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Alexander H. Stephens

Alexander H. Stephens


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That Alexander Stephens filled the vice-presidency of the Confederate States of America, during a time of bitter warfare, seems difficult to understand. But his character and moral courage made him a Southern leader nevertheless.Born into a poor Georgia farming family on February 11, 1812, he was given a scholarship to the University of Georgia by a Presbyterian society that expected him to enter the ministry. After studying the law for a few months, he was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1834 and became a successful lawyer.Beginning in 1836, Stephens involved himself in politics, opposing Nullification and extralegal measures taken against abolitionists. He supported the Annexation of Texas but not the War with Mexico. He stayed with the Whig Party on national issues, particularly the Compromise of 1850, but broke with them in 1852, switching to the Democratic Party.After finishing his Congressional career in 1858, Stephens continued in the public debate over the South`s future. He reasoned:

In this way our sister Southern states can be inducted to act with us, and I have but little doubt that the state of New York and Pennsylvanian and Ohio, and other Western states, will compel their legislatures to recede from their hostile attitudes if the others do not. Then, with these, we would go on without New England if she chose to stay out ...

In January 1861, he was elected as a delegate to the Georgia convention which would decide the issue of separation. He voted against secession but the convention decided otherwise, and on a majority for on January 19, Georgia seceded. When the Confederate States of America were organized the next month, Stephens was elected vice-president, serving from February 11, 1861 until his arrest on May 11, 1865. During his time in office, Stephens publicly criticized the administration of Jefferson Davis, on a range of issues including conscription and the suspension of Habeas Corpus.After the war, Stephens was quickly elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia, but his election was not recognized by that body. He later served as a U.S. Representative and briefly as governor of Georgia before his death on March 4, 1883.Stephens was himself a slave owner before the Civil War and believed that the South`s "peculiar institution" was justified by the natural inferiority of the black race to the white. His moderation was in the realm of political reality, where his correct view was that Lincoln`s election did not mean the end of Southern influence or of slavery in Southern states.He retired from Congress in 1859 and return to the practice of law.


Letter to Alexander H. Stephens, December 22, 1860

Select the Student Version to print the text and Text Dependent Questions only. Select the Teacher Version to print the text with labels, Text Dependent Questions and answers. Highlighted vocabulary will appear in both printed versions.

This text is part of the Teaching Hard History Text Library and aligns with Key Concept 7.

Your obliging answer to my short note is just received, and for which please accept my thanks. I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me.

Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly, or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.

The South would be in no more danger in this respect, than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and ought to be extended while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.


Statue of Alexander H. Stephens

Alexander H. Stephens is a marble sculpture commemorating the American politician of the same name by Gutzon Borglum, [1] installed in the United States Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. [2] The statue was gifted by the state of Georgia in 1927. [3]

Stephens earned his place in the National Statuary Hall Collection by being elected to the US House of Representatives both before and after the Civil War and serving as the Vice-President of the Confederate States of America. [4] At the unveiling of Stephen's statue on December 8, 1927, William J. Harris said of him, "His public career shows him time and again placing his loyalty to principles above subservience to political party time and again refusing to follow where he thought principles were being set aside for party purposes." [5]

On March 31, 1861, Stephens delivered the Cornerstone Speech which defended slavery as a just result of the inferiority of the "black race". [6] Because of this, in 2017, some of Stephens's descendants asked that the statue be removed from the Capitol. [7]

  1. ^ Taliaferro, John (9 October 2007). Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore. PublicAffairs. ISBN9781586486112 . Retrieved 24 August 2017 – via Google Books.
  2. ^
  3. Ford, Matt. "Why Are Confederate Statues Still Displayed in the Capitol?". The Atlantic . Retrieved 24 August 2017 .
  4. ^
  5. "Alexander Hamilton Stephens". Architect of the Capitol . Retrieved August 23, 2017 .
  6. ^ Viles, Philip H., National Statuary Hall: Guidebook for a Walking Tour, Published by Philip H. Viles, Tulsa, OK, 1997 p. 51
  7. ^ Murdock, Myrtle Chaney, National Statuary Hall in the Nation's Capitol, Monumental Press, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1955 p. 27
  8. ^
  9. "Modern History Sourcebook: Alexander H. Stephens (1812–1883): Cornerstone Address, March 21, 1861". Fordham University . Retrieved 31 May 2020 .
  10. ^
  11. Suggs, Ernie (25 August 2017). "Descendants of Confederate VP Want His Statue Out of US Capitol". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution . Retrieved 31 May 2020 .

