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Stephens, Alexander Hamilton -1883

Statesman; born near Crawfordsville, Ga., Feb. 11, 1812; was educated at Franklin College, and graduated in 1832. Being left an orphan, he was indebted to the care of friends for his education and youthful training for usefulness. He was admitted to the practice of the law in 1834 at Crawfordsville, and soon rose to eminence. His first care was to reimburse expenditures by his friends and to purchase from the hands of strangers the home of his childhood at Crawfordsville. In early manhood he adopted the doctrine of State sovereignty (q. v.) in all its breadth, and always believed in the righteousness of slavery. In this doctrine and belief he always acted consistently. Though small in stature and weak in constitution, he gave many instances of personal courage. He entered the legislature of Georgia as a member in 1834, and remained there until 1841. In 1842 he was elected to the State Senate; and from 1843 to 1859 was a Representative in Congress, where he was an able and industrious worker on committees, and fluent in debate. He favored the annexation of Texas; supported Clay for President in 1844; took a leading part in effecting the [406] compromises of 1850; and was an active supporter of the Kansas-Nebraska act.

When the old Whig party broke up, he joined the Democrats, and was a firm supporter of Buchanan's administration. He favored Douglas's election to the Presidency, and in various public addresses denounced those who advocated a

Alexander Hamilton Stephens.

dissolulion of the Union. On this subject he and Robert Toombs, of Georgia, were diametrically opposed, and at public meetings during the autumn and winter of 1860-61 these popular leaders had strong contentions in public, Stephens always setting forth the beneficence and value of the Union, Toombs denouncing it as an oppressor and a hinderance to the progress of Georgia. In a speech at Milledgeville opposing secession. Stephens said, “Some of our public men have failed in their aspirations. That is true, and from that comes a great part of our troubles.” Toombs was present, and keenly felt this thrust at demagogues of every hue.

When a Georgia State convention debated the propriety of passing an ordinance of secession, Stephens, who was a member, opposed the scheme; but when it was adopted by a clear majority, he, in accordance with his views of paramount allegiance to his State, acquiesced in it and signed it. In his speech against it, he had said, “Should Georgia determine to go out of the Union, I speak for one, though my views might not agree with theirs, whatever the result may be, I shall bow to the will of the people of my State.” A month later Mr. Stephens was vice-president of the Provisional Confederate Government. After the war Mr. Stephens was confined some time as a state prisoner in Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor, but was released Oct. 11, 1865. He published History of the War between the States. In 1866 he was chosen a delegate to the Philadelphia “National Union convention.” In 1877 he represented Georgia in Congress, and retained his seat until elected governor of that State in 1882. He died in Atlanta, Ga., March 4, 1883.

Slavery the corner-stone.

In a speech delivered to the citizens of Savannah, Ga., in 1861, Vice-President Stephens declared the principles upon which the Southern Confederacy had been founded in the following words:

The new constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among 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 the time. The Constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly used against the constitutional guarantee thus secured, [407] 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 idea of a government built upon it was wrong; when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; 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 moral condition. 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 is so even among 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 antislavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises are. 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 premises being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the Northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery; that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle—a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of man. The reply I made to him was that upon his own grounds we should succeed, and that he and his associates in their crusade against our institutions would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as well as in physics and mechanics, I admitted, but told him that it was he and those acting with him who were warring against a principle. They 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.

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are, and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo —it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon 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 principles of certain classes; but the classes thus enslaved were of the same race, and in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's laws. The negro by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation [408] with the proper material—the granite— then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is the best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with 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 differ from another in glory.”

The great objects of humanity are best attained when conformed 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 stone of the corner” in our new edifice.

I have been asked, What of the future? It has been apprehended by some, that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be; when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth we are obliged and must triumph.

Thousands of people who begin to understand these truths are not yet completely out of the shell; they do not see them in their length and breadth. We hear much of the civilization and Christianization of the barbarous tribes of Africa. In my judgment, those ends will never be obtained but by first teaching them the lesson taught to Adam, that “in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread,” and teaching them to work, and feed, and clothe themselves.

