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Introduction to
State Official Documents

William L. Barney,
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Ranging from accounts of the secession conventions to the final legislative efforts at shoring up the Confederate cause, the statutes and legislative proceedings that comprise State Official Documents open up for study the neglected area of Southern state politics during the Civil War.

The outbreak of war placed unprecedented demands on the state governments of the Confederacy. Led by their governors, the legislatures had to provide for local defense, raise and equip troops, stimulate economic production, stockpile supplies, and cope with a host of war-related problems. Inevitably, conflicts arose with the Richmond government over where to draw the line between national and state authority. Typically, governors loudly protested nationalizing measures such as conscription and impressment but then wound up cooperating with the national government. Somewhat surprisingly, given their reputations as states' rights obstructionists who undermined the war effort, Zebulon Vance of North Carolina and Joseph Brown of Georgia were the most successful of the war governors in mobilizing state resources on behalf of the Confederacy.

The wartime responsibilities and programs assumed by the states were very expensive. By 1863 budget appropriations in Georgia exceeded the state's outlays for the entire decade of the 1850s. No item was costlier than the immense burden which fell upon the states of providing relief for soldiers' families and the poor. In addition to the dubious expedient of issuing paper money, these costs were met by stiff progressive taxes that shifted the fiscal burden of the war onto the rich. Heavy taxes and state responsibility for individual welfare—both of which were unthinkable before the war—now became staples of Southern public life. Zebulon Vance and Joseph Brown were immensely popular war governors precisely because they were in the forefront of this political revolution.

Confederate state governance is still a largely unexplored terrain, and the documents gathered here provide an indispensable starting point for learning more about how the individual states struggled with nearly insurmountable problems.