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ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS (1812-1883)
THE CONFEDERATE WICE-PRESIDENT
HEN, in the early days of 1861, the secession convention of Georgia, was considering the perilous purpose which most of its members had strongly in view, Alexander H. Stephens earnestly combatted its suicidal course. In this he was strongly sustained by another statesman of the convention, Benjamin H. Hill. But when the ordinance of secession was passed against their advice, they yielded their own opinions and went with their State, Hill becoming a Confederate Senator, and Stephens Vice-President of the Confederacy during its four eventful years. He had been a member of the National House of Representatives for sixteen years before the war, and entered this body again in 1874, serving for several terms. In 1882 he was elected Governor of Georgia. Alike as orator and statesman, Stephens was a man of unusual powers.
SEPARATE AS BILLOWS, BUT ONE AS THE SEA [As an example of Mr. Stephens's oratory, we offer the following extract from his address of February 12, 1878, at the unveiling of Carpenter's picture illustrating the signing of the Proclamation of Emancipation by President Lincoln. It is of interest alike for its eulogy of Lincoln, and its views on the effect of emancipation and the reunion of the country.]
I knew Mr. Lincoln well. We met in the House in December, 1847. We were together during the Thirtieth Congress. I was as intimate with him as with any other man of that Congress, except perhaps my colleague, Mr. Toombs. Of Mr. Lincoln's general character I need not speak. He was warm-hearted ; he was generous; he was magnanimous; he was most truly, as he afterwards said on a memorable occasion, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” He had a native genius far above his fellows. Every fountain of his heart was overflowing with the “milk of human kindness.” From my attachment to him, so much deeper was the
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pang in my own breast, as well as of millions, at the horrible manner of his “taking off.” This was the climax of our troubles, and the spring from which came unnumbered woes. But of those events, no more, now! As to the great historic event which this picture represents, one thing should be duly noted. Let not History confuse events. It is this : that Emancipation was not the chief object of Mr. Lincoln in issuing the Proclamation. His chief object, the ideal to which his whole soul was devoted, was the preservation of the Union. Pregnant as it was with coming events, initiative as it was of ultimate emancipation, it still originated, in point of fact, more from what was deemed the necessities of war than from any purely humanitarian view of the matter. Life is all a mist, and in the dark our fortunes meet us. This was evidently the case with Mr. Lincoln. He, in my opinion, was, like all the rest of us, an instrument in the hands of that Providence above us, that “ divinity which shapes our ends, roughhew them as we will.” I doubt very much whether Mr. Lincoln, at the time, realized the great result. The Proclamation did not declare free all the colored people of the Southern States, but applied only to those parts of the country then in resistance to the Federal authorities. Mr. Lincoln's idea as embodied in his Proclamation of September 22, 1862, as well as that of January 1, 1863, was consummated by the voluntary adoption, by the South, of the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. That is the charter of the colored man's freedom. Without that, the Proclamation had nothing but the continuance of the war to sustain it. Had the States, then in resistance, laid down their arms by the 1st of January, 1863, the Union would have been saved, but the condition of the slave, so called, would have been unchanged. Before the upturning of Southern society by the Reconstruction Acts, the white people, there, came to the conclusion that their domestic institution, known as slavery, had better be abolished. It has been common to speak of the colored race as the wards of the nation. May I not say with appropriateness and due reverence, in the language of Georgia's greatest intellect, “They are rather the wards of the Almighty'' 2 Why, in the providence of God, their ancestors were permitted to be brought over here, it is not for me to say ; but they have a location and habitation here, especially at the South ; and, though the changed condition of their status was the leading cause of the late terrible conflict between the States, I venture to affirm that there is not one within the circle of my acquaintance, or in the whole Southern country, who would wish to see the old relation restored. This changed status creates new duties. Men of the North, and men of the South, of the East, and of the West, I care not of what party, I
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would, to-day, on this commemorative occasion, urge upon every one within the sphere of duty and humanity, whether in public or private life, to see to it that there be no violation of the divine trust.
During the conflict of arms I frequently almost despaired of the liberties of our country, both North and South. The Union of these States, at first, I always thought was founded upon the assumption that it was the best interest of all to remain united, faithfully performing, each for itself, its own constitutional obligations under the compact. When secession was resorted to as a remedy, I went with my State, holding it my duty to do so, but believing, all the time, that if successful, when the passions of the hour and of the day were over, the great law which produced the Union at first, “mutual interest and reciprocal advantage,” would reassert itself, and that at no distant day a new Union of some sort would again be formed.
