22 Feb

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens:


By John Charles Needham

Vice President Alexander Stephens in his Cornerstone speech, according to the Savannah Republican, made an effort to point out the Permanent Constitution of the Confederate States contained the same rights and principles as in the Constitution of the United States.

During the secession winter of December 1860 to April 1861, Americans feared what the character of a new confederacy of States would look like. Many who were against secession thought Southern leaders intended to create oligarchy or monarchy.

Another reason why Americans were suspicious of the secessionist leadership was because by the time they met in Montgomery to create a new compact, seven states had already left the Union by legislative act and not by a popular vote of the people.

Once the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States in Montgomery, Alabama passed the new compact of States on March 11, 1861, the telegraph carried its character to the people of the world. The new government would model the “Old Constitution” based on the idea of federalism with three branches, Executive, Judicial and Legislative.

Politicians, like Vice President Alexander Stephens, spread the word as well in order to reassure the American people, especially those in the border states, of the character of the new Government. At half past seven o’clock on the evening of March 21st, Vice President Stephens delivered a speech to the citizens of Savannah, Georgia to a packed house at the Athenaeum.

What did Vice President Stephens say about about the “Old Constitution” according to the Savannah Republican?

“The new Constitution or form of Government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. In reference to it, I make this first general remark. It amply secures all our ancient rights, franchises and privileges. All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of his life, liberty or property, but by the judgement of his peers, under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor and pride of the Old Constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old Constitution, which have endeared into the hearts and the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated.”

SOURCE: The Charleston Daily Courier – Charleston, SC – March 25, 1861 – Page 4 – Savannah Republican

Why was it important to calm down the fears of Americans including those in border States? To make sure the other States, with no or smaller slave populations, knew if they joined the Confederacy, they wouldn’t be underrepresented in the Confederate House of Representatives. Being misrepresented was the people’s fear and the Confederate founders solution to the people’s fear was keeping Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 or the 3/5s Compromise from the “Old Constitution”.

The “Old Constitution” refers to the compact between the States called the “Constitution of the United States”.

PHOTO SOURCE: Mathew Brady, 1860s