Monday, March 21, 2011

Our Nation Divided: Cornerstone Speech

“The prevailing ideas entertained by him (Thomas Jefferson) and most of the leading statesman at the time of the formation of the old constitution (1787), were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that is was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with… Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
Alexander Stevens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, stated this to a packed crowd in Savannah, Georgia on March 21, 1861. The crowd grew so large that many demanded that Stevens give his speech outside but he felt that no matter where he gave it some would be unable to hear. Stevens’ speech was meant to layout for the people the clear differences between the United States constitution and the Confederacy’s newly formed one.  He started out referencing differences such as tariffs, responsibility of internal improvement, cabinet construction more in line with the style of the British parliament, term length and limit of the President, and finally, according to Stevens, the foundational difference between the United States and the Confederacy, slavery.

Stevens builds a detailed argument with the center of it being that the African’s inferiority was created and mandated by God. Stevens stated that “they (being anti-slavery advocates) were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal. Our system commits no such 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 curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.” Clearly the philosophy being laid out here has nothing to do with a need for slavery to maintain an agricultural economy but rather a superiority over the African laid out by God himself. In the context of 1861, the Confederacy is forming and the Union is trying to hold itself together. Citizens of the North are scrambling to find resolve and compromise to maintain the republic of our founders. However the battle lines are being drawn and Stevens is clearly defining the separation not in political ideals or legislative policies but rather a foundational philosophical and moral parallel which can not find compromise nor communion. Stevens speech is building the stark reality that two nations are now formed and it is the will of the Southern or Confederate people to maintain their independence from the United States. Not because of petty disagreements that have built over time but a basic difference in the way each views the world and it is because of that different worldview that the two sides can not coexist. 

From the Norths perspective after reading through this speech in the papers the following day two things seem quite clear. The time for unity through compromise has long past. And that the only way in which the Union can be maintain is through force. Stevens even understands this however believes that Lincoln is bluffing in his threats to use force, especially when it comes to Fort Sumter. "The prospect of war is, at least, not so threatening as it has been. The idea of coercion, shadowed forth in President Lincoln's inaugural, seems not to be followed up thus far so vigorously as was expected. Fort Sumter, it is believed, will soon be evacuated." The next steps are quite clear and the inevitable conflict is on the horizon. This cornerstone speech is clearly a necessary cog in the establishment of an independent republic to separate itself from its mother country and seek its own identity. Its identify, the Confederate States of America's identity is routed in practice and establishment of slavery. 

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