This article about a sculpture in the United States is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.


Alexander H. Stephens - History

There is no need to be careful about this. Anyone who served in the armies of the Confederate States of America was a traitor to the United States anyone who led those armies all the more so. They were part of an armed rebellion against the U.S., which is the definition of treason.

That in itself is enough. But the fact that Confederates were fighting to protect and advance slavery, to create a slave state, means their rebellion was not just political, against the political entity that was the United States, but ethical, moral, and philosophical. They specifically rebelled against the U.S. move to end slavery of black Americans, and just as American abolitionists and antislaveryites based their work to end slavery on moral principle enshrined in the Constitution—that “all men are created equal”–American proslaveryites based their work to continue and expand slavery on a rebellion against that American principle.

The Confederacy was explicitly founded to protect and promote slavery. Its leaders made absolutely no secret of that at the time (see Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion for all the evidence from primary sources that you need). As Confederate vice-president Alexander H. Stephens said in his famous “Cornerstone speech“,

…the new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. [Thomas] Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. …The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. …Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises so with the anti-slavery fanatics their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. [our emphasis]

We quote Stephens at nauseating length to show that the Confederacy was explicitly dedicated to the anti-American principle that non-white people are biologically inferior to white people. The Confederates themselves expressed it this way, as a rejection of and rebellion against the Founders’ plan and hope that slavery would inevitably end the United States because it was “wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically”, and the United States would not tolerate this because the nation was founded on the principle of equality.

Why does this matter now, on August 16, 2017? Because Stephens still has followers in this country. The Confederacy still has supporters. There are still people living in this country who do not support our Constitution or our law, or any of our founding principles. They call themselves Americans, and most were born here, but they are not. Americans are dedicated to the founding principles of the United States of America, which include the premise that all men are created equal. Anyone who fights this is not American.

And the man currently holding the title of President of the United States is one of them. Donald Trump is no American. He is, clearly, a Confederate president, taking up the torch from Alexander Stephens. In his press conference after a white supremacist/KKK/Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA in which one woman was killed while protesting against the racist rally, Trump said that Americans protesting fascism were just as bad, and in some ways worse, than Nazis posing as Americans, and he took the fascist side:

What about the people of the alt-left, as they came charging at the alt-right, as you call them? [shouts] What about the fact that they came charging, they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.

As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day… wait a minute I’m not finished. I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day. …I will tell you, I watched this closely, more closely than any of you people, and you had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. I think there’s blame on both sides and I don’t have any doubt about it and you don’t have any doubt either.

…there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. …the following day it looked they had had some rough, bad people–neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them, but you had a lot of people in that group who were there to innocently protest…

So this week, it is Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

Our quotes for all but the last paragraph were taken from video on Fox News’ website. So far as we saw the Fox News coverage did not include the last statement. Their commentator did describe these statements by Trump as part of a “brave and honest press conference, he pulled no punches… brutally honest, maybe too honest.”

Honest. We can’t help thinking of Stephens gloating that the premise that all people are created equal had finally been debunked as a fantasy, as fanaticism. If it’s “honest” to say that American protesting fascism are the criminals, and the fascists are the true Americans, innocent Americans, then we have entered a second civil war—or a second Confederate States of America, brought into being without a shot fired in official war.

For over 150 years, the citizens of the United States perpetrated a dangerous wrong by allowing statues of traitors who fought against the U.S. politically and morally, traitors who were dedicated to the lie that all people are not created equal, to stand. “Oh, it’s not about slavery,” people would say “it’s just their culture.” We once heard someone say there are no statues to Nazi leaders in Germany. Why are there memorials to Confederate leaders in the United States? Now we see the result of 150 years of dedicated fighting after Appomattox by people who will never be real Americans, and a concentrated effort over the last 50 years, since the Civil Rights movement, to revive the Confederate States of America.

Needless to say, we can’t give in. While Trump has basically invited and urged Nazis to show up when the statue of Jackson is taken down, and has given new hope and excitement to Nazis in America, we Americans have to fight. It’s much harder to fight a guerrilla war than it was to go into actual battle during the Civil War. Right now the best path is to meet the Nazis wherever they go, and not remain a silent majority.


