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Difference between Confederate and Union Constitution

Difference between Confederate and Union Constitution

Flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863)

The American civil war between Northern and Southern states began with the separation of the Confederates from the Union.

Northern states (the Union) believed in a unitary country, free from slavery and based on equal rights; conversely, Southern states (the Confederates) did not want to abolish slavery and, therefore, formally seceded in 1861.

The seven Southern States – Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, later followed by many more – formed a new, rival country: the Confederate States of America, opposing the United States of America (the Union). Although the Union labeled the Confederates and their Constitution as illegal, the newly created Constitution of the Confederate States of America remained into effect from March 11, 1861 until the end of the Civil War – which terminated with the victory of the Unionists in 1865. The so-called Confederacy also had a Provisional Constitution, which was in place from February 8, 1861 to February 22, 1862 – date in which the Confederate Constitution came into effect.

To date, the debate on the real reasons that led to the secession remains open. Some claim that the Confederates separated for just political reasons, as the North was restraining their self-governing capacities and their federal rights.

Others, instead, argue that the Confederacy was only created to keep slavery alive. Indeed, in the Confederate Constitution, there were many references to slavery, but the changes to the original text addressed several other issues as well.

In fact, the Confederate text presented key differences, which reflected the several reasons behind the secession, including:

  • Slavery;
  • Executive power;
  • Legislative power; and
  • States’ sovereignty.


The first differences between the Confederate and the Union Constitution already appear in the preamble. While the Union’s text began with “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union […]” whereas Confederates deleted all references to “People of the United States” and replaced it with “We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character […]”

The willingness to separate from the Union and to enhance the individual powers and rights of each individual state is made clear from the beginning. In fact, in the Preamble, the Confederates do not make any reference to the “perfect Union” nor to “common defense” and “general welfare” goals mentioned in the Unionists’ text. Confederates focus on (State’s) individual rights rather than on the Union’s national, common goals.


The institution of slavery is one of the key differences between the Union and the Confederate Constitution. In fact, the original text did not contain any direct reference to “slavery” or “Negro Slaves” – as, at the time, most slaves were trafficked from Africa – but talked about “Person held to Service or Labour.” Conversely, the Confederate text addressed the issue more directly.

  • Both texted banned the importation of slaves to the United States – although the Confederate text made clear reference to the “importation of negroes of the African Race,” and added a clause that allowed the Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves from non-Confederate states;
  • In Article 1, Section 9 (4), the Confederates added one of the most important clauses – the one that, in fact, preserved and protected slavery. The article read, “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed;”
  • To the Unionist article protecting the privileges of all citizens of all states while travelling within the Union, Confederates added a clause that allowed slave-owners to travel within the Confederacy with their slaves; and
  • The Confederate Constitution legally protected slavery in all Confederate States and new territories that could have been acquired by the Confederacy, stating that “In all such territory, the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government.”

Executive power

The Confederates made key changes on the Articles regarding the executive power – although not all changes were in line with their initial goal of enhancing individual state’s rights. For instance, according to the Confederate text, the President – who could serve for six years but could not run for re-election – “may approve any appropriation and disapprove any other appropriation in the same bill.

Today, the United States governor have such power – which is known as “line-item veto” – whereas the U.S. President does not. Other changes to the executive branch include, inter alia:

  • Cabinet secretaries could be summoned in the House or in the Senate to answer questions from members of the Congress; and
  • The Confederate President had to report to the Congress the removal (and the reasons for the removal) of non-cabinet officials from office.

Legislative power

Focusing on individual states’ rights, the Confederate Constitution granted limited powers to the legislative branch. For instance, according to the new text:

  • All laws passed by the Congress could only have one subject;
  • The Congress could not increase taxes or duties on foreign goods in order to promote local products – in other words, the new texts banned trade protectionism;
  • The government could not pay subsidies to private companies;
  • The Congress could not encourage corporate welfare;
  • Fiscal responsibility was imposed on the legislative branch; and
  • Limits were imposed on infrastructure spending authorized by the Congress.

States’ Sovereignty

Besides the contrasting opinions of Northern and Southern states on slavery, one of the main reasons behind the 1861 secession was the issue of individual states’ sovereignty. In fact, Southern states believed that the Unionist federal government was preventing them from exercising their independent and individual rights. As such, in the new constitution, Confederates made clear that individual States were “acting in its sovereign and independent character,” and, therefore, had more sovereign power than the Union states. However, the Confederate text did not drastically change the original Constitution. Indeed, Confederate states gained some power and independence, but the new text also took away some specific states’ rights.

