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It Was Always about Slavery
Alexander Stephens' famous "Cornerstone Speech" tells us what the Civil War and the Confederacy were truly about.
A few weeks before the Civil War began, Alexander Stephens, vice president of the hastily constructed government of the Confederate States of America (CSA), delivered a speech.
In what became known as the “Cornerstone Speech”, delivered on March 21, 1861, Stephens pointedly, clearly, and unashamedly touted the pro-slavery stance of the Confederacy and its new constitution.
Among the superior innovations of the Confederate constitution, Stephens listed changes in federal tax policies and shifting the presidency from a four-year to a six-year term with a one-term limit for each Commander-in-Chief.
But Stephens spent the greatest portion of his attention on what he felt was the most important “improvement” of the new Confederacy—slavery
Stephens put it plainly. The foundation of the confederacy—indeed its cornerstone— rested on the existence and preservation of race-based chattel slavery.
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.
Stephens’ white supremacy was on full display when he explained to his listeners that the only appropriate place for Black people in the Confederate States of America was in a state position of slavery.
Stephens also made clear that slavery was the “immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” Whatever other reasons may have been appended to secession, its clearest cause was slavery.
He further explained, “[Thomas] Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right.”
But not only did slavery serve as the reason for separation from the Union, it also served as the reason for the existence of the Confederacy itself.
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; 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 normal condition.
The United States Constitution and its authors erred, said Stephens, in assuming the “fundamental equality of races.”
Black people could never be equal with white people, according to Stephens, so slavery had to be enshrined as a permanent institution in the Confederacy and its preservation had to be assured in the constitution.
Countering the Myths
White historians, politicians, and civic groups spent decades concocting the myth that the Civil War was fought not mainly over the future of slavery in the United States but simply to preserve the “southern way of life.”1
They created a story with villains—Northern carpetbaggers and Black people who didn’t know their place—who constantly agitated the South, which was only minding its own business, until the gentlemanly white man had to rise up and defend their heritage.
Apologists for the Confederacy also claim that the Civil War was about the principle of “states’ rights”—the duty and privilege of self-governance free from overbearing federal policies.
Under the states’ rights argument, slavery was a matter for individual states to decide. It was not an issue for the federal government or national policy.
These myths about the non-racial, non-slavery causes of the Civil War became enshrined in textbooks, in pop culture through movies like Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, carved in stone with Confederate statues and monuments, and through the repetition of lies until they sounded like truth.
The primary sources, such as Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech,” reveal the plot. The Civil War was always about slavery.
Only a willful ignorance or obfuscation of the facts would lead to any other conclusion.
Lies about the causes of the Civil War are why we need history. History has the receipts.
Read the speech HERE.
What else would you like to know about race and/or religion and the Civil War? Maybe I’ll write an article about it! Comment below.
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