Confederate Constitution and Jeffersonianism

By Hunter Wallace

The Confederate Constitution included these two big changes from the US Constitution:

“(1) To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises for revenue, necessary to pay the debts, provide for the common defense, and carry on the Government of the Confederate States; but no bounties shall be granted from the Treasury; nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry; and all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the Confederate States …

(3) To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes; but neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce; except for the purpose of furnishing lights, beacons, and buoys, and other aids to navigation upon the coasts, and the improvement of harbors and the removing of obstructions in river navigation; in all which cases such duties shall be laid on the navigation facilitated thereby as may be necessary to pay the costs and expenses thereof.”

These changes banned a protectionist trade policy and government spending on internal improvements except in rivers or coastal commerce. The spirit of the Confederate Constitution reflected the Hamiltonian vs. Jeffersonian ideological divide:

1.) Unlike the Union, the Confederacy had an export based economy that made us overly dependent on international trade. By following the law of comparative advantage, the free-market in the antebellum era had sculpted the South into a land of cotton plantations.

2.) The Southern economy was overwhelmingly dependent on the export of a single commodity – cotton. It produced an elite whose wealth was overwhelmingly derived from large cotton plantations.

3.) The Southern elite wanted free-trade because it suited their own interests: their wealth was derived from exporting their cotton to Britain, and British manufactured goods were cheaper.

4.) By banning a protectionist trade policy and government spending on internal improvements, the Confederate Constitution explicitly favored the cotton interest over manufacturing and small farmers. This is reflected in the exception which was carved out for internal improvements in ports and rivers which cotton planters relied on to export their cotton to foreign markets. Government sponsorship of railroads to promote internal commerce, however, were to be deterred.

5.) The “general welfare” clause was also removed.

6.) The thrust of all these constitutional changes was to deter industrialization and preserve the power of the planter class by hampering the creation of a more diversified economy.

Note: It was a nice pipe dream that was swiftly dispelled by the realities of war. In the end, the Confederate government was forced by military necessity to subsidize the creation of railroads, a navy, and manufacturing and other war related industries as vital imported commodities were cut off by the Union blockade. Among other things, the Confederacy was forced by the war to provide for the “general welfare” of widows, conscript troops, and to infringe on state sovereignty.

By that point, it was too little, too late. Jeffersonianism proved to be too weak a foundation on which to build an independent South. The real damage had been done in all the decades before the war.

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  1. The war forced us to do what we should have been doing anyway: create a more diversified economy geared toward maintaining our national independence, not enriching a single class of wealthy planters.

    During the war, we were forced to invest in building infrastructure, grow more food crops and less cotton, create import substitution industries, build our own navy and shipping industry, industrialize and urbanize, develop our own textile industry, and create a common national identity and Southern patriotism.

    Because it all had to be built from scratch and against the ideological grain of the Confederate Constitution, we fell short, lost our independence, and were reduced to colonial status after the war.

  2. The Confederate Constitution banned internal improvements on the grounds that it would create a theoretical sectional divide, but the actual real divide of military significance was between the breadbasket of the Confederacy in the Upper South and the cotton belt in the Lower South.

    If we hadn’t been so blinded by Jeffersonian ideology, we would have wholeheartedly supported internal improvements in the Upper South which would have tied the upcountry economy more closely to the lowcountry. Instead, we created a sectional divide and mass disaffection in the upcountry by catering too much to cotton planters.

    And the cotton planters lost everything when we lost the war!

    • Planters didn’t see the need for state sponsored internal improvements because there were plenty of rivers in the lowcountry which could be used to transport cotton to the coast.

  3. It’s a tricky issue, because the Confederate Constitution reflected the fact that the south was agrarian, and the wealthy planters dominated society. This obviously led to problems with industrializing for war. But then on the other hand, by all accounts the unique character of the south is tied to its agrarian heritage, so wouldn’t there be the risk of destroying that uniqueness if Southerners had tried to emulate Yankee/English industry? Heavy industry certainly helps with war, but it also shifts the center of wealth from the planters to the big city investors and business executives. That shift could be said to be in part responsible for Yankee moral degeneracy in the 19th century.

  4. I belong to the school of thought that says the South was rapidly industrializing in the last 15 to 20 years before the Civil War. Although, this industrialization was uneven and disjointed.

    • The South was relatively less industrialized than the North, the UK, and Belgium, but it had more railroads and industry than many other European countries at the time. On the whole, the Southern economy was tilted toward plantations and the export of cotton.

  5. All of the shortcomings of the South would have been solved by staying in the union. . It makes no logical sense for the South to have secededto create a near carbon copy of the FedGov. It wouldn’t have made sense in 1861 and it certainly doesn’t make sense in 2015.

    • No, all the shortcomings of the South would have been solved by developing a more diversified economy in the antebellum era, which many far sighted Southerners called for at the time, but this was blocked until it was too late by all those who were utterly in thrall to the free-market, free-trade ideology.

      If the Confederacy had been slightly more self sufficient, it would have made the difference between victory and defeat in lots of battles and the White South would have been less divided between upcountry and lowcountry. Britain and France would have recognized the Confederacy, intervened in the war, and forced the Union to sign a peace treaty.

