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(1861) Alexander H. Stephens, “Cornerstone Speech”

On March 21, 1861, after seven states had seceded from the United States, two weeks after the inauguration of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, but three weeks before the firing on Fort Sumter, Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens delivered what would be called the Cornerstone Speech in Savannah, Georgia.  He presented a rationale for secession and argued that slavery was the “immediate cause” of secession.  He also took issue with Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers who wrestled with the contradictions between universal equality and slavery, declaring their ambivalence misplaced and unwarranted.  To Stephens servitude and subordination to the white race was the “natural and normal condition” of blacks in the South.   The entire speech appears below.

When perfect quiet is restored, I shall proceed. I cannot speak so long as there is any noise or confusion. I shall take my time I feel quite prepared to spend the night with you if necessary. I very much regret that everyone who desires cannot hear what I have to say. Not that I have any display to make, or anything very entertaining to present, but such views as I have to give, I wish all, not only in this city, but in this State, and throughout our Confederate Republic, could hear, who have a desire to hear them.

I was remarking that we are passing through one of the greatest revolutions in the annals of the world. Seven States have within the last three months thrown off an old government and formed a new. This revolution has been signally marked, up to this time, by the fact of its having been accomplished without the loss of a single drop of blood.

This 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 liberties. All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers under the

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