Georgia congressman was outspoken on states' rights

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Alexander Stephens was a sickly man of average height, who never weighed more than 100 pounds in his lifetime. But there's no questioning his stature in Georgia and U.S. history.

Stephens  Library Of Congress/AP Photo
Library Of Congress/AP Photo
Stephens

Born Feb. 11, 1812, near Crawfordville, Stephens' frail condition as a boy led him to choose a life of books over farm work.

He had scarcely started his career as a lawyer before he was elected to the state Legislature in 1836.

His reputation as a fiery orator followed him to Congress, where he served for 16 years, beginning in 1843.

The divisive issue of slavery and states' rights featured prominently in politics at the time and Stephens didn't shy away from the fray.

As a U.S. representative, he was instrumental in passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave the states' citizens the right to choose their position on slavery.

The fuse was lit on the powder keg with Abraham Lincoln's election as president in 1860. Stephens strongly supported Lincoln's opponent, Stephen Douglas, and, like many Southerners, viewed Lincoln's ascension to the White House as a threat to his way of life.

Unlike many of his counterparts, Stephens worked hard behind the scenes to avoid secession. When it became clear that secession was inevitable, however, he threw his full support behind it.

Stephens was a representative of the Provisional Congress in Montgomery, Ala., in 1861 and subsequently elected vice president of the Confederacy.

Stephens declared that the republic's new charter negates: "the idea which so many have been active in endeavoring to put in the form of history, that the convention at Montgomery was nothing but a set of 'conspirators.' "

As second-in-command, Stephens was closely involved with early negotiations with Washington for peace. He was said to be in agreement with President Jefferson Davis, who told the Confederate Congress in April 1861: "We seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concessions from the free States. All we ask is to be let alone."

Stephens expressed similar sentiments throughout the war in speeches designed to boost the morale of the people.

He cast the liability of the "unjust" war on Washington for "invading" the Southern states.

Stephens and Lincoln, friends from before the war, carried on several negotiations through the war for peace, even as late as Feb. 3, 1865.

A month after the surrender at Appomattox in April, Stephens was arrested for his role in the war.

He was paroled after five months at Fort Warren and by early the next year elected as a U.S. senator.

His seat was initially refused however, because Congress viewed Georgia as a state out of the Union, Lincoln's proclamation of restoration notwithstanding.

He took his seat at the formal end of Reconstruction in 1877 and served until he was elected Georgia's governor in 1882. He died in office the next year on March 4, 1883.

The series

As 150th anniversary observations of Civil War history begin next week, The Augusta Chronicle looks back on our city's role in and connections to war.

MONDAY: Berry Benson, of Hamburg, S.C., is the model for the anonymous soldier atop Augusta's Confederate Monument.

TODAY: Alexander Stephens, of Crawfordville, Ga., served as vice president of the Confederacy.

WEDNESDAY: Robert Toombs, of Washington, Ga., led troops into the battle at Antietam.

THURSDAY: The Battle of Aiken kept the city out of Union Gen. William T. Sherman's hands.

FRIDAY: Archeologists have unearthed artifacts of one of the largest Confederate prisons in Millen, Ga.

SATURDAY: Augusta's Confederate Powder Works produced millions of pounds of gunpowder.

SUNDAY: Two seminal figures on their path to Civil War legend made stops in Augusta.

Comments (22) Add comment
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southern2
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southern2 04/05/11 - 07:00 am
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Amazing man and a true

Amazing man and a true American hero. Worth the trip to Crawfordville to visit his home and museum. We can only imagine what politics would be like with great orators like him. Instead we have to settle with pols like Harry(this war is lost)Reid and Barney(suffering succotash)Frank. Somehow I feel history has cheated me.

Mr. Thackeray
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Mr. Thackeray 04/05/11 - 09:16 am
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Nice SANITIZED choice for

Nice SANITIZED choice for quotations. Try this one on for size to see the REAL man:

"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."

Cornerstone Speech

Alexander H. Stephens
March 21, 1861
Savannah, Georgia

copperhead
1035
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copperhead 04/05/11 - 11:10 am
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ANYBODY that is of the

ANYBODY that is of the opinion that states should have rights seperate from the federal government should be arrested and sent to a re-education camp. They should lose all citzenship rights and be banished from the job market.

