Confederate States of America: Formation, Government & Definition

Instructor: Amy Lively
This lesson discusses the formation, government, and end of the Confederate States of America. Learn more about the republic that was created after several southern states seceded from the United States of America, and then test your knowledge with a quiz.

Former Confederate Capital Building, Virginia
confed capital

Definition

The Confederate States of America, also known as the Confederacy, was a group of eleven southern states that seceded from the United States of America in 1860 and 1861. The first state to secede was South Carolina on December 20, 1860. It was followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. The Confederacy dissolved in May 1865 after it was defeated by Union forces in the Civil War.

The Impact of the 1860 Election

Before any ballots were cast in the 1860 presidential election, southern leaders warned that if a member of the new Republican Party was elected, their states might leave the Union. Their primary concern was the future of slavery. Abraham Lincoln, like other Republicans, was aware that it was unconstitutional to interfere with slavery where it already existed. Therefore, if slavery was to end, the best approach might be to stop it from spreading to new states. Lincoln did speak about slavery coming to its 'ultimate extinction,' although he said it could take years or even a century for that to happen. These types of remarks were threatening to the southern states, whose entire economy was reliant on slave labor. That is why, when Lincoln won the election on November 6 despite not even being on the ballot in some southern states, secession began just a few weeks later.

Forming the Confederate States of America

The first steps to forming the Confederacy began on December 20, 1860, when South Carolina issued an ordinance of secession. The document said that the state was leaving the Union because the United States government had failed to live up to its obligation to protect slavery. Although Lincoln is not mentioned by name, the election of a president intent on abolishing slavery is also given as a reason for secession. On February 4, 1861, representatives from six states met in Montgomery, Alabama, and officially established the Confederate States of America. On February 9, Mississippi Senator Jefferson Davis was elected president. Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, all slave states, did not join the Confederacy. The free state of West Virginia was formed when the western part of Virginia did not agree to secede.

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