Loathing Lincoln on Houston TV

I taped a segment with the television show “Red, White, and Blue” in late May, and it will be airing on Channel 8 two times this weekend: Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 27, at 12:30 p.m. The show lasts 30 minutes and is hosted by Linda Lorelle. Gary Polland (a conservative) and David Jones (a liberal) each asked me questions. I was shocked at how quickly the time went by and I am not a little nervous as to how I did, so tune in this weekend!


Confederate License Plates in Texas?

A few days ago The Houston Chronicle reported  that the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) “want to exercise the same rights enjoyed by any other Texan and pay homage to their heritage with a personalized license plate.”

This has predictably stirred up some controversy, with Jerry Patterson, the Texas Land Commissioner and a member of the SCV defending that right. Today (Saturday, July 19), Walter Kamphoefner, a Professor of History at Texas A & M, produces a devastating response to Patterson’s claims. I have written on this site about my objections to celebrating Jefferson Davis’s birthday, not to mention the way that many of Lincoln’s enemies selectively quote Lincoln and therefore distort his racial views. One should also see the pointed questions Edward Sebesta (full disclsure: Ed gave me considerable help with my book) has asked the SCV. Sebesta posed these questions in April and to my knowledge he has received no reponse from the SCV answering his queries.

Take a moment to peruse these links and I think any fair-minded person will see who has the better of the argument. And this leads me to wonder: if politicians such as Mr. Patterson get the history of the Civil War so egregiously wrong, then why should Americans trust them when they lecture the country on how we are straying from the country’s founding principles?


Will the loathing – and the lies – ever end?

Obviously, no. But, historian Brooks Simpson has been doing a wonderful job going after some blatant distortions, if not outright lies, that some of Lincoln’s enemies continue to perpetrate. The most recent – if it can even be called that because these false accusations have been around for a very long time indeed – is that Lincoln and his wife Mary owned a slave.

Lincoln, Equality, and the Declaration of Independence

I’ve recently completed two books on the American past, both of which, albeit for different reasons, argue for the enduring importance of the Declaration of Independence for our nation’s political life and the safeguarding of American freedom. The first, by the libertarian Timothy Sandefur (who critiqued part of the draft of Loathing Lincoln), is entitled The Conscience of the Constitution: the Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty. Sandefur’s argument is that the Declaration’s focus was liberty, not democracy, and that Americans have forgotten, to their great detriment and the diminishment of their freedom, this basic fact. As Timothy put it in a recent post, Jefferson’s idea of all men being created equal is the most important truth in American history:

“The fundamental principle—the sheet anchor of our republic, as Lincoln called it—is the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. No person has any inherent right to control the life of another. Instead, we are all humans, as much in charge of our own lives as our neighbors are of theirs. Or, as Jefferson put it in his last letter, none of us is born with saddles on our backs, and none is born with spurs on. That means that we’re all basically free, and nobody else has a right to take away that freedom unless they prove some good reason. This basic presumption in favor of freedom—that freedom is our birthright, and not just a privilege that the ruler gives to us, and not to be taken away without some justification—was the greatest innovation of the founding fathers.”

The second book I finished reading a few days ago, the political philosopher Danielle Allen’s newly published Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality. She laments that so few Americans ever read through the entire Declaration and her book is in part an effort at persuading us of the need to do so. Allen’s basic contention is that “we cannot have freedom without equality” (page 21) and to that end she endeavors to show – with some success, I think – that the ideal of equality as well as liberty was at the heart of the Declaration of Independence. In her view, there were/are “five facets” of equality (page 268-269):

  1. Equality as being “equal as powers” to other countries, especially Great Britain, or “freedom from domination.”
  2. “Equality of Opportunity” as having “access to the to the tool of government”
  3. Equality as “finding what each member of the community can contribute to the collective supply of knowledge, for the sake of maximizing the community’s knowledge capacities.”
  4. Equality as “equality of agency, achieved through reciprocal responsiveness.”
  5. Equality as “equal ownership share,” or “equality as co-creation, where many people participate equally in creating a world together.”

