the oath to the Hon. Howell Cobb, to support the constitution of the provisional government, and President Cobb in turn administered the oath to the members of the congress. After this preliminary, the first act was the presentation, by Mr. Memminger, of a model for a flag of the Confederate states, from the ladies of South Carolina, and also a model from a gentleman of the city of Charleston. Immediately following, Mr. Miles moved the appointment of a committee, consisting of one from each state, to take into consideration the adoption of a flag.
Provisional President and Vice President elected
The important business of the day, however, was the election of a provisional president and a provisional vice president. The journal entries are very brief, and reveal nothing of a contest, or even intimation of a contest, if indeed there was any. During the election an immense crowd gathered on the floor of congress and in the galleries to witness this important business. The journal entries are as follows:
- “The Congress then proceeded to the election of a President and a Vice-President for the Provisional Government.
- Mr. Curry moved that two tellers be appointed to conduct said election; which was agreed to.
- Whereupon, the President appointed Mr. Curry and Mr. Miles as tellers.
- The vote being taken by States for President, the Hon. Jefferson Davis, of Mississippi, received all the votes cast, being 6, and was duly declared unanimously elected President of the Provisional Government.
- On motion of Mr. Toombs, a committee of three was appointed to inform Mr. Davis of his election.
- Whereupon, the President appointed Mr. Toombs, Mr. Rhett, and Mr. Morton.
- The vote was then taken by States for Vice-President, and the Hon. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, of Georgia, received all the votes cast, being 6, and he was duly declared unanimously elected Vice-President of the Provisional Government.
- Mr. Perkins moved that a committee of three be appointed to inform Mr. Stephens of his election; which was agreed to, and the President appointed Mr. Perkins, Mr. Harris, and Mr. Shorter.”
Announcement of the election greeted with loud cheers and applause
During the election an immense crowd gathered on the floor of congress, in the galleries, corridors and grounds, to witness the election and to hear the result. The announcement of the election was greeted with loud cheers and applause.
From time to time with the withdrawal of Arkansas, Texas and Virginia, their representatives appeared in Montgomery and took their seats as members of the congress. However, the states of Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee had no representation during the sessions of the congress in Montgomery.
Two sessions of Congress were held in Montgomery
Two sessions of congress were held in Montgomery. The first and regular session assembled February 4, and adjourned March 16, 1861. The second, a called session, convened April 29 and adjourned May 21, 1861. The third session assembled at Richmond July 20, 1861.
Inauguration of Mr. Davis and Mr. Stephens.—The president-elect, Hon. Jefferson Davis, had reached Montgomery on Sunday evening, February 17. He was given a great ovation, and from the Commerce Street balcony of the Exchange Hotel, he addressed the assembled crowds. On the following day, Monday, February 18, the ceremony of inauguration took place.
Inauguration of President Jefferson Davis
(Alabama Department of Archives & History)
The starting point of the great war between the states / lith. by A. Hoen & Co. Baltimore, MD. from Library of Congress – Print shows a crowd gathered in front of the capitol building at Montgomery, Alabama, at the time of the announcement of Jefferson Davis as the first President of the Confederate States of America; also shown with Davis are “Alex. H. Stephens, Vice-President, Wm. L. Yancey, Leader of the Secession Party, [and] Howell Cobb, President of the Senate.” (Alabama Department of Archives & History)
The local papers assert that Montgomery never before presented such an appearance as on that day. The city turned out en masse for the exercises. Thousands of visitors were in attendance. Capitol Hill was thronged. It seemed literally as if all the people had come together. The ladies were present, so one writer says, “in larger numbers than the men in honor of their gallant president.” The same writer continues, “The assemblage could not have numbered less than 10,000 persons, all animated by a common desire to maintain the dignity, honor and independence of the Confederate States.”
Jefferson Davis portrait in 1857 (Alabama Department of Archives & History)
About noon a procession was formed on Montgomery Street, in front of the Exchange. The carriage for the president had been tendered for the occasion by Col. Tennent Lomax. It was drawn by six gray horses. The president was accompanied by vice-president elect Stephens, Rev. Dr. Basil Manly, chaplain of the day, and Capt. George Jones, the personal military escort of Mr. Davis. The chief marshal was Col. H. P. Watson.
Here is the house of the orator, William Lowndes Yancey from Alabama who argued for secession prior to the Civil War [story and film]
Following the president were carriages containing state and county committees, members of the Confederate congress, visiting governors and distinguished citizens. The military escort consisted of the “Columbus Guards,” the “Barbour Rifles,” the “Perote Guards,” the “Independent Rifles,” and the “Alabama Fusiliers.” Thousands followed on foot, and it is said that the procession extended from the hotel to the capitol terrace.
Procession moved up Dexter Avenue
The procession moved up Dexter Avenue, then Market Street, accompanied by the cheers of the multitude, the inspiring strains of martial music, and the roar of cannon.
The vast crowds had already filled the doors, windows and portico of the capitol, and had spread out over the grounds and along all the streets converging on the Square.
In front of and at the left of the center of the capitol portico, a large platform had been erected for the use of congress, the Alabama Legislature and guests.
