Montgomery, Alabama was the first capital of the Confederate States of America. When Virginia joined the Lower South States in the Confederacy the capital was moved to Richmond. What most people are probably unaware of is the politics that lay behind that move and how it was achieved over the strong protests of many Lower South leaders. One of those who opposed the move was Robert Barwell Rhett, the Father of Secession who had spent the previous three decades of his life promoting Southern nationalism. Rhett, a South Carolinian from the Lowcountry region, did all he could to defeat the measure. Ultimately he and his allies in the Confederate Congress were essentially out-maneuvered. There was more to Rhett’s opposition than loyalty to the Lower South. He felt moving the capital was a signal that conservative elements which were not truly Southern nationalist were regaining influence and would thrive in the less radical environment of Virginia. This was essentially a continuation of the old battle Rhett had waged for decades against the conservative elements that dominated Southern politics. Of course, those conservative elements, including President Jefferson Davis and Vice President Alexander Stephens (both of whom had opposed Southern independence), dominated the government of the new Confederacy. Author and professor William C Davis describes the political fight over moving the capital on pages 472-473 of his book Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-Eater:
As early as May 10 a motion came to the floor to move the Confederate capital to Richmond when they next convened. It had been part of the bargain worked when Virginia seceded, and it made every sense militarily and politically; and yet there were good-faith reasons to oppose the move as well. Rhett thought it would arouse more bellicosity in the North thanks to Richmond being threateningly close to Washington, which was sound enough. In the Confederacy he saw it drawing strength from the center of the nation [sic] to what was nearly its frontier, which was certainly true, but he overlooked the undeniable fact that if the Yankees invaded in the east, they would do it through Virginia, which contained much of the South’s vital industrial, financial, and transportation facilities. Virginia had to be protected, and it would be hard to manage that defense from a capital almost seven hundred miles away. Rhett opposed the motion by trying to postpone consideration but failed; he then unsuccessfully voted against the resolution itself.
President Jefferson Davis vetoed this bill, believing it to be unconstitutional.
The measure came up again on May 21, the final day of the session, and despite changes to win Davis’ approval, the bill seemed destined for defeat by 2 P.M. when they adjourned until later that afternoon. Since all that seemed to remain were some signing formalities on bills already passed, Rhett and a number of others boarded afternoon trains for home. When the congress reassembled, the removal resolution was reintroduced and quickly passed with most of its opposition gone, and Davis signed it that same day. Rhett was not yet home the next morning when he got word of the passage. It reeked of the sort of close dealing and corruption that had tainted Washington, and he suspected without real foundation that it had been planned thus all along in order to get past opponents like himself. Worse, he saw in the move to Richmond the shadow of the ever-dreaded reconstruction. Most of the Virginia delegates to the congress had been cooperationists in the old days, and now he even suspected his onetime associate Hunter of favoring reconstruction. The move to Richmond put the government on the soil and seemingly in the clutches of people Rhett firmly believed did not wish to see a permanently independent Confederacy. He saw the same design in the passive waiting policy of the administration too. They should be aggressively taking the war to the enemy, he thought. “Fighting exasperates, and exasperation is the probable defeat of reconstruction.”