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Alexander H. Stephens

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Alexander H. Stephens

Alexander H. Stephens
50th Governor of Georgia
In office
November 4, 1882 – March 4, 1883
Preceded by Alfred Colquitt
Succeeded by James Boynton
Vice President of the Confederate States
In office
February 22, 1862 – May 11, 1865
Provisional: February 11, 1861 – February 22, 1862
President Jefferson Davis
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Position abolished
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from 8th district
In office
December 1, 1873 – November 4, 1882
Preceded by John Jones
Succeeded by Seaborn Reese
In office
March 4, 1853 – March 4, 1859
Preceded by Robert Toombs
Succeeded by John Jones
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from 7th district
In office
March 4, 1845 – March 4, 1853
Preceded by Constituency established
Succeeded by David Reese
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from At-large district
In office
October 2, 1843 – March 4, 1845
Preceded by Mark Cooper
Succeeded by Constituency abolished
Personal details
Born Alexander Stephens
(1812-02-11)February 11, 1812
Crawfordville, Georgia, U.S.
Died March 4, 1883(1883-03-04) (aged 71)
Georgia, U.S.
Political party Whig (Before 1851; 1853–1855)
Constitutional Union (1851–1853)
Democratic (1855–1883)
Alma mater University of Georgia
Religion Presbyterianism
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Alexander Hamilton Stephens (February 11, 1812 – March 4, 1883) was an American politician from Whig Party friend and ally of Abraham Lincoln. They met in the closing days of the Civil War but could not come to terms.[1]


  • Early life and career 1
  • Congressional career 2
  • Vice President of the Confederacy 3
  • Postbellum career 4
  • In popular culture 5
  • Legacy 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10

Early life and career

Alexander H. Stephens was born on February 11, 1812.[2] His parents were Andrew Baskins Stephens and Margaret Grier.[3]

The Stephenses lived on a farm near present-day

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Mark Cooper
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from David Reese
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Robert Toombs
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from John Jones
Succeeded by
Preceded by
John Jones
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Seaborn Reese
Succeeded by
Political offices
New office Vice President of the Confederate States
Provisional 1861–62
Position abolished
Preceded by
Alfred Colquitt
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
James Boynton
  • Alexander H. Stephens at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2009-03-22
  • Timeline and biography of Alexander Stephens
  • Works by or about Alexander H. Stephens at Internet Archive
  • Works by Alexander H. Stephens at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Alexander H. Stephens Papers, 1823–1954 (digitized), Rubenstein Library, Duke University.
  • The Alexander H. Stephens papers, containing correspondence while Stephens was vice president of the Confederacy, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  • The Life and Work of Alexander Stephens
  • "Cornerstone" Speech at the Wayback Machine (archived August 22, 2013)
  • What I Really Said in the Cornerstone Speech Stephens clarifies his statements
  • Abraham Lincoln Praises Alexander Stephens | Mexican War Shapell Manuscript Foundation
  • Another explanation
  • A. H. Stephens State Historic Park
  • A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States: Vol. I (1868)
  • A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States: Vol. II (1870)

External links

  • Rudolph R. von Abele, Alexander H. Stephens: A Biography (1946)
  • Henry Cleveland, Alexander H. Stephens in Public and Private, with Letters and Speeches (1866)
  • William C. Davis, The Union that Shaped the Confederacy: Robert Toombs & Alexander H. Stephens (2002)
  • Richard Malcolm Johnston & William Hand Browne, Life of Alexander H. Stephens (1878).
  • Louis Pendleton, Alexander H. Stephens (1908)
  • Thomas E. Schott, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia: A Biography (1988)
  • W. P. Trent, Southern Statesmen of the Old Régime (1897)
  • Jon L. Wakelyn, Biographical Dictionary of the Confederacy
  • Wilson, Edmund. Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (1962) ch 11, on his book
  • Biographical article from Harper's Weekly, February 23, 1861.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Memoirs of Georgia (Atlanta: Southern Historical Association, 1895), Vol. I, p. 238.
  3. ^ Biographical Sketch of Linton Stephens (Atlanta: Dodson & Scott, 1877), p. 3.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Biographical Sketch of Linton Stephens, p. 3.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens: His Diary Kept When a Prisoner... (New York: Doubleday, 1910), p. 3.
  9. ^ Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, pp. 3–4.
  10. ^ Biographical Sketch of Linton Stephens, pp. 3–4.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, p.3.
  14. ^ James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989), p. 74, gives his weight as 90 pounds.
  15. ^
  16. ^ Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1966, p. 13
  17. ^ Catton, Bruce, The Coming Fury, p 46. Pocket Books, New York. 1961
  18. ^ Candler, Allen Daniel (1909). The Confederate records of the State of Georgia, Volume 1. Atlanta, GA: C. P. Byrd publishing. ISBN 978-1147068887. p. 16. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Allan Nevins, The Improvised War, 1861–1862 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959), p. 73.
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
Alexander Stephens gravesite memorial at Liberty Hall


See also


In popular culture

A collection of Stephens' personal papers has been digitized and is available at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University.[25]

Stephens County, Texas, bear his name, as does A. H. Stephens Historic Park, a state park near Crawfordville.