About this Collection

The papers of Alexander Hamilton Stephens (1812-1883), lawyer, journalist, governor of Georgia, member of both houses of the United States Congress, and vice president of the Confederate States of America, span the years 1784-1886, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1850-1883. The collection consists primarily of correspondence, supplemented by an autobiography and journal and miscellaneous memoranda, legal documents, and clippings. The papers are organized in three series: General Correspondence, Letters from Servants, and Autobiography and Journal.

The correspondence, mainly letters received, touches on virtually all aspects of Stephens&rsquos private and public life, focusing on the divisive issues leading to the Civil War, the operation of the Confederate government, and postwar problems and issues in the South. Specific topics discussed include plantation management, slavery, Texas annexation, territorial expansion, political parties, states&rsquo rights, the compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Dred Scott decision, secession, formation of the Confederate government, the conduct of the Civil War, Reconstruction in the South, and the disputed election of 1876. Broader subjects include transportation, the tariff, education, and social, economic, and literary matters.

Prominent correspondents include Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), Joseph E. Brown, Fitzwilliam Byrdsall, Henry Cleveland, Howell Cobb, Martin Crawford, A. H. Garland, John. B. Gordon, Paul Hamilton Hayne, William H. Hidell, Henry R. Jackson, Herschel V. Johnson, Richard Malcolm Johnson, L. Q. C. Lamar, James Ryder Randall, J. Henley Smith, Robert Augustus Toombs, James Iredell Waddell, and Ambrose R. Wright.


Further Reading

The recent account of Stephens is Rudolph R. Von Abele, Alexander H. Stephens (1946), a critical study not always scholarly in documentation. Eudora Ramsay Richardson, Little Aleck: A Life of Alexander H. Stephens, the Fighting Vice-president of the Confederacy (1932), emphasizes Stephens's personal life but lacks satisfactory analysis. The political background and Stephens's role are well covered in Burton. J. Hendrick, Statesmen of the Lost Cause: Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet (1939), and Rembert W. Patrick, Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet (1944).


Descendants of Alexander Stephens Speak Out

Over the past few weeks I’ve written a couple of posts concerning the issue of Confederate monuments. Two of those posts dealt with the perspectives of Robert E. Lee and the descendants of a few prominent Confederates. Well, I can add one more to the list: the descendants of Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy.

For those of you who do not know much about Alexander Stephens (CSA), I recommend reading this biography of him on the New Georgia Encyclopedia. Of course, no reading on Alexander Stephens (CSA) would be complete without a brief view of the “Cornerstone Speech,” which he delivered in Savannah, GA on March 21, 1861. It’s a good idea to form an decent understanding of Stephens and his views before diving into the statement below. I feel like the context adds a certain gravitas to their letter.

Yesterday the AJC published a story about two brothers, Alexander and Brendan Stephens. The two brothers claim to be great, great, great grand-nephews of A. Stephens (CSA). According to them, they are the most direct descendants of A. Stephens who never had children. Please click on the link above to read the story but I’ll recycle of few of the quotes below.

The brothers stated this about the monuments in an open letter to Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assesmbly:

Confederate monuments need to come down. Put them in museums where people will learn about the context of their creation, but remove them from public spaces so that the descendants of enslaved people no longer walk beneath them at work and on campus.

… Some of our relatives may disagree with our proposal, but they instilled values in us that made it possible for us to write these words: remove the statue of Alexander H. Stephens from the U.S. Capitol. (my emphasis)

In regards to growing up in the South and hearing the stories and myths that helped form their heritage, the brothers had this to say.

We both grew up with a deep appreciation of our family history. We independently had experiences that led us to a process of unlearning the history growing up. What we were learning didn’t fit with the stories that we learned when we were children. As we became more dedicated to unraveling this myth, we learned the reality…

It is not as if we grew up idolizing the Confederacy, but it was state of cognitive dissonance…Slavery was wrong, but maybe some of the people who supported it were not so bad. We were taught to look away from it. It was a family tradition that was passed along. (my emphasis)

I really enjoy the self analysis included as well as the references to growing up under the Lost Cause fable.


The Black family that claims Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, as an ancestor

CRAWFORDVILLE, Ga. – The reputation of Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the first and only vice president of the Confederacy, has long been on the decline. Never mind the statue of him that lingers in the U.S. Capitol.