I’ll readily grant that the concept of equality (and liberty, too, I think) is, to borrow a term from the philosopher Janet Radcliffe Richards, persistently elusive. Still, both Sandefur’s and Allen’s books caused me to think about what Abraham Lincoln and his opponents thought about the Declaration of Independence and the related notion of equality. As I wrote in the conclusion to Loathing Lincoln (page 332-333):

“Most Americans consider Abraham Lincoln one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. But in Lincoln’s lifetime and since, numerous Americans have vilified the sixteenth president. Immediately after the 1860 election, rather than remain under his influence and authority, seven states seceded from the Union, followed by four more states after Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter. He was the first president to die at the hands of an assassin—a murderer who won accolades from many in the defeated Confederate States. And the hatred for Lincoln that commenced even before his presidency began has persisted, with tactical adaptations to changing circumstances, into the twenty-first century. In 1858, when he concluded his debates with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln himself anticipated the essential nature of the fight that would continue over his name:

That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles—right and wrong—throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their own labor; or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.

 Lincoln was more right than he could have possibly known at the time. To a large extent the struggle over Lincoln’s image has always been rooted in contesting visions of America, one envisioning freedom and equality for all, the other envisioning freedom and equality for some, with subordination to authority, or their so-called natural superiors, for the rest. With few exceptions loathing for Lincoln has meant loathing for an expanded notion of freedom and equality joined in direct opposition to the idea . . . that the Civil War was fought over such notions or that the federal government should play any role in maintaining a link between these two American ideals. Abraham Lincoln’s enemies have always tried to define who he was, but in their loathing for the president, they have more often than not defined themselves.”

 I’ve included the hyperlinks to the excerpts below from some of Lincoln’s and his opponents commentary on the Declaration. Please take the time to read through these and I think you’ll see why Lincoln contains such ongoing relevance to who we are – and who we might still become – as a people.

Abraham Lincoln at Peoria, Illinois, October 16, 1854

The doctrine of self government is right—absolutely and eternally right—but it has no just application, as here attempted. Or perhaps I should rather say that whether it has such just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is a man may, as a matter of self-government, do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man, is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government—that is despotism. If the negro is a man, why then my ancient faith teaches me that “all men are created equal → ;” and that there can be no moral right in connection with one man’s making a slave of another.

Judge Douglas frequently, with bitter irony and sarcasm, paraphrases our argument by saying “The white people of Nebraska are good enough to govern themselves, but they are not good enough to govern a few miserable negroes!!”

Well I doubt not that the people of Nebraska are, and will continue to be as good as the average of people elsewhere. I do not say the contrary. What I do say is, that no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent. I say this is the leading principle—the sheet anchor of American republicanism. Our Declaration of Independence says:

“We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are ← created equal → ; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, DERIVING THEIR JUST POWERS FROM THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.”

I have quoted so much at this time merely to show that according to our ancient faith, the just powers of governments are derived from the consent of the governed. Now the relation of masters and slaves is, PRO TANTO, a total violation of this principle. The master not only governs the slave without his consent; but he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those which he prescribes for himself. Allow ALL the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and that only is self government.

Let it not be said I am contending for the establishment of political and social equality between the whites and blacks. I have already said the contrary. I am not now combating the argument of NECESSITY, arising from the fact that the blacks are already amongst us; but I am combating what is set up as MORAL argument for allowing them to be taken where they have never yet been—arguing against the EXTENSION of a bad thing, which where it already exists, we must of necessity, manage as we best can.

Little by little, but steadily as man’s march to the grave, we have been giving up the OLD for the NEW faith. Near eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are ← created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for SOME men to enslave OTHERS is a “sacred right of self-government.” These principles can not stand together. They are as opposite as God and mammon; and whoever holds to the one, must despise the other. When Pettit, in connection with his support of the Nebraska bill, called the Declaration of Independence “a self-evident lie” he only did what consistency and candor require all other Nebraska men to do. Of the forty odd Nebraska Senators who sat present and heard him, no one rebuked him. Nor am I apprized that any Nebraska newspaper, or any Nebraska orator, in the whole nation, has ever yet rebuked him. If this had been said among Marion’s men, Southerners though they were, what would have become of the man who said it? If this had been said to the men who captured Andre, the man who said it, would probably have been hung sooner than Andre was. If it had been said in old Independence Hall, seventy-eight years ago, the very door-keeper would have throttled the man, and thrust him into the street.

