Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the CSA

I am very strongly in favor of States’ Rights. But I am not at all comfortable with the baggage that sometimes comes along with the phrase.

Vice President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War under Jefferson Davis. He also served as a U.S. Representative from Georgia (both before the Civil War and after Reconstruction) and as Governor of Georgia from 1882 until his death in 1883.

Vice President of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War under Jefferson Davis. He also served as a U.S. Representative from Georgia (both before the Civil War and after Reconstruction) and as Governor of Georgia from 1882 until his death in 1883.

Alexander H. Stevens, Vice- President of the Confederacy gave a speech which was quite well received at the time, but neo-Confederates of today would like to pretend it never happened, or that the VP of the would be confederation of states was a nobody whose opinions didn’t matter that much, or, at best, that they were a mere reflection of the times, something ‘everybody’ thought, and thus should be overlooked.
He lays out one of the primary causes for the Civil War very clearly.  Emphasis added:

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. 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. […]

The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Jefferson] 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. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. […]

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. […]

They [those against slavery] were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

[He equates the truth of this, which he calls a new principle, with scientific truths of Galileo, Adam Smith, Harvey, that, like their ideas, the new principle of inequality based on race will take time to be accepted]

  It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. […] It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of his ordinances, or to question them. For his own purposes, he has made one race to differ from another, as he has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”

Too bad he seems not to have known this verse from Acts chapter 17:

And he has made of one blood all the nations of men living on all the face of the earth

I can hardly read this next paragraph without bile rising up in my mouth:

The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to his laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” — the real “corner-stone” — in our new edifice. [Applause.]

This is nothing short of blasphemous, both the speaker and the applauders.  The VP of the Confederacy cherishes the institution of slavery so much that he actually equates the race-based subjugation of men, women, and children with the ‘stone rejected by the first builders,’ but the Bible he claims to use to support this vile stance very clearly and plainly says that Jesus is that Cornerstonenot  the kidnapping and enslavement of men, women, and children who happen to be black.

Never let anybody tell you that the American Civil War really didn’t have much to do with slavery.  The VP of the Confederacy not only said it was the primary issue, he twists scriptures to equate slavery with the Savior.
I’ve read this before- it is very instructive, is it not?  It’s also instructive to read the statements published by the seceding states at the time of their secession explaining their reasons.  Those claiming slavery had little to do with it are the revisionists in this case.

The Corner, which posted Stephens’ speech, says that after the war, he tried to back track a bit, only…. he’s finds it difficult. He basically blames reporters for getting what he said wrong, but then he simply digs the hole deeper.  He also reveals or rather confirms, two other black marks against the Southern States before the war:

[…] I did not say, nor do I think the reporter represented me as saying, that there was the slightest change in the new Constitution from the old regarding the status of the African race amongst us. (Slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession; out of it rose the breach of compact, for instance, on the part of several Northern States in refusing to comply with Constitutional obligations as to rendition of fugitives from service, a course betraying total disregard for all constitutional barriers and guarantees.)

For a man who claimed to believe in a higher law, he seems strangely ignorant or unconcerned with what that law said about returning fugitive slaves:
“Thou shalt not deliver unto his master the servant which is escaped from his master unto thee:  He shall dwell with thee, even among you, in that place which he shall choose in one of thy gates, where it liketh him best: thou shalt not oppress him” (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16).
Stephens continues to excuse himself and offer an apologetic for his speech:

I admitted that the fathers, both of the North and the South, who framed the old Constitution, while recognizing existing slavery and guaranteeing its continuance under the Constitution so long as the States should severally see fit to tolerate it in their respective limits, were perhaps all opposed to the principle. Jefferson, Madison, Washington, all looked for its early extinction throughout the United States. But on the subject of slavery – so called – (which was with us, or should be, nothing but the proper subordination of the inferior African race to the superior white) great and radical changes had taken place in the realm of thought; many eminent latter-day statesmen, philosophers, and philanthropists held different views from the fathers.
[…]
The relation of the black to the white race, or the proper status of the coloured population amongst us, was a question now of vastly more importance than when the old Constitution was formed. The order of subordination was nature’s great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The new Confederation was entered into with this distinct understanding. This principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the “corner-stone” on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787, was not wrong in itself, either morally or politically; that it was in conformity to nature and best for both races.

Please note that he felt it necessary to defend the idea that the black was inferior to the white as a justification for slavery, to explain why this was not wrong, morally or politically- which tells us that it is a mistake to give Stephens and others who held this opinion a free pass on the basis of this being ‘what everybody thought.’  HE did not believe this was what everybody thought.  He lived and breathed and had his being in that time, and he knew it was a doctrine that was sharply criticized.

My own opinion of slavery, as often expressed, was that if the institution was not the best, or could not be made the best, for both races, looking to the advancement and progress of both, physically and morally, it ought to be abolished. It was far from being what it might and ought to have been. Education was denied. This was wrong. I ever condemned the wrong. Marriage was not recognized. This was a wrong that I condemned.

He admits plainly that education was denied to the slaves and that marriages were not recognized.  Yet NeoConfederates today will tell that this is either not true, or not ‘very’ true- that is, they will claim that this was rare.  I do not know the basis for that belief, but it’s not in history.  Contemporary accounts of the time confirm that marriages recognized by the slave owners or educated slaves were exceptions.