Historians now point to him as the Southern rebel who said the quiet part out loud. In 1861, a month before shots were fired at Fort Sumter, Stephens denounced that key phrase in the Declaration of Independence – the one that says “all men are created equal” – as a social, moral and political mistake.

The “cornerstone” of the Confederacy would be white supremacy, Stephens told a Savannah crowd.

We are now engaged in a yet another debate over whether statues of Stephens and other Confederates should remain on display in the halls of Congress and in other public spaces. (A bust of Stephens is in the state Capitol in Atlanta.)

But an additional, far more personal reason to reconsider Stephens' place in history arrived via email several days ago. It was a copy of a petition addressed to the Georgia General Assembly, which would have to approve the removal of the statue in Washington.

“Stephens was a rapist,” wrote Jill Patton, a real estate investor who lives in Wellington, Florida. She and her family are the living proof, she said – Black descendants of a Georgia congressman and governor whom every biography has described as a lifelong, childless bachelor. He was a frail man, reportedly never weighing more than 100 pounds.

“I see glimpses of Grandpa Stephens in our family. The small frames, and prominent cheekbones in my grandmother, mom and several aunts. And, his coloring pops up here and there,” Patton wrote.

The story has traveled 175 years across five African American generations: When a youngish man, Alexander Stephens purchased a 12-year-old girl named Eliza. As a slave, she could not refuse him. She became pregnant and bore a son named Allen Stephens – Jill Patton’s great-great-grandfather.

Alexander Stephens never publicly acknowledged any offspring. Eventually, Eliza Stephens – the enslaved were saddled with the surnames of their owners – married another purchased human being named Harry, with Alexander Stephens’ blessing. The couple stayed with him until Stephens’ death in 1883 – shortly after he was elected governor. Eliza Stephens was the second person mentioned in his will.

A house on the Stephens estate here in Crawfordville was hers to keep until she died. Which she did, for 34 years after her former owner’s death. She and her husband were literate, as were her children.

The compound is now a state park with a pond and paddle boats. The main house, Liberty Hall, is part of the museum – as is the home once occupied by Harry and Eliza Stephens.

Andre McLendon, the park manager, and Judd Smith, the park historian for the state Department of Natural Resources, met me there on Monday. Smith came bearing numbers – which could support the case laid out by Patton and her family.

“I think it’s fascinating. If this works out to be true, that’s an entirely new avenue of interpretation for us to have,” Smith said. “The possibilities are there, there’s no doubt. It’s very possible.”

Smith produced copies of the 1870 census taken in Taliaferro County – the first to count African Americans as more than three-fifths of a human being. And by name.

Eliza Stephens was listed as 37 years old. Allen Stephens was 25, a 12-year difference. That would put Allen Stephens’ birth year at 1845, when Alexander Stephens was 33.

But that is not absolute proof. For decades, Black descendants fought for recognition of their genealogical ties to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman with whom the author of the Declaration of Independence had a long-term relationship. DNA tests eventually proved them right. And the same could happen here.

Three years ago, two great-great-great-grandnephews of Alexander Stephens, both white, wrote a letter similar to the one penned by Jill Patton, asking the state Legislature to order the removal of their Confederate relative from the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Like Patton, the brothers gave a copy of their letter to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I contacted one of the brothers – Alexander Stephens, a doctoral history student at the University of Michigan, and told him about Patton’s multigenerational “secret.”

He was something less than astonished. “I had not heard stories about this branch of the family, and neither had my dad or brothers, but that doesn’t mean much,” the modern, living Alexander Stephens wrote in an email. “I study history, so I would not be surprised by any case of a prominent 19th century figure refusing to acknowledge a line of his family descending from a woman he enslaved.”

Both Alexander and his brother Brendan Stephens are “open” to a discussion about DNA tests with Patton and her side of the family tree.

There is a good reason to hope that all parties will follow through. Because beneath this never-ending struggle over Confederate symbolism is a stubborn fact: In many respects, the South’s history remains every bit as segregated as its churches.

“Eliza Stephens has all but been erased from American history, but I stand here as proof she existed,” Patton, 54, wrote in that letter to Georgia lawmakers.

What happened on Alexander Stephens’ land in the 19th century could be a story that helps bridge that gap, however uncomfortable it might make us now.

Let us start with the word “rape.” There is no other term for what happened to Eliza Stephens, Patton and her family ultimately decided. “She was a child. He probably groomed her,” said Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, Patton’s aunt and the family historian.

