Alexander Hamilton Stephens (February 11, 1812 – March 4, 1883) was an American politician from Georgia and the first and only vice-president of the Confederate States of America. He also served as a Congressman from Georgia and as the fiftieth Governor of Georgia from 1882 until his death in 1883.
Early Life and Career
Stephens was born near Crawfordville, in Taliaferro County, in Georgia, on February 11, 1812, to Margaret Grier and Andrew Baskins. At age fourteen, he was orphaned. He graduated from Franklin College (which later became the University of Georgia) in 1832 and was admitted to the bar two years later. He was elected as a Whig to the state Congress of Georgia in 1836, where he served for seven years; he served in the State House from 1837 to 1841 and the State Senate from 1842 to 1843. He made a lifelong friend out of Robert Toombs. In 1843, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and remained there until 1859. He was a strong supporter of slavery, he supported the annexation of Texas, and supported the Compromise of 1850 being passed. Stephen and Toombs seized leadership of the state party and they worked to get the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed, and they resisted secession before the election of President Abraham Lincoln. However, unlike Toombs, Stephens opposed secession until it became a fait accompli in 1861.
Stephens served as the Vice-President of the Confederate States under President Jefferson Davis. He signed Georgia's ordinance of secession. He represented the Provisional Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Alabama for the state of Georgia, with nine others. His status as the South's most outspoken former Unionist won him the position of Vice-President to gain support of cooperationists and other more moderate factions.
According to the Constitution of the Confederate States of America, the office of Vice-President of the Confederate States of America is nearly identical to the office of Vice-President of the United States of America. Initially, Davis consulted Stephens frequently; Stephens appeared to be a part of Jefferson's inner circle. When military concerns consumed the administration, however, Stephens grew increasingly distant from President Davis and tried unsuccessfully many times to keep diplomatic ties to the U.S. He increasingly spent less time in the Confederate capital in Richmond, became tired of Davis' nationalist position, and encouraged Joseph E. Brown, the Governor of Georgia who was an advocate of states' rights.
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. 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. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. 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. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
- Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861