But to pass on. Some have propounded the inquiry, whether it is practicable for us to go on with the Confederacy without further accessions. Have we the means and ability to maintain nationality among the powers of the earth? On this point I would barely say, that as anxious as we have all been, and are, for the Border States, with institutions similar with ours, to join us, still we are abundantly able to maintain our position, even if they should ultilately make up their minds not to cast their destiny with ours. That they ultimately will join us, be compelled to do it, is my confident belief; but we can get on very well without them, even if they should not.

We have all the essential elements of a high national career. The idea has been given out at the North, and even in the Border States, that we are too small and too weak to maintain a separate nationality. This is a great mistake. In extent of territory we embrace 564,000 square miles and upward. This is upwards of 200,000 square miles more than was included within the limits of the original thirteen States. It is an area of country more than double the territory of France or the Austrian Empire. France, in round numbers, has but 212,000 square miles. Austria, in round numbers, has 248,000 square miles. Ours is greater than both combined. It is greater than all France, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain, including England, Ireland, and Scotland together. In population we have upward of 5,000,000, according to the census of 1860; this includes white and black. The entire population, including white and black, of the original thirteen States was less than 4,000,000 in 1790, and still less in 1776, when the independence of our fathers was achieved. If they, with a less population, dared maintain their independence against the greatest power on earth, shall we have any apprehension of maintaining ours now?

Mr. Howard Carroll contributes the following appreciation of Mr. Stephens as a statesman:

Alexander H. Stephens was one of the first public men in the country who had the foresight to fear that the agitation of the slavery question would ultimately result in a fratricidal struggle. Thus fearing, he never lost an opportunity of counselling moderation and forbearance. This, there can be no doubt, he did disinterestedly, and without for a moment believing that the result of such a struggle would be the downfall of the slave-holding power. He, like most political leaders, both North and South, was assured, even on the eve of the war, that “the divine institution” of slavery could not be overthrown. In an open letter to a number of his constituents, [409] written in May, 1860, he says upon this subject: “The times, as you intimate, do indeed portend evil, but I have no fears for the institution of slavery either in the Union or out of it, if our people are all true to themselves—true, stable, and loyal to fixed principles and a settled policy. If they are not thus true, I have little hope of anything good, whether the present Union last or a new one be founded. There is, in my judgment, nothing to fear from ‘the irrepressible conflict’ of which we hear so much. Slavery rests upon great truths, which can never be successfully assailed by reason or argument. It has grown stronger in the minds of men the more it has been discussed, and it will still grow stronger as the discussion proceeds and time rolls on. Truth is omnipotent, and must prevail! We have only to maintain the truth with firmness and wield it aright. Our system rests upon an impregnable basis that can and will defy all assaults from without. My greatest apprehension is from causes within. There lies the greatest danger. We have grown luxurious in the exuberance of our well-being and unparalleled prosperity. There is a tendency everywhere, not only at the North but at the South, to strife, dissension, disorder, and anarchy. It is against this tendency that the sober-minded, reflecting men everywhere should now be called upon to guard.”

Prior to the writing of this letter, and just after the delivery of his great Milledgeville speech, in which he expressed similar views, Mr. Stephens received from the then President-elect Lincoln a note asking for a revised copy of that speech. To this Mr. Stephens replied in a letter which concludes with these words: “The country is certainly in great peril, and no man ever had heavier or greater responsibilities than you have in the present momentous crisis.” Under date of Dec. 22, 1860, Lincoln replied in the following letter, which, it is to be noted, was held secret by Mr. Stephens until after the death of the President:

[For your own eye only.]

My dear Sir,—Your obliging answer to my short note is just received, and for which please accept my thanks. I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me. Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would directly or indirectly interfere with the slaves, or with them about the slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears. The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, that does not meet the case. You think slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while we think it is wrong, and ought to be abolished. That, I suppose, is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.

