Rod O’Barr’s recent blog “The So-Called ‘Cornerstone Speech’” The So-Called “Cornerstone Speech” – Abbeville Institute is really excellent.

Over the years, the so-called “Cornerstone Speech” by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens has been cited as proof positive that slavery was the cause of the Confederacy. Rod O’Barr did a good job of debunking that, but he omitted one other important source from Stephens, a diary which he kept while he was imprisoned at Fort Warren in Boston Harbor immediately after the end of the War Between the States. This source also contradicts the “only slavery” narrative and should be read in conjunction with the “Cornerstone Speech”.

Of first note is the following observation which he made on June 5, 1865:

“As for my Savannah speech, about which so much has been said and in regard to which I am represented as setting forth ‘slavery’ as the ‘corner-stone’ of the Confederacy, it is proper for me to state that the speech was extemporaneous. The reporter’s notes, which were very imperfect, were hastily corrected by me; and were published without further revision and with several glaring errors.”

Stephens stated that the point he was trying to make was that there was no change in the treatment of slavery in the Confederate Constitution from its treatment in the United States Constitution. He stated, “The only striking difference between the old Constitution and the new [in regard to slavery] was the immediate and perpetual prohibition of the African slave-trade in the latter, whereas continuance of this traffic for twenty years had been provided for in the former.”

He further stated:

“The substance of what I said on slavery was, than on the points under the old Constitution out of which so much discussion, agitation, and strife between the States had arisen, no future contention could arise, as these had been put to rest by clear language. I did not say, nor do I think the reporter represented me as saying, that there was the slightest change in the new Constitution from the old regarding the status of the African race among us. (Slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession; out of it rose the breach of compact, for instance, on the part of several Northern States in refuling to comply with Constitutional obligations as to rendition of fugitives from service, a course betraying a total disregard for all constitutional barriers and guarantees.

I admitted that the fathers, both of the North and of the South, who framed the old Constitution, while recognizing existing slavery and guaranteeing its continuance under the Constitution so long as the States should severally see fit to tolerate it in their respective limits, were perhaps all opposed to the principle. Jefferson, Madison, Washington, all looked for its early extinction throughout the United States. But on the subject of slavery – so called – (which was with us, or should be, nothing the propere rsubordination of the inferior African race to the superior white) great and radical changes had taken place in the realm of thought; many eminent latter-day statesmen, philosophers, and philanthropists held different views from the fathers.

 The patriotism of the fathers was not questioned, nor their ability and wisdom, but it devolved on the public men and statesmen of each generation to grapple with and solve the problems of their own times.”

As to the Confederate Constitution, Stephens opined:

“This principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the ‘corner-stone’ on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787, was not wrong in itself, either morally or politically; that it was in conformity to nature and best for both races. I alluded not to the principles of the new Government on this subject, but to public sentiment in regard to these principles. That status of the African race in the new Constitution was just where it was left in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech.”

As Michael Martin pointed out in his previous essay on the “Cornerstone Speech” Revisiting the “Cornerstone Speech” – Abbeville Institute this view of the black race being subordinate to the white was common among whites in both the North and the South at that time. In his previous essay Historical Context Explains Secession – Abbeville Institute, O’Barr also proves that slavery was not the sole cause of secession. Indeed, that Stevens referred to the status of the races and not slavery is shown by the following statement:

“My own opinion on slavery, as often expressed, was that if the institution was not the best, or could not be made the best, for both races, looking to the advancement and progress of both, physically and morally, it ought to be abolished. It was far from being what it might and ought to have been. Education was denied. This was wrong. I ever condemned the wrong. Marriage was not recognized. This was a wrong that I condemned. Many things connected with it did not meet my approval but excited my disgust, abhorrence, and detestation. The same I may say of things connected with the best institutions in the best communities in which my lot has been cast. Great improvements were, however, going on in the condition of blacks in the South. Their general physical condition not only as to necessaries but as to comforts was better in my own neighborhood in 1860, than was that of the whites when I can first recollect, say 1820. Much greater would have been made I verily believe, but for outside agitation. I have but small doubt that education would have been allowed long ago in Georgia, except for outside pressure which stopped internal reform.”

This entry adds complexity to the discussion of secession, the War, and the Confederate government.