Difference between Confederate and Union Constitution-1

According to the new text, States had the power to, inter alia:

  • Impeach their own states’ national government representatives as well as national judges appointed to their states’ courts;
  • Initiate treaties with other individual states to regulate waterways;
  • Distribute “bills of credit” – which, at the time, meant that individual states were allowed to issue their own currency; and
  • Levy taxes on domestic and foreign ships that used their waterways.

Indeed, the ability to regulate waterways and to (possibly) issue bills of credit represented major step forwards for individual states. However, the new Constitution explicitly took away some fundamental states’ rights, including:

  • The right to outlaw slavery;
  • The right to enter free trade agreements with other states; and
  • The right to grant voting rights to non-citizens (in the Union, individual states could decide for voter eligibility).

Although Southern states argued that they were being exploited economically by the North, the changes made in the new constitution with regard to individual states’ rights did not drastically change the situation.

In fact, while Confederate states gained few freedoms and rights, the new text also took some of their liberties away.


The American civil war and the opposition between Northern (Unionist) and Southern (Confederates) states began in 1861 with the secession of seven states (later joined by many more) from the United States.

In 1861, the Confederacy issued a new Constitution – opposing the original Unionist text –, which entered into force in 1862. Although the new text did not drastically altered the original federal system and was modeled after the U.S. Constitution, few changes were made with regards to state sovereignty, slavery, executive power, and legislative branch.

  • The Confederate constitution granted individual states’ the right to distribute bills of credit, to impeach federally-appointed representatives, to enter treaties to regulate waterways and to levy taxes on domestic and foreign ships using their waterways. However, at the same time, states were prevented from abolishing slavery within their own borders, from granting voting rights to non-citizens, and from trading freely with other states;
  • The Confederate constitution limited the power of the Congress, in particular as far as infrastructure spending and trade protectionism were concerned. Furthermore, the Confederate text imposed some financial limitations and responsibility on the government, which was prevented from levying taxes on foreign products to protect Confederate companies;
  • The Confederate constitution gave the power of line-item veto to the Confederate President, and limited the President’s mandate to six years, with no possibility of running for re-election; and
  • Although it prohibited the importation of slaves from Africa, the Confederate constitution protected and legally accepted slavery. Furthermore, it protected the rights of slave-owners travelling in the Confederate territories with their slaves.

In sum, although no major changes were made, the Confederate text focused on the introduction and legalization of slavery in all Confederate territories and on the promotion of individual states’ rights – in order to promote the economic and political development of the South.

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  1. Well the author has extreme northern bias .The CSA constitution has differences that would have made a huge impact on today’s economic issues… especially our national debt.(1) Congress would not be able to earmark spending packages with “pork” as they do today.(2) corporate welfare and waste would not be out of control(3) federal judge s would be accountable to the states citizens and fired for not ruling on the will of the people(4) border state militias could stop our border crisis(5) inflation would be replaced by the free market with competing currency to the federal reserve note.(6)income tax would not exist, instead states would “take care of their own”(7) infrastructure contracts would not be awarded to “friends of politicians”(8) lobbyists would not exist as we have today.(9) southern states would have maintained a superior economy due to the tariff restrictions.(America first). So your summary is “missing the forest for the trees” maybe Congress should enact these changes as amendment s today! This forgotten constitution should be taught in schools to identify the actual causes of the bloodiest war in am history. It is amazing how many of today’s issues could be solved with these policies!

    • I agree with you. I once looked at the confederate flag as a disrespect to the dark skinned American people. This is the programming of those that encourage more government dependency and lack of importance of one’s sovereignty. I truly over stand the importance of the secession. The education system does not seem to encourage critical thinking but a need to encourage a facade that all are included accepted as equal when clearly this is not the case which is quite alright. It’s the deceit that has the masses led as sheep to the slaughter.

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References :

[0]Confederate States of America, History, available at http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/confederate-states-of-america

[1]Constitution of the Confederate States; March 11, 1861, Yale Law School, available at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_csa.asp

[2]Constitution of the Confederate States of America, U.S. Constitution, available at https://www.usconstitution.net/csa.html

[3]The Constitution of the Confederate States of America, available at http://jjmccullough.com/CSA.htm


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