In his reply to this characteristic communication,—Mr. Stephens still further gave voice to what must be regarded as having been the very general feeling then prevailing in the South. He said:

In my judgment the people of the South do not entertain any fears that a Republican administration, or at least that the one about to be inaugurated, would attempt to interfere directly and immediately with slavery in the States. Their apprehension and disquietude do not spring from that source. They do not arise from the fact of the known antislavery opinions of the President-elect. Washington, Jefferson, and other Presidents are generally admitted to have been anti-slavery in sentiment, but in those days anti-slavery did not enter as an element into party organizations. . . . We at the South do think African slavery, as it exists with us, both morally and politically right. This opinion is founded upon the inferiority of the black race. You, however, and perhaps a majority of the North, think it wrong.

While Mr. Stephens held these views in regard to the institution of human slavery, however, and while he fully sided, as it must be admitted, with the most radical element in the slave-holding power, he was still wise enough to combat [410] with all the power of which he was capable many of the ridiculous notions in regard to what was called Northern despotism and Northern tyranny, which just before the war were entertained and publicly proclaimed by many Southern leaders. In a letter written on the first day of 1861 he, with great force, and a remarkably accurate knowledge of the people whom he criticised, expressed his views on this subject as follows:

There are general and vague charges about consolidation, despotism, etc., and the South having, under the operation of the general government, been reduced to a minority incapable of protecting itself, etc. This complaint I do not think well founded. It arises more from a spirit of peevishness or restless fretfulness than from calm and deliberate judgment. The truth is, the South, almost en masse, has voted for every measure of general legislation that has passed both Houses and become law for the last ten years. Indeed, with but few exceptions, the South has controlled the government in its every important action from the beginning. The protective policy was once for a time carried against the South, but that was subsequently completely changed. Our policy ultimately prevailed. The South put in power, or joined the united country in putting in power and sustaining, the administrations of Washington for eight years. She put in and sustained Jefferson for eight years; Madison, eight years; Jackson, eight years; Van Buren, four years; Tyler, four years; Polk, four years; Pierce, four years; and Buchanan, four years. That is to say, the Southern people have aided in making and sustaining the administration for sixty years out of the seventy-two years of the government's existence. Does this look like we were or are in an abject minority, at the mercy of a despotic Northern majority, rapacious to rob and plunder us? It is true we are in a minority, and have been a long time. It is true, also, that a party at the North advocate principles which would lead to a despotism. . . . I have no doubt of that. But by the prudent and wise counsels of Southern statesmen this party has been kept in a minority in the past, and, by the same prudent and wise statesmanship on our part, I can but hope and think it can be so for many long years to come. Sound constitutional men enough at the North have been found to unite with the South to keep that dangerous and mischievous faction in a minority. And, although Lincoln has been elected, it ought to be recollected that he has succeeded by a minority vote, and even this was the result of the dissensions in the ranks of the conservative or constitutional men, North and South—a most unfortunate and lamentable event, and the more so from the fact that it was designedly effected by men who wished to use it for ulterior ends and objects.

By these and many similar private and public utterances Alexander H. Stephens tried to allay the excitement at the South, and to bring the people of that section away from the belief that it was desirable for them to secede from the Union. He sanctioned the theory of secession, but during all the dark days of 1860 urged with all his power that the republic be preserved. Upon this point there can be no doubt. Regarding the secession movement which was contemplated in Georgia in the winter of 1861, he wrote at that time: “I believe the State will go for secession, but I have a repugnance to the idea. I have no wish to be in a body of men that will give that vote. My judgment does not approve it; but” (and here occurs the one fatally weak point in Mr. Stephens's position) “when the State acts I shall abide by her decision with the fidelity of one who imagines that he feels the dictates of patriotism as sensibly and as strongly as any one who ever breathed the breath of life.” He did abide by the decision of his State, though that decision was against his best judgm ent.