Mr. Thackeray
896
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Mr. Thackeray 04/05/11 - 12:19 pm
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Wow Cooperhead! A bit

Wow Cooperhead! A bit extreme yes? Opinions are protected speech and ship be, after all, at Thomas Jefferson said, "The rights of the jerks are the rights of us all."

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
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Crime Reports and Rewards TV 04/05/11 - 02:24 pm
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GA does not recognize ALL the

GA does not recognize ALL the Bill of Rights ESPECIALY the 7th one. Ga needs to get ready to lose another legal battle over its not recognizing the Bill of Rights. Call your congressmen and ask them to ask GA to stop breaking Federal law. Those who forget mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
33
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Crime Reports and Rewards TV 04/05/11 - 02:35 pm
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"the negro is not

"the negro is not equal"

Shame that there are about 54 gangs in Augusta trying their best to make this misled mans words seem true. When ANYONE protects gangs, or denies MCG the right to a greenspace MOSTLY because of the color of their skin they are only making this guy seem like he knew what he was talking about

follower
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follower 04/05/11 - 03:34 pm
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Stephens said, "It was no

Stephens said,

"It was no Insurrection or Rebellion, or even Civil War in any proper sense of these terms... The war... was a war between States regularly organized into two separate Federal Republics... In the beginning, and throughout the contest, the object of the 'Confederates' was to maintain the separate Sovereignty of each State, and the right of self-government, which that necessarily carries with it. The object of the 'Federals,' on the contrary, was to maintain a Centralized Sovereignty over all the States on both sides. This was the fundamental principle involved in the Conflict, which must be kept continually in mind. Alexander Hamilton Stephens »"

With this I agree. But at the same time, knowing that his ultimate goal was the retention of slavery renders his stance..... abominable.

A great statesman? Probably. Misguided? Certainly.

While a notable component of Georgia's history, I find it difficult to bestow the mantle of hero.

Mr. Thackeray
896
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Mr. Thackeray 04/05/11 - 03:41 pm
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Follower, "Sovereignty of

Follower, "Sovereignty of each State, and the right of self-government" was "Rebel speak" for slavery.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 04/05/11 - 03:52 pm
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Some Alexander Stephens

Some Alexander Stephens Quotes:

"We are without doubt on the verge, on the brink of an abyss into which I do not wish to look."
–Alexander Stephens, after Abraham Lincoln was elected president on November 6, 1860.

"This step, secession, once taken, can never be recalled. We and our posterity shall see our lovely South desolated by the demon of war."
–Alexander Stephens, January 18, 1861.

"It will probably end the war."
–Alexander Stephens, regarding the secession of Virginia from the Union on April 17, 1861.

"We shall be in one of the bloodiest civil wars that history has recorded."
–Alexander Stephens after Fort Sumter.

"War I look for as almost certain … Revolutions are much easier started than controlled, and the men who begin them … themselves become the victims."
–Alexander Stephens, 1861.

seenitB4
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seenitB4 04/05/11 - 03:59 pm
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I tried all in my power to

I tried all in my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, for twelve years I worked night and day to prevent it, but I could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came, and now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize the musket and fight our battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self government. We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence, and that, or extermination President Jefferson Davis, Confederate States of America

THEY WOULD NOT LET US GOVERN OURSELVES.....& still we have the same problem with Washington DC

seenitB4
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seenitB4 04/05/11 - 04:08 pm
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If [the Declaration of

If [the Declaration of Independence] justifies the secession from the British empire of 3,000,000 of colonists in 1776, we do not see why it would not justify the secession of 5,000,000 of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861. – New York Tribune, December 17, 1860

seenitB4
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seenitB4 04/05/11 - 04:11 pm
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follower
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follower 04/05/11 - 05:15 pm
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Mr. Thackeray, the

Mr. Thackeray, the sovereignty of states was spelled out in the Constitution clearly. I agree with the Constitution. In the case of Stephens and many other misguided people of that time, their cry for sovereignty was a veil for keeping the dispicable act of slavery intact.

Because they would misuse and misconstrue the purpose doesn't negate the intent of Constitution, which was to prevent the federal government from being too centalized in the balance of power, which is now the case.

My family is directly linked to several notable leaders of the Confederacy. I admire their bravery. I hate that their bravery was linked to such a dispicable cause.

paulbaughman28
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paulbaughman28 04/05/11 - 09:32 pm
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It is stated in the

It is stated in the Constitution that any law not stated in the Constitution is reserved for the State to decide upon. Paraphrazing, of course. Further more, it is not only the right, but the DUTY, for the people to overthrow the Government if it no longer serves the people.

Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 04/05/11 - 10:44 pm
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He was a man of his times, so

He was a man of his times, so the quotes about "negros" are of that time.

Brad

juantez
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juantez 04/06/11 - 12:49 am
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"denies MCG the right to a
Unpublished

"denies MCG the right to a greenspace MOSTLY because of the color of their skin they are only making this guy seem like he knew what he was talking about"
The South Will Rise Again!

CharlesB
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CharlesB 04/06/11 - 01:33 am
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It is so easy to interject

It is so easy to interject race into almost any conversation concerning politicians from the South today or 150 years ago. It's an automatic insert. We look to the Declaration of Independence and the words contained therein to find some nuggets to use to support our truths and we take those nuggets and quote them and watch as others view us in awe of our great knowledge. We may take quotes from a politically passionate man from 150 years ago and use those words to make him seem a misfit. You can't do that. A snippet of words from a mans whole life is no way to justify his worth. Times were so different then that nobody now can imagine the climate of thought in that era. My best example is Thomas Jefferson. He was the main writer of the DOC and supposedly abhorred slavery, yet he held several hundred slaves himself as did many leaders in the North. So let's hold back on the anvils waiting to be dropped on a dead man's legacy. just my opinion.

southern2
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southern2 04/06/11 - 07:37 am
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CharlesB...I like the way you

CharlesB...I like the way you think! Thanks for keeping it real.

seabeau
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seabeau 04/06/11 - 07:51 am
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The Tyrant Lincoln saw that

The Tyrant Lincoln saw that the union was dissolving, the South had formed the Confederacy, New York and Penn. were prepairing to leave the union and form The Central Confederacy, Lincoln knew that he had to inflame the North with hatred against the South to keep the Northern states in the Union, so he and Seward had Federal Col.Anderson man Ft.Sumpter and deify South Carolinas' appeal for them to leave, knowing full well that this would lead to war. Per the Constitution it matters not one bit what reason a state would have for secession if it deemed necessary. Once only Blacks were enslaved now we all are.

jrbfromga
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jrbfromga 04/06/11 - 10:07 am
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Interesting how many label
Unpublished

Interesting how many label Stephens as "misguided" due to his stance on slavery. Face the facts folks, in 1860 no one, north or south, who proclaimed equality of the negro and caucasian races would be taken seriously. One cannot judge the words spoken 150 years ago by the societal norms of today. Things were different then, and things will be different 150 years from now.

follower
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follower 04/06/11 - 10:53 am
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What are the stances that we

What are the stances that we hold to in the present that will be denigrated 150 years from now? We believe for the most part that we are "enlightened" to a degree that previous generations before could not possibly measure up to.

While the belief that the "negro" was inferior in that day was the prevailing concensus, I find it difficult to understand how someone could enslave, beat, denigrate, and even hang another human being. Those with a conscious were few, and many of those few were silent.

I know what it is like to be a minority although I'm white. While I've not suffered discrimination as blacks did in that time, try being a vocal follower of Jesus Christ that believes the Bible is indeed the inspired Word of God. At the least, you'll be laughed at by many.

The statistics may claim that a majority of citizens are Christian. But based on the lives of many, it's unlikely. I'm not judging their heart, but what is clearly observable.

If we are created by God in His image, there is inherent worth. If we are the product of a random evolution without purpose.........well, you see what's happening with so many that believe such.

DanK
779
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DanK 04/06/11 - 07:46 pm
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Alexander Stephens -- What a

Alexander Stephens -- What a despicable, noxious, disgusting excuse for a man. How shameful to praise this vile parasite.

PhiloPublius
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PhiloPublius 04/08/11 - 03:12 pm
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This man was a power-hungry

This man was a power-hungry bureaucratic bigot as were most leaders wearing the gray uniforms.

When the war started, pro-slavery politicians and rich land owners used fear mongering to scare the people in the south to stand up against the "Northern Aggression". This war was and always will be about one group of people firmly believing that they were a superior race than another.

Confederate leaders in 1861 were no better than Hitler himself. This war has been romanticized long enough and its time the truth be taught in our schools.

mickl
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mickl 04/17/11 - 05:33 pm
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PhiloPublius, ‘its time the

PhiloPublius, ‘its time the truth be taught in our schools.’
I agree 100%. The truth should be taught not the lies and racism that black leaders are teaching in black communities and in black churches.

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