Archive for March 11th, 2008

Confederate Cabinet

On March 11, 1861, the Confederate States of America unanimously (sort of) adopted a Permanent Constitution.  Rather than starting from scratch, they used the U.S. Constitution as a model and went line-by-line inserting the changes they wanted to make in their new country.  Let’s take a look at the interesting ones:

After some in-fighting (which was not a rarity), they maintained the prohibition on slave trade from foreign countries.  Rather than being seen as something progressive, they likely kept this provision because they had all the slaves they needed and importing more would only devalue what they considered their current property.  They also, not surprisingly, strengthened the fugitive slave law.

They eliminated the provision that members of Congress could not serve in the Cabinet.  It was thought that this would give the President a voice in arguing for his own legislation and, conversely, help the other legislators understand his point of view on different matters.

A few differences centered on money.  There was to be no protective tariff.  And all appropriations had to originate with the president, although they eventually conceded that Congress could raise money for navigation issues.  Having the president authorize all appropriations would eliminate any pork-barrel legislation from congressmen – already seen as a problem 140+ years ago.  Also, to further this end, the president would have line-item veto power on all appropriations bills.

The president and vice-president were limited to one six-year term, although they could run again after a six-year break.

And to make what they knew to be a hastily-prepared, contentious constitution more malleable, they made it so that only three states (already then a minority) could call for a convention to vote on a new amendment, and they changed the votes necessary to pass an amendment from three-fourths to just two-thirds.

Some interesting items that were in the initial provisional constitution but were eventually rejected included:

They reserved the right to restrict trade with any slave state not a member of the Confederacy; eligibility for president entailed being a citizen of one of the original states, thus diminishing the effect of the border states even if they were to join; the Supreme Court would only sit to hear cases when requested by Congress; and a provision that any state that abolished slavery could be expelled from the Confederacy.

Recommended reading: Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America

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“We are buying . . . not lending. We are buying our own security while we prepare. By our delay during the past six years, while Germany was preparing, we find ourselves unprepared and unarmed, facing a thoroughly prepared and armed potential enemy.” So said War Secretary Henry L. Stimson when debating the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 in committee.

The Lend-Lease Act, passed by Congress on March 11, 1941, really had its beginnings nearly a year earlier.  In July 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt responded to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s request for assistance by giving Britain 50 U.S. Destroyers in return for basing rights.  And he did so without consulting Congress.

The political fallout was immediate as two sides of the issue began an intense debate.  There were those believed that the United States should maintain a stance of strict neutrality, while others, like Stimson, felt strongly that giving aid to England was in the best security interests of the country.  In January 1941, the President proposed Lend-Lease as a way to aid the British while, at the same time, reiterating his commitment to keep the country neutral.  Congress debated for two months before passing the bill.

And the assistance went out, primarily to England, to the Soviet Union, to China, and to France.  Over the course of the war, aid totalling more than $50 billion was given.  And one could make a pretty strong argument that Lend-Lease most helped the U.S. itself.  When war finally did come at the end of the year, the country was already at a very high level of war production.  It took very little time to ramp up to full speed.

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