Once in “the Confederacy” it was not possible for him to remain inactive or obscure. His own ambition and restlessness of spirit, as well as the desire of the South, drove him to the front, until he became in a sense a candidate for the Presidency of the rebellious States, and ultimately the Vice-President under Jefferson Davis. How he secured that office, and how Mr. Davis was nominated for [411] the Presidency, is best told in his own words, as follows:

What I know about Mr. Davis's nomination for President can be told in few words. Robert Toombs and I, as we got upon the cars at Crawfordsville, on our way to Montgomery, met Mr. Chestnut. The latter said that the South Carolina delegation had talked the matover, and looked to Georgia for the President. I remarked that either, Mr. Toombs, Mr. Cobb, Governor Jenkins, or Governor Johnson would suit very well. He answered that they were not looking to any of the others, but to Mr. Toombs and myself. I told them, very frankly, that I did not wish the office; that, as I had not been in the movement, I did not think it policy to put me in for it. After getting to Montgomery, Mr. Keitt told me that I was the preference of the South Carolina delegation, and asked if I would serve if elected. I told him that I would not say in advance whether I would or would not accept. Even if unanimously chosen, I would first consider whether or not I could organize a cabinet with such concert of ideas and ability as to justify hopes of success on such line of policy as I should pursue.

The night after the adoption of the permanent constitution the motion was made to go into the election of chief officers. It was then suggested that the election should take place the next day, at 12 M., and in the mean time the delegations should consult separately. The Georgia delegation met at ten o'clock on the morning of the day of the election. I proposed that we put in the name of Mr. Toombs for the Presidency, and asked him if he would have it. He said he would accept it if it was cordially offered him. Mr. T. Cobb and F. T. Bartow said that the delegations of Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, and Louisiana had conferred, and agreed to support Mr. Davis. Mr. Toombs seemed very incredulous of this, and his manner indicated some surprise. I did not understand this then, but did afterwards. The statement was reiterated; and upon it the delegation forbore to nominate Mr. Toombs, but determined to appoint a committee to ascertain if the report was true. Mr. Kenan then proposed that if it should be correct I should be put forward for Vice-President. Judge Nisbet said, “I second that heartily!” Mr. Toombs said, “I do, too. What do you say, Aleck?” I replied that I had not been in the movement, and doubted the policy of my assuming any office. But still there might be reasons why I should—as for the sake of harmony; that if I were to have any, I decidedly preferred the Vice-Presidency to any office in the government, but would not accept it unless it should be tendered me unanimously by the States and by every delegate. Mr. Crawford was then appointed a committee of one to ascertain and report to us, first, whether the report as to the action of those States was true; and, second, if my nomination would be acceptable to the entire body. Very soon he returned and announced that both the conditions were fulfilled. I afterwards learned that the action of the States alluded to was based upon intelligence received by them the night before, that Mr. Cobb would be presented by the Georgia delegation, and that Mr. Davis was not their choice. Toombs was the choice of the Florida, the Louisiana, and the South Carolina delegations.

In May, 1865, Mr. Stephens was arrested by federal troops at his home in Georgia, and taken to Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor. After his release he wrote a history of the war, and for a time edited a newspaper in Atlanta. He opposed “the new departure” in the South which favored the election of Horace Greeley to the Presidency, and from the first predicted Grant's triumph. His action in this direction was bitterly denounced by Democrats, North and South; but the result proving the wisdom of his views, he rapidly regained the confidence of the people of his State, and in 1873 was elected from “the old 8th District,” which he had so faithfully represented before the war, to fill an unexpired term in Congress. He was elected and re-elected until 1882, when he was chosen governor of his State by a very large majority.

It was not ordained that he should live through his term. In Atlanta, the capital of his native and beloved Georgia, at half-past 3 o'clock on the morning of Sunday, March 4, 1883, his wonderful [412] brain, his wonderful will power, could no longer keep life in his wrecked and puny body. He died, according to his faithful physicians, Drs. Miller and Steiner, from a collapse of the mind brought about by constant, unremitting intellectual activity. His last words were,

“Oh, doctor, you hurt me!”

His funeral in Atlanta was attended by upward of fifty thousand weeping men and women. All Georgia mourned for him. Several other States, and towns and cities in all parts of the country, did honor to his memory by resolutions and the adjournment of courts and public councils.