And now, after the severe chastisement of war, if the general sense of the whole country shall come back to the acknowledgment of the original assumption that it is for the best interests of all the States to be so united, as I trust it will, the States being “separate as the billows, but one as the sea"—this thorn in the body politic being now removed—I can perceive no reason why, under such a restoration—the flag no longer waving over provinces, but States—we, as a whole, with peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations and entangling alliances with none, may not enter upon a new career, exciting increased wonder in the Old World, by grander achievements hereafter to be made than any heretofore attained, by the peaceful and harmonious workings of our matchless system of American federal institutions of self-government.
All this is possible, if the hearts of the people be right. It is my earnest wish to see it. Fondly would I gaze upon such a picture of the future. With what rapture may we not suppose the spirits of our fathers would hail its opening scenes, from their mansions above | But if, instead of all this, sectional passions shall continue to bear sway, if prejudice shall rule the hour, if a conflict of classes, of capital and labor, or of the races, shall arise, or the embers of the late war be kept a-glowing until with new fuel they shall flame up again, then, hereafter, by some bard it may be sung :
“The Star of Hope shone brightest in the West,
It, too, has set upon her darkened shore,
ROBERT TOOMBS (1810–1885)
THE ORATOR OF SECESSION
HILE Phillips and Parker were vehemently denouncing slavery W in the North, Robert Toombs, with equal force and equal eloquence, was advocating and sustaining it in the South and in the Senate of the United States, of which he was a member from 1853 to 1861. A man of deep political insight, he discerned the coming war at a long distance, and spoke in favor of secession from 1850 onward. The acquisition of territory from Mexico he looked upon as “a policy which threatened the ruin of the South and the subversion of this Government.” In his opinion this movement pointed to conflict and would end in war. A leader in the secession movement in Georgia, he resigned from the Senate when that State left the Union, and was afterward a Confederate Secretary of War, Senator and brigadier-general.
THE CREED OF SECESSION [As an orator Toombs was a man of remarkable readiness and fluency. His daring was as great as his eloquence was fervent. His speech, on resigning from the Senate to cast in his lot with his State, was one of the most audacious examples of oratory ever heard in that body. He fairly flung down the gauntlet of war on the floor of the Senate chamber before leaving it. We give the leading portions of this farewell speech.]
Senators, the Constitution is a compact. It contains all our obligations and duties of the Federal Government, I am content, and have ever been content, to sustain it. While I doubt its perfection ; while I do not believe it was a good compact; and while I never saw the day that I would have voted for it as a proposition de novo, yet I am bound to it by oath, and by that common prudence which would induce men to abide by established forms, rather than to rush into unknown dangers.
I have given to it, and intend to give to it, unfaltering support and allegiance ; but I choose to put that allegiance on the true ground, not
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on the false plea that anybody's blood was shed for it. I say that the Constitution is the whole compact. All the obligations, all the chains that fetter the limbs of my people, are nominated in the bond, and they wisely excluded any conclusion against them by declaring that the powers not granted by the Constitution to the United States, or forbidden by it to the States, belonged to the States respectively or to the people. Now I will try it by that standard; I will subject it to that test. The law of nature, the law of justice, would say—and it is so expounded by the publicists—that equal rights in the common property shall be enjoyed. Even in a monarchy, the king cannot prevent the subjects from enjoying equality in the disposition of the public property. Even in a despotic government this principle is recognized. It was the blood and the money of the whole people (says the learned Grotius, and say all the publicists) which acquired the public property, and therefore it is not the property of the sovereign. This right of equality being, then, according to justice and natural equity, a right belonging to all States, when did we give it up 2 You say Congress has a right to pass rules and regulations concerning the Territory and other property of the United States. Very well. Does that exclude those whose blood and money paid for it 2 Does “dispose of ’’ mean to rob the rightful owners? You must show a better title than that, or a better sword than we have. But, you say, try the right. I agree to it. But how 2 By our judgment 2 No, not until the last resort. What then ; by yours? No, not until the same time. How then try it? The South has always said, by the Supreme Court. But that is in our favor, and Lincoln says he will not stand that judgment. Then each must judge for himself of the mode and manner of redress. But you deny us that privilege, and finally reduce us to accepting your judgment. We decline it. You say you will enforce it by executing laws ; that means your judgment of what the laws ought to be. Perhaps you will have a good time of executing your judgment. The Senator from Kentucky comes to your aid, and says he can find no constitutional right of secession. Perhaps not ; but the Constitution is not the place to look for State rights. If that right belongs to independent States, and they did not cede it to the Federal Government, it is reserved to the States, or to the people. Ask your new commentator where he gets your right to judge for us. Is it in the bond 2. The Supreme Court have decided that, by the Constitution, we have a right to go to the Territories and be protected there with our property. You say, we cannot decide on the compact for ourselves. Well, can the Supreme Court decide it for us? Mr. Lincoln says he does not care what the Supreme Court decides, he will turn us out anyhow. He says this in