Let no one be deceived. The spirit of seventy-six and the spirit of Nebraska, are utter antagonisms; and the former is being rapidly displaced by the latter.



Abraham Lincoln to Hon: Geo. Robertson Springfield, Ills.
Lexington, Ky. Aug. 15. 1855

My dear Sir: The volume you left for me has been received. I am really grateful for the honor of your kind remembrance, as well as for the book. The partial reading I have already given it, has afforded me much of both pleasure and instruction. It was new to me that the exact question which led to the Missouri compromise,  had arisen before it arose in regard to Missouri; and that you had taken so prominent a part in it. Your short, but able and patriotic speech upon that occasion, has not been improved upon since, by those holding the same views; and, with all the lights you then had, the views you took appear to me as very reasonable.

You are not a friend of slavery in the abstract. In that speech you spoke of “the peaceful extinction of slavery” and used other expressions indicating your belief that the thing was, at some time, to have an end[.] Since then we have had thirty six years of experience; and this experience has demonstrated, I think, that there is no peaceful extinction of slavery in prospect for us. The signal failure of Henry Clay, and other good and great men, in 1849, to effect any thing in favor of gradual emancipation in Kentucky, together with a thousand other signs, extinguishes that hope utterly. On the question of liberty, as a principle, we are not what we have been. When we were the political slaves of King George, and wanted to be free, we called the maxim that “all men are created equal” a self evident truth; but now when we have grown fat, and have lost all dread of being slaves ourselves, we have become so greedy to be masters that we call the same maxim “a self-evident lie” The fourth of July has not quite dwindled away; it is still a great day—for burning fire-crackers!!!

That spirit which desired the peaceful extinction of slavery, has itself become extinct, with the occasion, and the men of the Revolution. Under the impulse of that occasion, nearly half the states adopted systems of emancipation at once; and it is a significant fact, that not a single state has done the like since. So far as peaceful, voluntary emancipation is concerned, the condition of the negro slave in America, scarcely less terrible to the contemplation of a free mind, is now as fixed, and hopeless of change for the better, as that of the lost souls of the finally impenitent. The Autocrat of all the Russias will resign his crown, and proclaim his subjects free republicans sooner than will our American masters voluntarily give up their slaves.

Our political problem now is “Can we, as a nation, continue together permanently—forever—half slave, and half free?” The problem is too mighty for me. May God, in his mercy, superintend the solution. Your much obliged friend, and humble servant


Abraham Lincoln to Joshua Speed, August 24, 1855

I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs, and that I am an abolitionist. When I was at Washington I voted for the Wilmot Proviso as good as forty times, and I never heard of any one attempting to unwhig me for that. I now do no more than oppose the extension of slavery.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal  .” We now practically read it “all men are ← created equal → except negroes.” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are ← created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy.


Abraham Lincoln on the Dred Scott Decision, 1857

Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family, but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once, actually place them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument comes to just nothing at all, by the other fact, that they did not at once, or ever afterwards, actually place all white people on an equality with one or another. And this is the staple argument of both the Chief Justice and the Senator, for doing this obvious violence to the plain unmistakable language of the Declaration. I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal → —equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that “all men are ← created equal → ” was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, nor for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should re-appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.

I have now briefly expressed my view of the meaning and objects of that part of the Declaration of Independence which declares that “all men are← created equal → .”


Abraham Lincoln to Messrs. Henry L. Pierce, & others. Springfield, Ills.
Gentlemen April 6. 1859

The democracy of to-day hold the liberty of one man to be absolutely nothing, when in conflict with another man’s right of property. Republicans, on the contrary, are for both the man and the dollar; but in cases of conflict, the man before the dollar.

I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have performed about the same feat as the two drunken men.

But soberly, it is now no child’s play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.

One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but, nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms. The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. And yet they are denied, and evaded, with no small show of success. One dashingly calls them “glittering generalities”; another bluntly calls them “self evident lies”; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to “superior races.”