At the grave of Stephens, Toombs, massive but tottering and almost blind, was for a time unable to control himself. For several moments he wept and sobbed aloud. Then, with a supreme effort to be calm, but still in a choked and faltering voice, he delivered the oration from which are taken the following passages:

I come to mingle my tears with all the men and women and even children of Georgia over “ Aleck ” Stephens, and not to make a eulogy. His acts are written in letters of gold. From the accidents of life, from the contiguity of our places, natives of the same county, from similarity of tastes and pursuits, more of my life has been spent in the presence of and in close contact with our illustrious friend than with any other man that is living or dead, from my infancy to manhood. His whole life was an open book. He was more the child of his country than any man that ever breathed. With early advantages to a degree and extent that seemed to forbid, absolutely forbid by the hand of God, the work that was before him, I know that he never counted on a day of life for more than forty years. Yet, like the faithful soldier, whenever the roll was called his answer was “Here.” He took his mission from the voice of God—conscience. He always determined from his cradle to live for his country. His maxim from early life was, that there was no subject worthy of the human intellect but the well government of the human race. There was the field to which he was called—the well government of the human race. It was the sheet-anchor of liberty and union. God was his ideal—the sheet-anchor of human virtue, of human happiness, and of all that was worth doing for in this life. There was for him a wide field of usefulness. His daily life was a sermon. Every act at the bar, every act in the court-house, preached a sermon that struck deep in the hearts of all that knew him.

He was not always successful, but he had a will that dared to do right, to follow his convictions even in spite of his constituents. Calmly working out what was best to do, the world was not equal to him, the world was not worthy of him. Sometimes in political questions Mr. Stephens differed with the people of Georgia and of the United States, but he pursued the even tenor of his way, bearing malice to none, good — will to all. When the public had not risen to his elevated standard, when the citizens he served through love, when Georgia even differed with him, he gracefully bowed, like a dutiful son to a father.

His life was devoted to instructing, to feeding, and to clothing the poor, without regard to country, to sect, or to creed. Even personal vice never could take from him the charity of his heart. He was too great for defeat—the country could not spare him. We differed in opinion, but there never was one pang of discord. I never did differ from him without doubt. He was not a stubborn man. Under the heat of canvass injustice of what you might call the rankest kind left no pang behind. I remember, after the fall of the Confederacy, when I urged him to leave the country, he said, “No, I am old, weak in bodily infirmities, but I have done my duty to God and my country, and I am ready for anything that the public may assign me.” He was put in prison, and suffered many of the indignities that such a state would produce anywhere. I am not making reproaches, but the temper of a sworn, bloody, and determined war brings these things. He looked it calmly in the face. He viewed not in trepidation and anger, but he marched as briskly to the prison as he did to the grave, saying, “I am ready to stand trial.” These mark him to be a man—every one of thesethings. Neither chagrined by treachery nor disheartened, a great soul, he looked [413] upon his country with love; his last breath was for her cause. He stands with immortality. It is stamped upon the hearts of the weeping people of Georgia, upon his sorrowing countrymen throughout the bounds of this land, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. All looked with love and admiration, and mingled their sorrows with the people of Georgia. Looking through his whole life—take any part of that glorious existence that you desire—he was no despairer of the republic in the worst defeats and the greatest dangers; and the hearts of the people are turned to admire the man that never despaired of the republic and of human liberty. He overturned principles to reassert, with a firm faith, that there is life in the old land yet; that truth is immortal, and cannot die. He had faith and confidence, having devoted his whole life to that great cause of truth and his country. He met the greatest misfortunes with devoted patriotism. His great heart rose with a nation's calamities and his dying breath was his country's. Throughout this broad land every heart is a mourner. People who were formerly his opponents, but not his enemies—he was not an enemy of the North—not an enemy of the wicked —he was not an enemy of the bad—his heart was big enough to cover every human being's misfortunes and sorrows— mourn for him.

Mr. Stephens, of Georgia,” was the only title he ever claimed. He was the child of the State, the child of the republic—yes, the child of humanity—and his was one of the few immortal names that were not born to die.

