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Confederate Attorneys General

Wade Keyes Jr., Thomas Bragg, Thomas Hill Watts, George Davis, Further ReadingsJudah Philip Benjamin

Following secession from the Union, the Southern states immediately began the process of establishing a separate government to guide their course. One of the first acts of the provisional congress of the Confederate States of America was to preserve the force and framework of existing law in the South by adopting the Constitution of the Confederate States, which closely mirrored the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Though the Confederate constitution made provisions for the existence of a supreme judicial court, with powers like those of the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, the provisional congress refused to enact the legislation necessary to actually establish the national court. Therefore, the attorneys general of the Confederacy were often called on to act in place of a national tribunal and to render opinions interpreting the laws enacted by the Confederate congress. Accordingly their opinions were varied, covering both commonplace issues and constitutional questions.

From 1861 to 1865, the Confederacy was served by four full time attorneys general—Judah Philip Benjamin, Thomas Bragg, Thomas Hill Watts, and George Davis—and by Wade Keyes, who functioned at various times as assistant, acting, and ad interim (temporary) attorney general. As a group, they authored 218 opinions for Confederate president Jefferson Davis and members of his cabinet; most of the opinions were requested by the Departments of War, Treasury, and the Navy, and most were related to the fighting of, or financing of, the U.S. CIVIL WAR.

Judah Philip Benjamin

Judah Philip Benjamin (1811–84) was the Confederacy's first attorney general. Appointed by President Davis, Benjamin was confirmed on March 5, 1861, and served until November 21, 1861, when he was named secretary of war. As attorney general, he wrote 13 opinions on such matters as agricultural products tariffs, mail route contracts, and defense appropriations.


U.S. Civil War.

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