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Alexander H. Stephens (1812–1883)

One of the most supple minds of the Confederacy was encased in the gaunt and consumptive frame of Alexander Hamilton Stephens. No other Southern statesmen better embodied the paradoxical elements inherent in the new nation itself. During his long tenure in Congress, this sallow wisp of a man had been a staunch Unionist, a devotee of Webster over Calhoun, and a friend and supporter of his Whig colleague Abraham Lincoln. When secession came, however, he cast his destiny with his native Georgia, accepted the Confederate vice-presidency, and proclaimed, in one of the most notable speeches of the hour, that slave ownership and its underlying assumption of racial inferiority was the “corner-stone” on which the new republic rested.

Stephens played his most important role in framing the Confederate government. During the subsequent four years, however, his penchant for constitutional restraints and his doctrinaire scruples turned him into the nation's leading obstructionist. Having early lost the ear of President Davis, he withdrew into melancholy isolation and generally displayed less leadership ability than at any previous time in his career.

Attributed to Julian Vannerson (circa 1826–circa 1880) for the James E. McClees Studio
Salted-paper print, circa 1858
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Transfer from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries; gift of Roger F. Shultis


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