The cornerstone speech marks one of the most famous historical records dealing with the reasons for secession. The state of Georgia wants to withdraw from the United States, and Alexander Stephens leads in the course of this decision. He feels that United States seeks to topple the natural order of things that have placed the Negro as subordinates to the white man. He feels that the Negros position is naturally imposed, and they (Negros) can never be equal to the white man. Alexander defends the secession in these terms, and he feels that the state of Georgia will lead other states in pulling out of the United States. In as much as many people feel that the State Confederacy defended racist slavery for its own sake, the society of this time left many loopholes for slavery, and this made many people feel that slavery was a natural factor that could not be dismissed.
Summary of the Speech
This speech was delivered in Savannah, Georgia. The newly appointed vice president, Alexander Stephens, delivered this speech following a move by the State of Georgia to secede from the United States. In this speech, Stephens addressed a number of things that were likely to make this state succeed and deliver to the people in the future. The United States wanted to end slavery, and some states were against this move. However, Alexander, and many people in other states believed that the cornerstone of the economy of this state was based on slave labor; thus, ending slave labor would hit the economy on a negative manner. He defended this by saying that the Negro was an inferior person whose place was subordination and slavery to the white man. Therefore, he felt that United States should not end slavery since the natural place of the blacks was slavery (Golgotha Press 43).
Alexander also addressed some economic trends that will change the operations of the state; he felt that the central government should not spend so as to improve the internal affairs. Therefore, issues such as road repairs should be made the responsibility of the people who benefit from these internal amenities. Alexander felt that it was wrong for the government to use one state’s taxes to improve other states.
Alexander also said that the new constitution was closely related to the British constitution, which he said was a genius. This is because the Senate and representatives of the states were allowed to participate in debates. This would improve the running of the government since a lot of views will be considered; this will give people a good leadership. Additionally, Alexander said that the State of Georgia had a smaller amount of debt as compared to the United States. The taxable amenities were also many, and this would ensure that the state will not lack in securing the future.
Lastly, the confederate constitution made the rules of joining this state very easy. Therefore, the new state will start forming alliances with other states, and this will greatly enhance the growth of the new union.
Background of the Speech
The cornerstone speech can only be understood well through first understanding Alexander Stephens. Before the civil war, Alexander served in the American House of Representatives. He also served in the Georgia legislature. Alexander was one of the greatest defenders of slavery, and he believed that people should be allowed to keep slaves. In fact, Alexander was a slave owner. In the south, people kept slaves, and they believed that slaves helped a lot in doing menial jobs in the state. As a Southerner, Alexander had internalized these sentiments, and this formed the foundation of his conviction that the Negro was there to be utilized for the advancement of the white man. In fact, Alexander said that the cornerstone (the principal reason) for secession was the relaxed law on slavery.
Alexander opposed disunion; he felt that the nation could attain a lot when united than when in disharmony. Thus, he sought the various states to devise a system that will defend the unity of the union. He said that the states could result to sectional differences instead of disunity in totality. However, the state of Georgia resulted to secession, and Alexander had no choice, but to follow. Nevertheless, he did not weaken his mission for the unification of the states, and he believed that other states will join Georgia; together they will form a strong base for creating a stronger union (Fritz 91).
Many authors, historians and critiques have analyzed the cornerstone speech, and they have given a lot of sentiments as possible incentives for this speech. They believe that Alexander was justified to say the things he said since the society seemed to accept these things; Alexander was just a voice that was airing the concerns of many people. However, Alexander had taken a twist since he was now advocating things that he had fought; thus the authenticity of his speech came to be questioned by this group of people (Augustine et al. 257).
Earlier, (in the 1860s election), Stephens backed Douglas (a moderate supporter), but not the strict Breckenridge. However, Stephens gave his loyalty to his section, but not his principles. The south had decided to proceed with the secession, and if Stephen could not right the mistake of the South, he would attempt to direct it and, by compromising several, endeavor to save the rest. However, Alexander failed, and the South failed with him (Blackburn 87). The cornerstone address is taken as a sad affair. It advocated for racism that would to day be taken as an infringement of human rights. During the time of this speech, slavery would not have offended any white audience since slavery was a common phenomenon (Gleissner 76). It is sad because it portrays a person who has twisted himself a lot in an attempt to lead a revolution that he had fought against, but now rule him. Stephen embraces the ideals that he once scorned, and he criticizes positions that he once held. Therefore, this is a speech delivered by a person who has lost his ideals; the cornerstone passage is an odd explosion of a twisted and very personal, ideological struggle.
The Confederate constitution was similar to the US constitution, and it does not warrant to be treated with much prominence as it was in the cornerstone rhetoric. The only difference was that it stipulated that the government was not allowed to impose finance internal improvements, grant subsidies or protective tariffs. The constitution only asserted that the institution of slavery was inviolable. Alexander understood the power of this constitution in the US, and he stuck to its assertions. In fact, other leaders including Lincoln felt that the US constitution could be amended to rhyme with the confederate constitution so as to end these arguments (Jaffa 341).
Many people knew that, although slavery was the main cause of secession, it was short lived. In fact, many people knew that this move was the doom of slavery. This is because the signs of freedom were visible, and slavery could not be legally or economically viable and enforceable; thus, people had pressed the North to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws for this motive. Stephens was among those people whose judgments were that slavery was more secure within than the union.