And yet Coleman won’t deny that, ultimately, Eliza Stephens, her husband and her children appear to have prospered in a way that was unusual during and after the Civil War. “He was considered to be very good to his slaves,” Coleman said – struggling over that word “good.”

Stephens would remain an unreconstructed white Southerner, even throughout a second, post-Civil War stint in Congress. Yet we also have hints that the Stephens estate – while no paradise – operated in a way that was uncommon for its time and place.

Coleman is the pastor of a Presbyterian church in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., and carries two degrees from the Princeton Theological Seminary. Last year, in a book that combined personal and family history with poetry, Coleman set down what may be the first written account of Allen Stephens, who was always identified to her as the forgotten, only son of Alexander.

The preservation of Allen Stephens’ memory appears to have been a matriarchal task. Allen Stephens’ wife, Emily, helped raise Coleman’s mother in Alabama. “She would tell her everything. She said always tell your children that they have a very ‘famous’ ancestor. And she told her who it was,” Coleman said.

Historians have described Alexander Stephens as something of a prude, even asexual. Sexual relations with an enslaved woman would certainly challenge that interpretation.

In Eliza Stephens’ preserved house is the transcript of an 1850 letter written by Alexander Stephens from Washington, where he served in Congress. In the missive, written five years after the presumed birth of Allen Stephens, Alexander Stephens gives permission for the woman he owns to marry the slave named Harry.

The letter is often cited as a sign of Alexander Stephens’ generosity. But throw in the issue of paternity, and it reads like an inadequate attempt at reparation.

“[T]ell Eliza to go to Sloman & Henrys and get her a wedding dress including a pair of fine shoes etc. and have a decent wedding of it,” Stephens wrote. “Let them cook a supper and have such of their friends as they wish. Tell them to get some ‘parson man’ and be married like ‘Christian folks.’ ”

After the wedding, Alexander purchased the husband, who became Harry Stephens. They joined 30 other enslaved human beings who were on his plantation as of 1860. But his relationship with the married couple might not have passed muster with the white society that ruled Georgia.

The last major biography of Alexander Stephens was published in 1988 by Thomas Schott. The author appears to have lacked affection for his subject, whom he described as having an “insufferably egotistical attitude.”

But Schott wrote a passage that now screams for more detail:

“Stephens violated the Southern canon on proper management of blacks. . He never employed an overseer on his place. When he was in Washington, he simply wrote to Harry, Eliza’s husband, and gave instructions through him.

“Several of Stephens’ slaves knew how to read and write, by contemporary Southern lights extremely dangerous knowledge for black slaves and against the law in slave states. The law made no difference to Stephens he managed his household by his own rules.”

Judd Smith, the park historian, put it another way. “They had a different relationship. There’s no doubt about that, from everything we’ve read, from everything we understand about them,” he said. “Whether that relationship is because of having a child with her – it could be.”

Above the fireplace where they once lived is an elaborate portrait of Harry and Eliza Stephens – of a sort that was undoubtedly rare among African Americans living in the South after the Civil War.

On a wall opposite is a photograph. The subject is a young man, paler than others pictured in the two rooms. The women who have preserved his story say the image belongs to Allen Stephens, whom they know as the only son of Alexander Stephens and the woman he owned.

Smith, the park historian, says the photo has never been identified. He can’t say who the man is – or isn’t. That will require more study.


Vice President of the Confederacy [ edit | edit source ]

In 1861, Stephens was elected as a delegate to the Georgia special convention to decide on secession from the United States. During the convention, as well as during the 1860 presidential campaign, Stephens called for the South to remain loyal to the Union, likening it to a leaking but fixable boat. During the convention he reminded his fellow delegates that Republicans were a minority in Congress (especially in the Senate) and, even with a Republican President, would be forced to compromise just as the two sections had for decades. And, because the Supreme Court had voted 7–2 in the Dred Scott case, it would take decades of Senate-approved appointments to reverse it. He voted against secession in the convention, but asserted the right to secede if the federal government continued allowing northern states to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law with "personal liberty laws". He was elected to the Confederate Congress, and was chosen by the Congress as Vice President of the provisional government. He was then elected Vice President of the Confederacy. He took the oath of office on February 11, 1861, and served until his arrest on May 11, 1865. Stephens officially served in office eight days longer than President Jefferson Davis he took his oath seven days before Davis' inauguration and was captured the day after Davis.