He is pictured on the CSA $20.00 banknote (3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th issues).

He wrote A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States (1867–70, 2 vol.) and History of the United States (1871 and 1883).

He was interred in Liberty Hall, near Crawfordville.

Almost all of his former slaves were forced to remain working for him, for no money, despite the Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment. These "servants" were with him upon his death. Although old and infirm, Stephens continued to work on his house and plantation. According to a former slave, a gate fell on Stephens while he and another black "servant" were repairing it, "and he was crippled and lamed up from that time on till he died." There is no truth to the rumor that this "accident" occurred when the "servant" learned that the slaves had been emancipated twenty years earlier. [24]

In 1873, Stephens was elected US Representative as a Democrat from the 8th District to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Ambrose R. Wright. Stephens was subsequently re-elected to the 8th District as an Independent Democrat in 1874, 1876, and 1878, and as a Democrat again in 1880.[23] He served in the 43rd through 47th Congresses, from December 1, 1873 until his resignation on November 4, 1882. On that date, he was elected and took office as Governor of Georgia. His tenure as governor proved brief; Stephens died on March 4, 1883, four months after taking office.

Stephens was arrested at his home in Crawfordville, on May 11, 1865. He was imprisoned in Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, for five months until October 1865. In 1866, he was elected to the United States Senate by the first legislature convened under the new Georgia State Constitution, but was not allowed to take his seat because of restrictions on former Confederates.

John White Alexander's portrait of Alexander Stephens

Postbellum career

On February 3, 1865, he was one of three Confederate commissioners who met with Lincoln on the steamer River Queen at the Hampton Roads Conference, a fruitless effort to discuss measures to bring an end to the fight. Stephens and Lincoln had been close friends and Whig political allies in the 1840s.[22]

In mid-1863, Davis dispatched Stephens on a fruitless mission to conscription and suspension of habeas corpus, and supported a block of resolutions aimed at securing peace. From then until the end of the war, as he continued to press for actions aimed at bringing about peace, his relations with Davis, never warm to begin with, turned completely sour.

Stephens depicted on a 1862 Confederate States of America $20 banknote.

In 1862, Stephens first publicly expressed his opposition to the Davis administration.[21] Throughout the war he denounced many of the president's policies, including conscription, suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, impressment, various financial and taxation policies, and Davis' military strategy.

On the eve of the outbreak of the Civil War, he counseled delay in moving militarily against the Northern-held Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens so that the Confederacy could build up its forces and stock resources.[20]

On March 21, 1861, Stephens gave his famous [19]

Stephens in his later years

In 1861, Stephens was elected as a delegate to the Abraham Lincoln. During the convention, as well as during the 1860 presidential campaign, Stephens, who came to be known as the sage of Liberty Hall,[18] called for the South to remain loyal to the Union, likening it to a leaking but fixable boat. During the convention he reminded his fellow delegates that Republicans were a minority in Congress (especially in the Senate) and, even with a Republican President, they would be forced to compromise just as the two sections had for decades. Because the Supreme Court had voted 7–2 in the Dred Scott case, it would take decades of Senate-approved appointments to reverse it. He voted against secession in the convention but asserted the right to secede if the federal government continued allowing northern states to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law with "personal liberty laws." He was elected to the Confederate Congress and was chosen by the Congress as Vice President of the provisional government. He was then elected Vice President of the Confederacy in February 1861. He took the provisional oath of office on February 11, 1861, then the 'full term' oath of office on February 22, 1862 and served until his arrest on May 11, 1865. Stephens officially served in office eight days longer than President Jefferson Davis; he took his oath seven days before Davis' inauguration and was captured the day after Davis.

Vice President of the Confederacy

According to [17]

Stephens did not seek re-election to Congress in 1858. As sectional peace eroded during the next two years, Stephens became increasingly critical of southern extremists. Although virtually the entire South had spurned Douglas as a traitor to southern rights because he had opposed the Lecompton Constitution and broken with Buchanan, Stephens remained on good terms with Douglas and even served as one of his presidential electors in the election of 1860.

Despite his late arrival in the Democratic Party, Stephens quickly rose through the ranks. He even served as President James Buchanan's floor manager in the House during the fruitless battle for the Lecompton Constitution for Kansas Territory in 1857. He was instrumental in framing the failed English Bill after it became clear that Lecompton would not pass.

From this point on, Stephens voted with the Democrats. Until after 1855, Stephens could not be properly called a Democrat, and even then, he never officially declared it. In this move, Stephens broke irrevocably with many of his former Whig colleagues. When the Whig Party disintegrated after the election of 1852, some Whigs flocked to the short-lived Know-Nothing Party, but Stephens fiercely opposed the Know-Nothings both for their secrecy and their anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic position.

The sectional issue surged to the forefront again in 1854, when Missouri Compromise line, in the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This legislation aroused fury in the North because it applied the popular sovereignty principle to the Territory, in violation of the Missouri Compromise. Had it not been for Stephens, the bill would have probably never passed in the House. He employed an obscure House rule to bring the bill to a vote. He later called this "the greatest glory of my life."

