Written by Patricia Hobbs Patricia Hobbs
Created: 14 August 2007 14 August 2007
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For a time, I was influenced by reading things I'd not read before about the causes of the Civil War so that I came to believe that states' rights was the main issue and that slavery was only one way that states' rights was asserted. Then I read Arguing About Slavery
which every educated person should read. It's an eye-opener in demonstrating how the South pretty much played the "States' Rights" card when it was convenient for themselves and were not at all consistent in the decades before the Civil War in upholding the Constitution. All that is the preamble to my real post since I've written about the above book before. I am trying to sort through some piles of papers that have built up for months and found a copy of a speech I had printed from the Internet. It is the speech called the Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens
(vice-president of the Confederacy) explaining the new constitution of the Confederacy. The speech was delivered in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861 (a lot of the states'-rights-as-cause-of-the-Civil-War reasoning was given after the war, although that's another story--one that I've not researched thoroughly). Here are some excerpts from Stephens's speech:
The new consitution 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. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right...The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away....Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth...The errors of the past generations still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those in the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind--from a defect in reasoning.It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just--but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.
...May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of nature's laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made "one star to differ from another star in glory." The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders "is become the chief of the corner"--the real "corner-stone"--in our new edifice.
Well, there you have it in the words of the vice-president of the Confederacy. I guess technically one could say that the war was fought over states' rights--the South were not being allowed the right to keep slaves. But very definitely their secession from the Union was because of the slavery issue.