Distinguished party passed a double line of military to the entrance
On leaving the carriages, the distinguished party passed between a double line of military from the foot of the steps to the entrance. The throng surged against the soldiers to catch a glimpse of the new leader. At the entrance, the president and his immediate party entered the building, and ascended to the senate chamber. He at once returned to the portico, accompanied by the members of congress. President-elect Davis was seated, with Vice-president elect Stephens at his right, and Howell Cobb, on his left. Gov. Andrew Barry Moore, of Alabama, sat immediately below on the temporary platform. Prayer was offered by Rev. Dr. Basil Manly.
President Jefferson Davis made his inaugural address
The President then made his inaugural address, after which the historic State Bible, used by all Alabama Executives since 1853 was presented to him, and the oath of office as Provisional President of the Confederate States of America was administered by Howell Cobb, President of the Congress. The correspondent of the “Selma Weekly Issue” of February 27. 1861, thus reported the scene: “President Davis kissed the Bible, and then turning to the vast assemblage said, with deep and solemn emphasis, So Help me God.”
The brief record in the journal of Congress is here introduced:
- “At 1 o’clock p. m. the President-elect of the Confederate States of America, escorted by the Vice-President and the Committee of Arrangements, appeared within the Hall of Congress, and was escorted to the chair, supported on his right by the VicePresident and on his left by the President of the Congress.
- On motion of Mr. Chilton, the Congress then repaired, in company with the President-elect, to the front of the Capitol for the purpose of inaugurating the President.
- The President of the Congress presented the President-elect to the Congress.
- The Rev. Dr. Basil Manly, as chaplain of the day, offered prayer.
- The President-elect then delivered his inaugural address; after which the oath of office was administered to him by the President of the Congress.
- On motion of Mr. Chilton, the Congress returned to its Hall, accompanied by the President of the Confederate States.
- On motion of Mr. Chilton, it was ordered that the inaugural address of the President be spread upon the Journal of this body, and that 5,000 copies thereof be printed for the use of the Congress.”
- After the conclusion of the exercises by the return of the official party to the senate chamber, President Davis returned to the hotel.
Public reception was given at Estelle Hall
On the evening following the inauguration the whole city was Illuminated. Every window sparkled with lights. There were numerous displays of fireworks. A public reception was given at Estelle Hall. For hours the President received the enthusiastic and patriotic visitors and people of the city, all of whom pledged their loyalty and support.
President’s cabinet quartered at the Exchange Hotel
Executive Offices. —The President’s cabinet during the first few days of service, had temporarily quartered at the Exchange Hotel. However, it could hardly be said that they opened such quarters for other than informal conferences with friends, and for the tentative or preliminary organization of their respective departments. On February 9, congress appointed a committee of three from the members representing Alabama to inquire and report “upon what terms suitable buildings in the city of Montgomery can be procured for the use of the several executive departments.”
Citizens of Montgomery provided occupation free of charge
On February 13 Mr. Shorter, chairman of the committee, reported that the citizens of the city had, through a committee, tendered the use and occupation of twenty convenient rooms in a large and commodious building in the city free of charge, which accommodations they supposed to be sufficient for the present purposes of the government, but, the committee further reported, that it did not feel authorized to accept the proposition so liberally tendered, and “after a careful examination of the city, ascertained that a large and commodious fireproof building on Commerce Street, a portion of which is now occupied by the Montgomery Insurance Company, can be procured for the use of the government.” The building contained “two secure and fireproof vaults and is well located for ample supplies of water in case of fire.” The rental was to be $6,000. The report was adopted, and the same committee appointed to contract with the owners and proprietors of the building for twelve months on the terms indicated.
Group portrait of the Confederate cabinet including President Jefferson Davis, Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Attorney General Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of the Navy Stephen M. Mallory, Secretary of the Treasury C.S. Memminger, Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker, Postmaster John H. Reagan, and Secretary of State Robert Toombs, seated and standing around table. Printed in Harper’s Weekly, Jun 1, 1861 – Library of Congress
The several cabinet officers were confirmed on the following dates: Robert Toombs, of Georgia, secretary of state, C. G. Memminger, of South Carolina, secretary of the treasury, and Leroy Pope Walker, of Alabama, secretary of war, February 21; Henry T. Ellett, of Mississippi, postmaster general, Judah P. Benjamin, of Louisiana, attorney general, February 25; S. R. Mallory, of Florida. March 4. It appears that Mr. Ellett did not accept, and John H. Reagan, of Texas, was confirmed as postmaster general March 6. These were all of the members of the cabinet who were appointed, confirmed, or who served while the seat of government was at Montgomery.
Until 1910, the Senate Chamber remained the same
Until its renovation in December 1910, the Senate Chamber had undergone no general overhauling or repairs since the erection of the building in 1850. Prints are preserved showing the graceful curves of the galleries, the well proportioned background of the president’s desk, the presiding officer’s stand, the handsomely designed individual desks, modelled after the furniture of the federal capitol in Washington.
In response to a suggestion of The Montgomery Advertiser, many citizens placed at the disposal of the committee on arrangements a number of handsome pictures, including George Washington, Andrew Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Dixon H. Lewis, William L. Yancey and Albert J. Pickett. The portrait of Washington was an original by Gilbert Stuart.
- History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, written by Thomas McAdory Owen, was published in 1921 by the S.J. Clarke Publishing Company.
- Library of Congress
- Alabama State Archives Digital Collection
Some stories include:
- The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
- The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
- Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
- Sophia McGillivray- what she did when she was nine months pregnant
- Alabama had its first Interstate in the early days of settlement