  6. If we hadn’t been so blinded by Jeffersonian ideology, we would have wholeheartedly supported internal improvements in the Upper South which would have tied the upcountry economy more closely to the lowcountry. Instead, we created a sectional divide and mass disaffection in the upcountry by catering too much to cotton planters.

    The only upcountry was Va/WV, both of which joined the Confederacy later (WV was later partitioned from Va). Maryland and Kentucky never seceded.

    And for all the discussion regarding Jeffersonianism, according to Michael Cushman (based on his writings), the South was more of a classical society than Jeffersonian/Enlightenment. I hope that I have not misrepresented Michael’s views and he can correct me if I am wrong.

  7. The plantation complex never dominated the entire South. In particular, there were huge swathes of the Upper South – Appalachia and the Ozarks – which were dominated by the yeomanry in the hills and mountains, and which had a cattle-and-corn based subsistence economy.

  8. Strongly suggest you read The Impending Crisis of the South by Hilton Rowan Helper was a native Southerner( who today would be called a Social Nationalist) as he demonstrated the negative effect the planter aristocracy has on free white labor. Not all Abolitionists believe in innate human equality and Negro citizenship and the multiracial society. Many opposed slavery because of the fact that if the South won they would have spread into the Midwest and Southwest and brought their Negro slaves with them.

    • From what I have read, several of the earliest Southern Nationalists were strong supporters of industrialization, but the idea went nowhere (like Southern cultural independence) in the Jeffersonian orthodoxy of the antebellum era.

  9. Jeffersonian democracy was as much of a disease to the antebellum South as socialist democracy is to us today. Plutocrats rule to their own benefit and the people degrade damned.

  10. One can still advocate Southern independence while also being critical of the Confederacy. Our proposed nation will probably consist of the upper south and middle American red states but probably not the deep South.(What liberals sneeringly refer to as “fly over” country)We cannot be a carbon copy of the United or the Confederate States. Nor can we be reactionary and embrace the retreat back to Maybury. We will need a strong nationalist government infused with an alternative right philosophy.(say Revolutionary Conservatism?) Said government must have the power to crush all manifestations of Unbridled Capitalism such as trusts and monopolies.It cannot not retreat into isolationism (as we face an existential global threat) but neither does it have to involve itself in every conflict under the sun as does the good ole U.S. of A. It cannot legislate morality but neither can it stand idly by and let rampant immorality destroy the very fabric of society. It should base its immigration policy on the national quota formula which was once a basis of immigration into the United States. I also think the proposed nation should declare English the official language and only allow same race marriage and ban same sex marriage. It should also ban trans-racial adoptions and adoptions by the LGBT community. A official policy to encourage the more desirable elements of our people should be official government policy and each candidate for marriage should undergo genetic testing. To me all of this is not far fetched or utopian but things any healthy and sane nation should do.

  11. Feric,

    I’m all for eugenics, but I’d be pretty uneasy about the gov telling me whom (of the opposite sex) I can marry, or if I can marry at all. I think our best bet will be “soft eugenics” where any number of creative solutions may prove valid. Of course I’d want a white (primarily angloceltic) ethnostate. But I’d lean more toward these policies:
    –Declare a CONSTITUTIONALLY white ethnostate and encourage nonwhites to leave by any number of measures, such as bribed repatriation, even giving them a reservation(s) somewhere would do.
    –Genetic testing for race, minimum IQ, clean criminal background check for aspiring immigrants (who then have to be approved by jury after meeting all the requirements for consideration.)
    –ban interracial/international adoptions
    –require that all sperm/egg donors (for infertile couples) be at least 99% pure Dixian, above average intelligence and a noncarrier for the most important genetic diseases. Run a few TV ads or flyers at universities to encourage potential donors to donate as an act of patriotism. Maybe even have eugenics minded scouts for donors.
    –require that anyone receiving any payments comparable to todays welfare/foodstamp/wic/ebt programs first be sterilized or on effective long term birth control such as implants or IUD. Daily pill is too failure prone.
    –deadbeat fathers could have a certain amount on nonpayment for child support forgiven in exchange for getting a vasectomy.
    –prisoners could get a mitigated sentence in exchange for a vasectomy/tubal ligation.
    –remove all obstacles to allow female inmates to earn money by being surrogate mothers.

    I don’t think I’d get into strict rules on who can and cant marry, but I would like to see widespread genetic screening of newborns/prenatals and for that screening to include paternity tests. If it were up to me, abortion on demand would stay legal, but the demand would be very low because of all the proactive birth control/sterilizations.

    Also, why wouldn’t our proposed republic include the Deep South?

  12. ‘Because it all had to be built from scratch and against the ideological grain of the Confederate Constitution, we fell short, lost our independence, and were reduced to colonial status after the war.’

    Sir –

    If you mean to say that our industrial disadvantages, played a part in our defeat, then, of course, who could deny that?

    That said – I have a difficult time seeing how they were THE reason for the defeat – but, rather, the strategy our forefathers employed.

    The war was lost by fighting pitched battles – losing men and supplies we could not replace.

    BUT – the War of Reconstruction was fought by our veterans using the strategies that better matched such a conflict.

    For that reason, The South won the war of reconstruction, and, although the name of the slave economy was changed to ‘sharecropping’ … the structure of our Southern society did not change much …
    until, in the late Victorian era, Yankee companies started flooding our lands, to escape Northern unionization, in search of cheap labour.

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