Stephens in his later years

On the brink of the Civil War, on March 21, 1861, Stephens gave his famous Cornerstone Speech in Savannah, Georgia. In it he declared that slavery was the natural condition of blacks and the foundation of the confederacy.

In 1862, Stephens first publicly expressed his opposition to the Davis administration. Ώ] Throughout the war he denounced many of the president's policies, including conscription, suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, impressment, various financial and taxation policies, and Davis' military strategy.

In mid-1863, Davis dispatched Stephens on a fruitless mission to Washington to discuss prisoner exchanges, but in the immediate aftermath of the Federal victory of Gettysburg, the Lincoln administration refused to receive him. As the war continued, and the fortunes of the Confederacy sank lower, Stephens became more outspoken in his opposition to the administration. On March 16, 1864, Stephens delivered a speech to the Georgia legislature that was widely reported both North and South. In it, he excoriated the Davis administration for its support of conscription and suspension of habeas corpus, and further, he supported a block of resolutions aimed at securing peace. From then until the end of the war, as he continued to press for actions aimed at bringing about peace, his relations with Davis, never warm to begin with, turned completely sour.

On February 3, 1865, he was one of three Confederate commissioners who met with Lincoln on the steamer River Queen at the Hampton Roads Conference, a fruitless effort to discuss measures to bring an end to the fight.


Reconsidering Alexander H. Stephens

Limited by a popular and academic culture at the beginning of the 21st century that denigrates the past and places too much confidence in the present, the thoughtful student of Georgia politics and history should not be surprised that Alexander Stephens (February 11, 1812-March 4, 1883), Confederate Vice-President and American statesman, has often been neglected. One possible remedy to the neglect is to reconsider the statesman’s life and work.

Stephens was named for his grandfather, Alexander Stephens, a native of Scotland and veteran of the revolutionary war who settled in Georgia in the early 1790s. As the only child of the elder Alexander to remain in Georgia, Andrew Stephens was a successful farmer and educator. He married Margaret Grier in 1806. Within months of Stephens’ birth in 1812, his mother died as the result of pneumonia. His father quickly remarried Matilda Lindsey, a daughter of a local war hero. Matilda would exert great influence upon her stepson’s life, but the greatest inspiration to the young “Aleck” was his father. While not exhibiting any initial fondness for academic study, by 1824 Alexander was consumed with an interest in biblical narrative and history, and he began to read widely. In 1826, his mentor and teacher, Andrew Stephens, died from pneumonia the stepmother soon died from the same affliction. Alexander was overcome by his grief, and he became disconsolate and fell into a state of melancholy. The siblings were divided, with Alexander and his brother Aaron moving in with their uncle Aaron Grier. While living with his uncle, Alexander was befriended by two Presbyterian ministers, Reverend Williams and Reverend Alexander Hamilton Webster, and these men would greatly aid his personal and intellectual development. Out of Alexander’s respect and devotion to Rev. Webster, he would eventually change his middle name to Hamilton. As the result of the encouragement offered by the clerics and others, the young Alexander entered Franklin College, which would become the University of Georgia. At Franklin, Stephens was guided in his studies by the eminent educationist, Reverend Moses Waddel, the brother-in-law and teacher of John C. Calhoun, and many of the emerging leaders of South Carolina. Waddel also played an important role in the spiritual development of the young man.

Graduating first in his class at Franklin in 1832, he had distinguished himself as a scholar and capable debater. Stephens accepted a position as a tutor and began an independent study of the law. After passing the bar examination, Stephens was elected to the state legislature he would spend six years in the state house and senate. It was becoming apparent that Stephens possessed the qualities necessary for political success.

Initially refusing the request to run for the U. S. House, his political coalition merged with the Whig Party, and he decided to run for Congress in 1843. As a candidate, he defended the Whig Party’s positions on the national bank and tariffs. In a wave of Whig political success in Georgia, Stephens was elected to Congress, although sorrow would soon replace his joy. Within a brief period after his election, he received news that his brother Aaron had died. Stephens was again stricken with a profound sense of loss. After arriving in Washington to assume his seat, he was so sick that he was unable to attend legislative sessions. On February 9, 1844, in his first speech as a member of Congress, he challenged his own election. Stephens would become a Whig stalwart, campaigning for various Whig candidates and related causes, including Henry Clay’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1844. The major issue before Congress was the annexation of Texas. In opposition to many southern congressmen who viewed the annexation of Texas as essential to the preservation of a political equilibrium that protected slavery, Stephens opposed expansion. Eventually, Stephens was forced to see the benefits of annexation for the South and the Whig Party, but he opposed the measure if based solely on the extension of slavery.

