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Alexander Hamilton Stephens (American National Biography)

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Michael Perman, "Stephens, Alexander Hamilton," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00948.html.

In the 1860 election extremists, like [Alexander Stephens'] friend Robert Toombs, worked hard to break up the Democratic party, but Stephens only entered the campaign after he had been selected, without his approval, as a Douglas elector. In the wake of Lincoln's election, he did hasten to reassure Georgians that the new president was no threat. Along with several other leading politicians, he addressed the legislature on the situation. In his 14 November 1860 speech, he said that the Union protected slavery, that no unconstitutional or hostile act had been taken to justify secession, and that a state convention should be called, along with a regional conference of all the southern states. This brilliant speech, temporarily slowing the movement to secession, provoked a famous exchange with President-elect Lincoln, in one letter of which Lincoln made the often-quoted comment: "You think slavery is right, and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong, and ought to be restricted."

Privately, however, Stephens seems to have been convinced that secession was unavoidable after Lincoln's election. Indeed, he and the state's antisecessionist leaders did little to influence the election of a secession convention or its members once it was called. Had they done so, the outcome might conceivably have been different, since the resolution to oppose immediate secession failed in the convention by only thirty-six votes, 166-130.

How to Cite This Page: "Alexander Hamilton Stephens (American National Biography)," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/19213.