These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect—the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and legitimacy. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads, plotting against the people. They are the van-guard—the miners, and sappers—of returning despotism. We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

All honor to Jefferson—to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyrany and oppression.

Your obedient Servant A. LINCOLN—


Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863



William Harper, 1837

There seems to be something in this subject which blunts the perceptions, and darkens and confuses the understandings and moral feelings of men. Tell them that, of necessity, in even- civilized society, there must be an infinite variety of conditions and employments, from the most eminent and intellectual, to the most servile and laborious ; that the negro race, from their temperament and capacity, are peculiarly suited to the situation which they occupy, and not less happy in it than any corresponding class to be found in the world; prove incontestably that no scheme of emancipation could be carried into effect without the most intolerable mischiefs and calamities to both master and slave, or without probably throwing a large and fertile portion of the earth’s surface out of the pale of civilization—and you have done nothing. They reply, that whatever may be the consequence, you are bound to do right; that man has a right to himself, and man cannot have property in man ; that if the negro race be naturally inferior in mind and character, they are not less entitled to the rights of humanity; that if they are happy in their condition, it affords but the stronger evidence of their degradation, and renders them still more objects of commiseration. They repeat, as the fundamental maxim of our civil policy, that all men are born free and equal, and quote from our Declaration of Independence, “that men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

It is not the first time that I have had occasion to observe that men may repeat with the utmost confidence, some maxim or sentimental phrase, as self-evident or admitted truth, which is either palpably false, or to which, upon examination, it will be found that they attach no definite idea. Notwithstanding our respect for the important document which declared our independence, yet if any thing be found in it, and especially in what may be regarded rather as its ornament than its substance—false, sophistical or unmeaning, that respect should not screen it from the freest examination.

All men are born free and equal. Is it not palpably nearer the truth to say that no man was ever born free, and that no two men were ever born equal! Man is born in a state of the most helpless dependence on others. He continues subject to the absolute control of others, and remains without many of the civil and all of the political privileges of his society, until the period which the laws have fixed as that at which he is supposed to have attained the maturity of his faculties. Then inequality is further developed, and becomes infinite in every society, and under whatever form of government. Wealth and poverty, fame or obscurity, strength or weakness, knowledge or ignorance, ease or labor, power or subjection, mark the endless diversity in the condition of men.

But we have not arrived at the profundity of the maxim. This inequality is, in a great measure, the result of abuses in the institutions of society. They do not speak of what exists, but of what ought to exist. Every one should be left at liberty to obtain all the advantages of society which he can compass, by the free exertion of his faculties, unimpeded by civil restraints. It may be said that this would not remedy the evils of society which are complained of. The inequalities to which I have referred, with the misery resulting from them, would exist in fact under the freest and most popular form of government that man could devise. But what is the foundation of the bold dogma so confidently announced? Females are human and rational beings. They may be found of better faculties, and better qualified to exercise political privileges, and to attain the distinctions of society, than many men; yet who complains of the order of society by which they are excluded from them? For I do not speak of the few who would desecrate them; do violence to the nature which their Creator has impressed upon them; drag them from the position which they necessarily occupy for the existence of civilized society, and in which they constitute its blessing and ornament—the only position which they have ever occupied in any human society—to place them in a situation in which they would be alike miserable and degraded. Low as we descend in combating the theories of presumptuous dogmatists, it cannot be necessary to stoop to this. A youth of eighteen may have powers which cast into the shade those of any of his more advanced cotemporaries. He may be capable of serving or saving his country, and if not permitted to do so now, the occasion may have been lost forever. But he can exercise no political privilege, or aspire to any political distinction. It is said that, of necessity, society must exclude from some civil and political privileges those who are unfitted to exercise them, by infirmity, unsuitableness of character, or defect of discretion; that of necessity there must be some general rule on the subject, and that any rule which can be devised will operate with hardship and injustice on individuals. This is all that can be said, and all that need be said. It is saying, in other words that the privileges in question are no matter of natural rights, but to be settled by convention, as the good and safety of society may require. If society should disfranchise individuals convicted of infamous crimes, would this be an invasion of natural right? Yet this would not be justified on the score of their moral guilt, but that the good of society required or would be promoted by it. We admit the existence of a moral law, binding on societies as on individuals. Society must act in good faith. No man, or body of men, has a right to inflict pain or privation on others, unless with a view, after full and impartial deliberation, to prevent a greater evil. If this deliberation be had, and the decision made in good faith, there can be no imputation of moral guilt. Has any politician contended that the very existence of governments in which there are orders privileged by law, constitutes a violation of morality ; that their continuance is a crime, which men are bound to put an end to, without any consideration of the good or evil to result from the change ? Yet this is the natural inference from the dogma of the natural equality of men as applied to our institution of Slavery—an equality not to be invaded without injustice and wrong, and requiring to be restored instantly, unqualifiedly, and without reference to consequences…

