. . . . with freedom and justice for all

Included below are the words of the next-highest official both authorized and sufficiently informed to speak for the Confederate States of America (CSA), Vice President Alexander Stephens. It may strike you as contrary to the picture of a noble southern society that had a certain beauty, treated its slaves well, and most of all displayed a vaunted graciousness. The current national reexamination that Black Lives Matter painfully reveals how thin has our been  our commitment to “justice for all.” Can any of us claim exception to our boastfulness about America’s world leadership in creating a just society, even sometimes inaccurately? We are still plagued with wishful claims that the Confederacy did not exist to preserve slavery. It merely sought to conserve an accustomed way of life, maintain a lucrative export trade, and most of all validate the political doctrine of State’s Rights.

As a son of the South, I was taught that slavery was indeed evil. But that the Confederate States of America was not formed to defend slavery; it was formed to defend the principle of State’s Rights. Not until adulthood did I learn that creation of the United States of America occurred by each state freely choosing to join as a full partner in the Constitution, thereby transferring its sovereignty to the emerging new country, the indivisible USA. Within a few decades the CSA was formed in the South as in essence a compact of rebellion against southern states’ own earlier pledge of allegiance to the United States.

That is all I have to say in this post. The rest is the truly important part, a speech by the Vice President of the Confederate States of America in which the foundation of the CSA is stated in stunning clarity. To set the stage, the American Yawp Reader explained what CSA faced at that time: “Confederates had to quickly create not only a government, but also a nation, including all of the cultural values required to foster patriotism. In this speech Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, proclaims that slavery and white supremacy were not only the cause for secession, but also the “cornerstone” of the Confederate nation. Now, Stephens’s speech:


CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens

on Slavery and the Confederate Constitution

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 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 idea of a Government built upon it-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 cornerstone 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. [Applause.] 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 amongst 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 anti-slavery 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…. 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 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 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 to differ from another in glory.”

The great objects of humanity are best attained, when conformed to his laws and degrees, 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.


    *     *     *     *

My thanks to The American Yawp Reader-for this 1861 speech by CSA Vice President Alexander. H. Stephens, more properly footnoted as “Speech of A. H. Stephens,” Frank Moore, ed., Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, etc. Volume I, (New York: 1861), 45-46.”

About John Bruce Carver

I am a U. S. citizen living in Atlanta, Georgia, having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and graduating from Chattanooga High School. I served in the Electronic Security Command of the U. S. Air Force before receiving a B.S. degree in business/economics and an M.Ed. in educational psychology, both at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. I then completed a Ph.D. in clinical (and research) psychology at Emory University. I have two daughters and three granddaughters. An ardent international traveller, I have been in over 70 countries for business and pleasure. My reading, other than novels, tends to be in history, philosophy, government, and light science. I identify philosophically as a secular humanist, in complete awe of the universe including my fellows and myself. I am married to my best friend, Miriam, formerly of the United Kingdom and Canada.
This entry was posted in History, Morality, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to . . . . with freedom and justice for all

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Dwight, for that coherent mini-history. I was particularly moved by “If we can’t preserve those principles, and then make them real, the American experiment is lost,” as well as “It was the abolitionists who stuck to the traditional American principle that all men are created equal. They were conservatives in the deeper sense: not conservation of the nation’s status quo, but conservation of the nation’s principles.”

    • John Bruce Carver says:

      Please forgive the technical error (mine) that led my response to Dwight to seem as if contributed by “Anonymous.”

  2. Daniel Hull says:

    Do you believe the carvings of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson should be blasted off of Stone Mountain?

    • Dan, I regret to say I’ve not thought about that question enough to feel I have a coherent response. What I can say now is the Civil War was instituted for slavery, only secondarily for “states rights,” the latter so paramount as to justify war to protect the former. I find it peculiar that a horribly deadly rebellion and the evil institution that pretended it was justified are memorialized with uncountable cast and carved idols to shame across our land.

  3. Dwight says:

    John, thanks for posting this. I don’t recall reading Stephen’s speech when I studied this period in American history in college (though probably I did).

    Stephens reinforces the notion that the generation who wrote the Constitution knew that slavery was morally unjustified, and only acquiesced to southern slavery to entice slave states to join the union—the great compromise, etc. And it supports the notion that the founders believed slavery would eventually disappear in the years after the end of slave importation specified in the Constitution.

    But what I find interesting is that Stephens even believed this to be so among southerners of the previous generation, even as late as 1830. “This truth [that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition”] has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It is so even amongst 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.”

    This supports the proposition that after the invention of the cotton gin and development of large profitable cotton plantations (owned primarily by an elite set of oligarchs in the south, as averred by anti-slavery southerner Hinton Helper), a new generation of southerners doubled-down on slavery and defended it in the only “morally plausible“ manner they could invent in their self-interested minds: by abandoning the spirit of the American Revolution that all men are created equal, and insisting that blacks were naturally inferior and intended by God to be the slaves of white men. This suited their pocket-books. They invented this self-serving justification of slavery so that they could reap its financial rewards without having to ever entertain the possibility that they were doing evil.

    Not that this isn’t’ already a common interpretation among historians of the mindset change that overtook southerners in the decades leading up to civil war. But it does show that their new-found justification of slavery was not founded on a desire to conserve traditional American principles, but on a rejection of that conservatism and those principles. (Of course, Americans had yet—have yet—to live up to those principles.)

    It was the abolitionists who stuck to the traditional American principle that all men are created equal. They were conservatives in the deeper sense: not conservation of the nation’s status quo, but conservation of the nation’s principles.

    And that really is what what the civil rights struggle, and BLM today, has always been about: over-throwing an oppressive, brutal status quo in order to preserve our nation’s founding principles. If we can’t preserve those principles, and then make them real, the American experiment is lost. Very literally, the well-being of black Americans lies at the center of this whole attempt at self-government. It fails if we can’t get to the point where black lives matter, and matter equally.

    • Daniel Hull says:

      Do you feel the same way about native Americans? Seems to me when “reparations” are considered, blacks should get in line behind native Americans. Or was that justified genocide? To my way of thinking, “red” lives should matter just as much as any other lives. By the way,as a doctor; how do you square the evangelical and noble zeal of the black lives matter movement with statistics that show somewhere in the neighborhood of 900 of black babies are aborted every day in the United States?

    • I’ve nothing to contribute, Dan. I’m not sure how I’d go about dealing with a comment as confounded as this, a mixing of issues, some only minimally related to each other. Having any reparations at all is assumed here, though not the type of reparation (money, some type of education or other assistance?), then who should be prioritized if there is more than one benefitted group, or different recipients within a group. Whether genocide was “justified” in any part of this combination adds another variable that may not be relevant at all. I am not sure whether your opinion that “‘red’ lives . . . matter just as much as any other lives” is meant to affect the reparations calculations, but if not I can’t tell why it appears in your comment. If the matter weren’t tangled enough, you’ve then thrown in black abortion as a consideration with no indication of how you’d connect these very different matters. I’m an easy guy and really don’t mind having my leg pulled. However, I am too rushed in these times to play the game.

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