One of the leading journalists in New York City wrote the following estimate of Mr. Stephens on the day after his death:

Georgia has given to the country two men whose public careers, sketched by the pen of some modern Plutarch, might be made to illustrate each other by striking contrasts and brilliant antitheses. One is Alexander H. Stephens, whom the Empire State of the South lately chose for her chief magistrate, and whose death she now deplores. The other is Robert Toombs, who, having survived the slaughter of the South's sacred “liberties,” now calmly awaits the coming of the day when he shall “perish in the last ditch.” It may not be said of Mr. Stephens that he courted popular favor by striving to be always on the popular side, regardless of conviction, yet after nearly half a century of active participation in politics, during which he has at every critical point uniformly disappointed both his friends and his enemies, being “everything by turns and nothing long,” he passes away in the very flower of his fame, beloved by the people of his own State and spoken of with respect and kindliness by the whole country; while Mr. Toombs, “grand, gloomy, and peculiar ” —indeed, the most remarkable mixture of grandeur and absurdity in our history—sulks solitary in his tent, unreconstructed, irreconcilable, and voicing his abhorrence of the Union in his own style of robust and picturesque anathema quite as freely as in 1861. Mr. Stephens, if we may accept his own judgment on his public course, had too much respect for the popular will to set up his own opinions against it when it was once clearly manifested to him. Mr. Toombs has too much will of his own to make any account of that of the people. Candid and thoroughly “reconstructed” men in the South no doubt consider Mr. Toombs a man of mischievous example and evil influence, while looking upon Mr. Stephens as a safe guide and a statesman of moderate and wholesome counsel. The truth is that, rightly viewed, the former is a harmless personage, while a public man of Mr. Stephens's inconstant mind is always a source of danger, and generally does much harm.

The facts and lessons of Governor Stephens's life may be dwelt upon for a moment without any violation of the rule which compels the saying of all the evil things about a man before he dies. His position on the question of secession, which has been so often discussed, was such as we can now see the very nature of the man compelled him to take. There was in his mental constitution an unfortunate balancing of forces which forbade him to make great leading principles his guides and stick to them. He was in early life a Whig, and afterwards a Democrat. He favored the admission of Texas as a State, but opposed the Mexican War. He fought with all his strength for the extension of [414] slavery in the Territories, but when the long struggle with the slave power culminated in the Presidential campaign of 1860 he was found on neither side, but in the middle, working for the stale and unprofitable compromise represented in the candidacy of Stephen A. Douglas. When the tide of secession rose and began to sweep across the South he battled against it, and for a time the North looked hopefully to him as one who might stay its progress. “You have a right to withdraw from the Union,” he told the Georgians, “for your State is a sovereign among sovereigns; but for Heaven's sake don't do it until you have a better reason. You must stand by the Constitution of your country until you are driven to desert it.” This sounds like lofty patriotism. It passed for such, even at the North. But when secession was an accomplished fact, Mr. Stephens did not retire to his old home, as Robert Toombs would have done, had the ordinance been carried against his vote. He immediately accepted the situation, and with it the Vice-Presidency of the Confederate States of America. His position after the war was perfectly consistent with his career of inconsistencies. He acquiesced with ready cheerfulness in the final settlement of all the questions over which it had been fought, but declared that his “original convictions ” had undergone no change. He clung to the empty husk of the State-rights idea after the ear within had withered to dust. Last summer the Georgia Independents looked hopefully to Mr. Stephens as their possible candidate for governor. They foresaw that with a leader of his strength and popularity they could startle the hosts of Bourbonism in their encampment. Mr. Stephens felt the stir of independent aspiration in his frail body, and allowed a friend to telegraph to the new party in Georgia that he would not reject their nomination. Then came censorious mutterings from the Bourbons, and Mr. Stephens, deciding that the errors of the party should be corrected “within its ranks,” announced that he could be a candidate of the organized Democrats only. The indecision he here revealed was entirely characteristic.

Mr. Stephens, in the course of his political career, seemed very often on the point of becoming great through adherence to a great and sound conviction in the face of overwhelming opposition, but he always failed. He stood many times as a dike against rushing waters, but he always gave way. The strength of his moral nature was just below the safetypoint of resistance to the strain put upon it. He disappointed and vexed the secessionists quite as bitterly as he did the Unionists, because of his incapacity to embrace a cause with his whole heart. Need it be said that the greatest misfortunes of States come upon them when such men as Mr. Stephens are set to guard against dangers from without and within? He knew his weakness as well as others, but he called it obedience to the will of the majority. It would be doing violence to historical truth to assent to this view of the teachings of his life and work.

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