Myrta Lockett Avary, ed., Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens: His Diary Kept When A Prisoner at Fort Warren, Boston  Harbour, 1865, Giving Incidents and Reflections of His Prison Life and Some Letters and  Reminiscences. Library of Southern Civilization, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998 (1910), pp. 171-174.

Timothy A. Duskin

Timothy A. Duskin is from Northern Virginia. He has a B.A. degree in history from American Christian College, Tulsa, Oklahoma and a M.A. degree in international relations from the University of Oklahoma. He worked for 22 years as an Archives Technician at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. He has also worked as a Writer for the U.S. Taxpayers’ Alliance in Vienna, Virginia and as a Research Assistant for the Plymouth Rock Foundation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He has a strong interest in and devotion to history and is active in a number of historical organizations.


  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    The “slavery was wrong” nonsense must stop. It was a product of its time. Today, I must submit over a third of my earnings to the federal government because the times demand I do so. The royal masters decided slavery was “correct” just as today the masses say I must work to feed my family (or go on government dole) and if I work to feed my family, I have no choice but to pay over a third of my earnings to the federal government.

    I own nothing and I do not like it. If I choose not to pay my taxes, what becomes of me? Will I be Harriet Tubman in the future, lauded for stealing from the system? Or will the system take my property and jail me? Separate me from my family without remorse? At least in slave days, if I was a debtor in Scotland, I could be sentenced to transportation to the New World where I would face 50 percent mortality rates until I died or paid off my debts to the king. I could even become a slave owner, if I were “lucky”.

    Slavery was legal and it was right. The Dred Scott decision righted the wrongs of telling certain people who owned certain goods they were not allowed to travel or live unrestricted in OUR country with their property.

    Slavery is the Internal Combustion Engine of its time. Today, the same people who told you to go borrow their created debt (the Fed is a private cartel with the power to create debt with the stroke of a pen, said debt being propped up by my taxes) to support this system of “poisoning the atmosphere with CO2” (which happens to be the “cornerstone” of plant life on the planet) are now saying you are wrong to have taken up their product and must pay to switch to their next pet system. The next pet system is much more energy-intense than the current (pardon the electric pun) and is much more fragile…by design.

    It doesn’t matter these people were enriched by the prior system…they are the descendants of African kings and non-Christian lenders and Royal Navy owners who benefitted from selling people to other people. The system was perfectly fine for moving wealth into deep pockets. Their ships (the trees of which they were made were catalogued and monitored for dozens of years prior to their use in becoming a beam in a merchant vessel or a spar in a warship to guard said merchant vessel) didn’t carry gold…THEIR SHIPS CARRIED LETTERS OF CREDIT to be interpreted by the lenders who were on site in New England and London and the west coast of Africa.

    Modern slavery is pigpharma, creating a crisis and granting themselves immunity from prosecution while delivering a flawed product to fight a cold…and mislabeling the flu as Covid19.

    Very few cared about the souls of the black slaves as the Southern Christian. There were over 250,000 free blacks in the South according to the 1860 census. Thousands of these people owned slaves. They were allowed to own land in MISSISSIPPI, FLORIDA, GEORGIA, etc. when they COULD NOT MOVE to Illinois or Oregon.

    Robert E. Lee was sued in the Virginia Supreme Court in 1862 and LOST his case against keeping his father-in-law’s slaves for the 5 years mandated by the will for the maximum time for the estate to be settled. Lee said the slaves were so lazy, they wouldn’t hit a lick at a snake.

    I have read thousands of Slave Narratives…the vast majority did not have a problem with slavery.

    BT Washington claimed “all sides benefitted from slavery”…including American blacks.

    Finally, you can’t condemn slavery without condemning the Bible. This is the true motivation from the powers that be…man makes the rules, there are no moral codes, black is white and wrong is right.

    Thank you for your article.

    • Cody Davis says:

      I wouldn’t even bother adding that it was a product of its time, because slavery is a product of every time. There’s not a single point in human history that slavery has not been around, even today. Slavery now just exists in a different form.

    • THT says:

      Cre-debt money is as close to Hell as one can imagine.

  • Mr. Platt, III

    Thank you for a beautifully written and steadfastly presented writing.
    It is not too often, nowadays, that one sees such honesty in the written word.

    Vivian C. Turnage

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