WHAT DID CONFEDERATE VICE PRESIDENT STEPHENS SAY ABOUT THE “OLD CONSTITUTION” DURING THE SECESSION WINTER?

22 Feb

Between December 1860 and February 1861 or Secession Winter, seven states left the Union. Those against secession thought Southern leaders intended to create an oligarchy or monarchy. The people asked what would the character of the government look like? Would it look like the ‘Old Constitution’ of 1789? ‘The people’ were frightened, including former Governor Neil Brown of Tennessee.

The Crittenden Compromise

During Secession Winter, ‘the people’s fear pushed politicians to back legislation to Federally protect the 3/5s Clause. One such proposed Constitutional amendment was the ‘Crittenden Compromise’ in December 1860. The bill for the ‘Compromise’ failed to pass in the US Senate. At the Washington Peace Conference, ‘Crittenden’s Compromise‘ passed the Convention of States committee and sent back to the US Senate. The US Senate, again, voted it down in February 1861.

The Montgomery Convention

While the States met at the Washington Peace Conference, secessionists met in Montgomery, Alabama to create a new confederacy of States. On March 11th, 1861, the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States ratified its new Constitution. The telegraph carried its character to ‘the people’ of the world. The new government modeled the “Constitution of the United States” based on the idea of federalism with three branches, Executive, Judicial and Legislative. Although, the new compact had some marked differences from the former which this article won’t address.

Cornerstone

On his way to Richmond, Confederate Vice President Stephens stops off in Savannah, Georgia to promote the new government. It’s March 18, 1861. It’s half past seven o’clock at the Athenaeum. Before a packed house, Stephens delivers one of the most controversial speeches of 20th Century. Historians call it “The Cornerstone Speech”. Besides making some interesting comments on the foundations of the new government or believed to have, Vice President Stephens makes an interesting comparison. According to the Savannah Republican, Stephens points out the Permanent Constitution of the Confederate States contains the same rights and principles as in the Constitution of the United States.

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens PHOTO SOURCE: Mathew Brady, 1860s

If Stephens made this comment, why did he? Why was it important for Vice President Stephens to make this point about slaves? Americans were suspicious of the secessionist leadership. By the time they met in Montgomery to create a new compact, seven states had already left the Union. They left through Convention by popular vote but without ratifying the Convention’s results through a DIRECT popular vote by ‘the people’, except for Texas, which did both. ‘The people’ wondered what the secessionists intended to do with their power? Did they intend to give full representation to the slave and alter the 3/5’s Clause changing how the people were represented in the Federal House of Representatives? Did they intend to burden the people with taxes to maintain and grow the new government? Would ‘the people’ be represented differently in the Confederacy?

STEPHENS’ ALLEGED CLAIM REPRESENTS THE VALUES OF ALL CONFEDERATE SOLDIERS

Many modern day socialists/abolitionists claim Stephens’ alleged comments reflect the values of what Southerners fought for during the war. That claim is easily defeated by reviewing the Preamble of the Final Constitution of the Confederate States. It says:

We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.

It doesn’t mention slavery does it? It mentions “We, the people”. The people, through their representatives, expressing their intent in establishing a new government through their State institutions.

The Confederacy Formed Over Slavery?

Another Modern day claim socialists/abolitionists make is the Confederacy formed over slavery. This claim is also easily defeated by reviewing the Final Constitution of the Confederate States. The Preamble mentions nothing about slavery behind the intent of the new government by the Confederate Founding Fathers. Also, there is nothing in the document, itself, where it restricts FREE STATES or STATES with NO SLAVE CODES to join.

WHAT COMPARISON DID VICE PRESIDENT STEPHENS MAKE ABOUT THE “NEW” AND “OLD CONSTITUTION”?

“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

NOTE: Vice President Stephens refers to the “Constitution of the United States” as that “Old Constitution.

THE 3/5s CLAUSE

Unquestionably, Americans feared an oligarchy; ‘The people’ feared being under represented. They feared additional taxation. What was the Confederate founders plan to solve the problem? Install Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, or the 3/5s Clause, from the “Old Constitution” in the new compact. The States, with no or smaller slave populations, would not be misrepresented in the Federal House of Representatives in the Confederacy.

After the war from his prison cell at Fort Warren, Stephens stated in his Savannah speech, that the ‘status’ of the ‘African race amongst us’ had not changed in the ‘new Constitution from the old’.  In using the word ‘status’, Stephens referred specifically to the Three-Fifths Clause.  Nowhere else in the Constitution of the United States does it define a slave’s status other than Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 or specifically as ‘three-fifths of all other Persons.’ 

What were Stephens’s personal feelings and thoughts on the institution of slavery. I will address those in another article.

‘The people’ needed reassuring and Vice President Stephens provided that in his speech in Savannah. He reassured the American people, especially those in the Border States, of the federal character and style of the Confederate government which was no different from of the ‘general government’ of the United States.

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