Alexander Stephens' Cornerstone Speech / by kevin murray

No doubt, most people are unaware of who Alexander Stephens was, but he was the first and the last Vice President of the Confederate States of America, who on March 21, 1861, at the Athenaeum in Savannah, GA made a extemporaneous speech which in its words and in its effects describes the founding principles of the Southern States and for what they stood for.  This speech puts to rest, forever, the so-called "lost cause" of the Confederacy, to which the South claims that their cause was both noble and chivalrous, and further that the South lost the war not because that they were in the wrong, but only because they could not overcome the uncouth North's numerical and industrial advantages which brought wanton destruction and depredations upon the South, that forever destroyed and upset the traditional and genteel ways of Southern life.


At the time of Stephens' speech, Abraham Lincoln had just been inaugurated only two weeks earlier in the month, so that when Stephens bragged that the "revolution ….been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood," the Southern attack upon Ft. Sumter had not yet been made, so that the absence of blood that Stephens referred to would be plentiful enough for the next bloody four years.  Further, in order to justify the Southern secession from the Union, Stephens drew upon the founding fathers of our country and was surprisingly candid in stating fairly and profoundly that: "The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Thomas 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. …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 idea of a Government built upon it-when the "storm came and the wind blew, it fell."" Stephens makes two essential and critical admissions, the first is that our founding fathers believed completely in these words that "all men are created equal", and further that the Southern states upon ratifying the Constitution were in agreement in principle that slavery would over a period of time fade away from this great land, to which the Constitution stated that a tax or duty on the importation of persons may be permitted, beginning in the year 1808.  Subsequently to the enacted Constitution, a further Federal act was passed in 1807, forbidding the importation of slaves in 1807, which became effective in 1808.  In fact, slavery was in continual decline in the United States from the inception of our Independence until the advent of the cotton gin, which changed the economics and importance of slavery in fundamental ways.


Stephens went on to state that: "Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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 moral condition." This self-serving statement is demonstrative proof of the delusion of the South.  The United Kingdom had in 1833, outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire, in a time when the sun did not set on this empire.  The mistake that the United States had made was in their enactment of our Constitution there was assumed that over a period of time, and additionally through taxation and later through the prohibition of slave importation that slavery as an institution, would become marginalized, outdated, and outmoded, but instead new technology and the inherent greed of money making put a lie to that noble purpose.


The South, far from having a meaningful "lost cause" instead when defeated at the ballot upon the election of Abraham Lincoln, decided to rebel in order to skirt its attendant obligations and duties, and to instead impress upon people who had done them no wrong, that they were born to be forever enslaved to the Southern cause and to the Southern way, so that the Southern man could live well upon the bread and blood he had extracted unjustly from his fellow man.