[…]Great improvements were, however, going on in the condition of blacks in the South. Their general physical condition not only as to necessaries but as to comforts was better in my own neighbourhood in 1860, than was that of the whites when I can first recollect, say 1820. Much greater would have been made, I verily believe, but for outside agitation. I have but small doubt that education would have been allowed long ago in Georgia, except for outside pressure which stopped internal reform.

Excuse me?  Men of principle do what is right because it is right.  They do not childishly prevent one group of people from gaining education because a third group whom they disdain think it is a good idea.   Isn’t it interesting how here he admits a great failing on the part of the south- that yes, they denied education to the slaves, and then instead of accepting culpability for that, makes that the fault of those ‘outside pressures’ who wished to improve conditions?

Related:
Interracial Marriage

Nope, it doesn’t matter that this what ‘everybody thought.’

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4 Comments

  1. Angela
    Posted March 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Some of these thoughts were prompted by the posts you link to at the end:

    It turns my stomach whenever people try to say 'it was about State's rights' regarding the Civil War. Yes, it was about states' rights, the right to decide whether or not it's ok to own another human being, and you know what? To even think there's a situation where owning another person is acceptable is obscene. I'm a big believer in states' rights, but there is nothing in this world or the next that will make it ok for states to arbitrarily decide whether or not others will be enslaved.

    Have you heard the song "The Three Great Alabama Icons"? It's about the singer's life in the South (growing up when George Wallace was governor), and what it was like to come from a not racist family to living outside of the South, and seeing how Southern culture was perceived by/portrayed to Northerners. I recommend this YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cyDwYi4TD8) if you want to hear it, because the creator included information about George Wallace's contemporaries who didn't believe 'what everybody thought'.

    Also, things are just different down here? Yes, they are. I like to think Southerners have better food, weather, and manners, but I don't include racism in the list of things that make us different. And way to go (to the people you replied to in your Interracial Marriage post) for making it look like we're stuck in the '50s.

    Um, I think that's it. Rant over.

  2. RINKEVICHJM
    Posted March 29, 2011 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    The Greek word for blood doesn't appear in the oldest Greek texts nor did it appear in the Vulgate which suggests it was added to smooth Liturgical reading. He's referring to Adam or the new Adam, Jesus Christ, in who we are made joint natured by the sign of the cross in Baptism (cf. Rom 6:5) and by whose blood we partake of the divine nature, whether we be formerly Ethiopeans, Koreans, Aztecs, or Lithuanians (the first foreigners to take home the faith, the first to accept Christianity before a missionary came, the Indians who first accepted the faith and the last Pagans).

  3. Timotheus
    Posted March 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    My opinion has gone back and forth in my life on the subject of the Civil War… When I was a kid, learning the simplistic slavery-oriented explanation for the war, it was obvious that the North was in the right. Later, I was told that it was really over states' rights, which swayed me back to at least a neutral position. Later than that, I read the secession documents for myself and learned that the simplistic slavery explanation really WAS the correct one, putting the North back in the sympathetic light. But then thinking about it some more, I realized that the right to secede is absolute, regardless of how dumb or vile the reasons are, so the North was in the wrong for trying to prevent it. Basically, neither side can be justified.

  4. Headmistress, zookeeper
    Posted March 29, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    I would agree that the north had many flaws of its own and cannot be cast as the altogether righteous white hats that history books liked to paint when I was in school.

    However, the South did not agree that the right to secede was absolute up until just a few years before the Civil War. A few northern politicians barely hinted at the possibility of secession at the Hartford Convention (they didn't even come right out and call for it- just hinted), and they were excoriated by both north and south and it pretty much ended their careers. There are a few people in both north and south who thought such a right existed, but they were a small minority and such a 'right' had not only never been acknowledged, the leadership of the south had previously actively denied such a right existed. So this imagined 'right' did not actually exist, and certainly wasn't recognized or accepted by the south until the South's ox was gored- or rather, until they imagined their ox was gored (since Lincoln was certainly willing to let them keep their slaves, he just didn't want to let them violate the Missouri Compromise).
    Add to that their horrible imposition upon the conscience and religious beliefs of others through the unjust Fugitive Slave Law imposed on the north (a vile violation of 'states' rights if ever there was one), and their attempts to tamper with the mail and engage in censorhips, and the decades of blatant disregard for the constitutional right to petition, not to mention their insistence on a brand new made-up right to violate the Missouri Compromise they had agreed on in the first place- and I see nothing but hypocrisy and covenant breaking on the part of the south. I think that's what so irks me about the 'state's rights' argument here- the *SOUTH* violated States' Rights left and right and had never been interested in extending such a courtesy to the north, so it's incredible chutzpah then turn around and say that is what they were fighting for. No, it wasn't. They were fighting for their right to enslave and sell human beings on the basis of skin color.
    The South pushed hard for a war because they were sore losers over Lincoln's presidency (until then they'd pretty much held the majority in all branches of office) and they thought they could win it, and because they wanted to move slavery into the new territories in direct violation of their own previous agreements. They lost. And then the revisionism began.

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