Troubled by President Polk’s “bad management,” including greater tensions with England regarding Oregon, and the situation with Mexico, Stephens became an outspoken critic of the administration. Polk ordered General Zachary Taylor to the Rio Grande and a conflict transpired, prompting Polk to state that a war had been initiated. While Congress provided a declaration of war, Stephens agreed with Calhoun that the war could escalate into a greater conflict. In conjunction with other Whigs, Stephens tried to limit his support of the war and to prevent Congress from acquiring territory as the spoils of the contest. He introduced legislation aimed at limiting the aggrandizing policies of the Polk administration. By 1847 Stephens had become a central figure in the Young Indians Club, a group of congressmen who were supporting the presidential candidacy of General Zachary Taylor, who he believed shared the worldview of southern Whigs.

After Taylor’s election, Stephens was forced to reconsider his support of Old Zack. Stephens found the doctrine of popular sovereignty more palatable because it was a countervailing force against the northern Whigs who wanted to admit California and New Mexico as free states. Working with his fellow Georgian and friend, Robert Toombs, they challenged their Whig colleagues to adopt resolutions forbidding Congress from ending the slave trade in the territories, but the effort failed. Within a short period of time, Stephens had moved from being a valued supporter of the administration to a critic and congressional opponent. He was forced to leave the Whig Party, but he maintained his legislative base of support in Georgia. In joining forces against the Whigs during a period of electoral realignment, he would assist in the formation of the Constitutional Union Party in Georgia.

In the midst of the turmoil, Stephens eventually joined the Democratic Party he supported the Compromise of 1850 and was instrumental in the adoption of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Stephens thought the acceptance of Kansas-Nebraska was the “mission” of his life, and that “his cup of ambition was full.” After unsuccessfully supporting various measures that attempted to secure the position of the South, Stephens announced that he was retiring from Congress. He was weary and tired of confronting “restless, captious, and fault-finding people.” He did not support extremist measures offered by his colleagues from the South, but remained an advocate of states’ rights nevertheless. Even as southern radicals encouraged secession after the election of Lincoln in 1860, Stephens urged restraint, pleading with his follow Georgians to evince “good judgment,” and arguing that the ascendancy of Lincoln did not merit secession. In a celebrated exchange with the new president, he reminded Lincoln that “Independent, sovereign states” had formed the union and that these states could reassert their sovereignty. When Georgia convened a convention in January 1861, Stephens voted against secession, but when secession was approved by a vote of 166-130, he was part of the committee that drafted the secession ordinance.

As the Confederacy evolved, Stephens was selected as a delegate and to many he appeared to be a good candidate for the vice presidency. He assumed an important role in the drafting of the Confederate Constitution and in other affairs, eventually accepting the vice presidency. Early in his tenure as Vice President, on March 21, 1861, he gave his politically damaging “Cornerstone” address in Savannah, where he defended slavery from a natural law perspective. President Jefferson Davis was greatly disturbed, as Stephens had shifted the basis of the political debate from states’ rights to slavery. Stephens was convinced that slavery was a necessity. The estrangement between Davis and Stephens increased, and by early 1862 the vice president was not intimately involved in the affairs of state. Accordingly, he returned to his home in Crawfordville. Pursuing actions he thought might assist in the denouement of the conflict, Stephens attempted several assignments, including a diplomatic sojourn to Washington. Returning to Richmond in December 1865, he introduced proposals to strengthen the Confederacy while presiding over the Senate.

Following the conclusion of the war, Stephens faced arrest and imprisonment at Fort Warren, Massachusetts. After his release, he would devote the remainder of his life to composing A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States, a two-volume defense of southern constitutionalism which appeared in 1868 and 1870. According to Stephens, the foremost theoretical and practical distillation of authority and liberty was found within the American political tradition. The original system was predicated upon reserving the states’ sphere of authority. For Stephens, this original diffusion, buttressed by a prudent mode of popular rule, was the primary achievement of American politics.


Watch the video: The Cornerstone Speech - Alexander H. Stephens Audiobook (February 2023).

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