By this time, Stephens had departed the ranks of the Whig party, its northern wing generally not amenable to some Southern interests. Back in Georgia, Stephens, Toombs, and Democratic Representative Howell Cobb formed the Constitutional Union Party. The party overwhelmingly carried the state in the ensuing election and, for the first time, Stephens returned to Congress no longer a Whig. Stephens spent the next few years as a Constitutional Unionist, essentially an independent. He vigorously opposed the dismantling of the Constitutional Union Party when it began crumbling in 1851. Political realities soon forced the Union Democrats in the party to affiliate once more with the national party, and by mid-1852, the combination of both Democrats and Whigs, which had formed a "party" behind the Compromise, had ended.

Alexander Stephens

Stephens and Toombs were not only political allies but also lifelong friends. Stephens was described as "a highly sensitive young man of serious and joyless habits of consuming ambition, of poverty-fed pride, and of morbid preoccupation within self," a contrast to the "robust, wealthy, and convivial Toombs. But this strange camaraderie endured with singular accord throughout their lives."[16]

Stephens and fellow Georgia Representative Deep South.

Stephens quickly rose to prominence as one of the leading Southern Whigs in the House. He supported the annexation of Texas in 1845. Along with his fellow Whigs, he vehemently opposed the Mexican-American War, and later become an equally vigorous opponent of the Wilmot Proviso, which would have barred the extension of slavery into territories that were acquired after the war. He also controversially tabled the Clayton Compromise, which would have excluded slavery from the Oregon Territory and left the issue of slavery in New Mexico and California to the Supreme Court. This would later nearly kill Stephens when he argued with Judge Francis H. Cone, who stabbed him repeatedly in a fit of anger.[15] Stephens was physically outmatched by his larger assailant, but he remained defiant during the attack, refusing to recant his positions even at the cost of his life. Only the intervention of others saved him. Stephens' wounds were serious, and he returned home to Crawfordville to recover. He and Cone reconciled before Cone's death in 1859.

As a national lawmaker during the crucial decades before the Civil War, Stephens was involved in all of the major sectional battles. He began as a moderate defender of slavery but later accepted the prevailing Southern rationale utilized to defend the institution.

Stephens served in the U.S. House from October 2, 1843, to March 3, 1859, from the 28th Congress through the 35th Congress. In 1843, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Unionist in 1851, and again as a Whig (from the 8th District) in 1853. In 1855 and 1857, his re-elections came as a Democrat.

Congressional career

As his wealth increased, Stephens began acquiring land and Georgia State Senate.

Stephens was extremely sickly throughout his life. Though his adult height was 5 feet 7 inches, he often weighed less than 100 pounds.[14]

After several unhappy years teaching school, he took up legal studies, passed the bar in 1834, and began a successful career as a lawyer in Crawfordville. During his 32 years of practice, he gained a reputation as a capable defender of the wrongfully accused. None of his clients charged with capital crimes were executed. One notable case was that of a slave woman accused of attempted murder. Stephens volunteered to defend her. Despite the circumstantial evidence presented against her, Stephens won an acquittal for the woman.

Frail but precocious, the young Stephens acquired his continued education through the generosity of several benefactors. One of them was the Athens, where he was roommates with Crawford W. Long and a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society. He graduated at the top of his class in 1832.

Stephens as a young man

Not long after the deaths of his father and his stepmother, Alexander Stephens was sent to live with his mother's other brother, General Aaron W. Grier, near Raytown (Taliaferro County), Georgia. General Grier had inherited his own father's library, said to be "the largest library in all that part of the country."[13] Alexander Stephens, who read voraciously even as a youth, mentions the library in his "Recollections."

In 1826, when Alexander Stephens was 14 years old, his father, Andrew,[11] and stepmother, Matilda,[12] died only days apart in May of that year. Their deaths caused him and several siblings to be scattered among relatives. He grew up poor and in difficult circumstances.

In 1814, Andrew B. Stephens married Matilda Lindsay, daughter of Revolutionary War Colonel John Lindsay.[10]

His mother, a Georgia native and sister of Grier's Almanac founder Robert Grier,[6] died in 1812 at the age of 26;[7] Alexander Stephens was only three months old. In the introduction to Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, there is this about his mother and her family: "Margaret came of folk who had a liking for books, and a turn for law, war, and meteorology."[8] The introduction continues: "In her son's character was a marked blending of parental traits. He [Alexander Stephens] was thrifty, generous, progressive; one of the best lawyers in the land; a reader and collector of books; a close observer of the weather, and father of the Weather Bureau of the United States."[9]

His father, a native of Pennsylvania, came to Georgia at 12 years of age, in 1795. According to the Biographical Sketch of Linton Stephens (Linton Stephens being Alexander Stephens's half-brother), Andrew B. Stephens was "endowed with uncommon intellectual faculties; he had sound practical judgment; he was a safe counselor, sagacious, self-reliant, candid and courageous."[5]


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