Man is born to subjection. Not only during infancy is he dependent, and under the control of others; at all ages, it is the very bias of his nature, that the strong and the wise should control the weak and the ignorant…


John C. Calhoun, Speech on the Oregon Bill, 1848

If we trace it back, we shall find the proposition differently expressed in the Declaration of Independence. That asserts that “all men are created equal.” The form of expression, though less dangerous, is not less erroneous. All men are not created. According to the Bible, only two, a man and a woman, ever were, and of these one was pronounced subordinate to the other. All others have come into the world by being born, and in no sense, as I have shown, either free or equal. But this form of expression being less striking and popular, has given way to the present, and under the authority of a document put forth on so great an occasion, and leading to such important consequences, has spread far and wide, and fixed itself deeply in the public mind. It was inserted in our Declaration of Independence without any necessity. It made no necessary part of our justification in separating from the parent country, and declaring ourselves independent. Breach of our chartered privileges, and lawless encroachment on our acknowledged and well-established rights by the parent country, were the real causes, and of themselves sufficient, without resorting to any other, to justify the step. Nor had it any weight in constructing the governments which were substituted in the place of the colonial. They were formed of the old materials and on practical and well-established principles, borrowed for the most part from our own experience and that of the country from which we sprang.



George Fitzhugh, “Cannibals All,” 1856

We agree with Mr. Jefferson, that all men have natural and inalienable rights. To violate or disregard such rights, is to oppose the designs and plans of Providence, and cannot “come to good.” The order and subordination observable in the physical, animal and human world, show that some are formed for higher, others for lower stations—the few to command, the many to obey. We conclude that about nineteen out of every twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected; to have guardians, trustees, husbands, or masters; in other words, they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are as clearly born or educated, or some way fitted for command and liberty. Not to make them rulers or masters, is as great a violation of natural right, as not to make slaves of the mass. A very little individuality is useful and necessary to society,—much of it begets discord, chaos and anarchy…

Set your miscalled free laborers actually free, by giving them enough property or capital to live on, and then call on us at the South to free our negroes. At present, you Abolitionists know our negro slaves are much the freer of the two; and it would be a great advance towards freeing your laborers, to give them guardians, bound, like our masters, to take care of them, and entitled, in consideration thereof, to the proceeds of their labor…

We do not agree with the authors of the Declaration of Independence, that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The women, the children, the negroes, and but few of the non-property holders were consulted, or consented to the Revolution, or the governments that ensued from its success. As to these, the new governments were self-elected despotisms, and the governing class self-elected despots. Those governments originated in force, and have been continued by force. All governments must originate in force, and be continued by force. The very term, government, implies that it is carried on against the consent of the governed. Fathers do not derive their authority, as heads of families, from the consent of wife and children, nor do they govern their families by their consent. They never take the vote of the family as to the labors to be performed, the moneys to be expended, or as to anything else. Masters dare not take the vote of slaves, as to their government. If they did, constant holiday, dissipation and extravagance would be the result…

They are all governments of force, not of consent. Even in our North, the women, children, and free negroes, constitute four-fifths of the population; and they are all governed without their consent. … The widows and free negroes begin to vote in some of those States, and they will have to let all colors and sexes and ages vote soon, or give up the glorious principles of human equality and universal emancipation.

The experiment which they will make, we fear, is absurd in theory, and the symptoms of approaching anarchy and agrarianism among them, leave no doubt that its practical operation will be no better than its theory. Anti-rentism, “vote-myself-a-farm” ism, and all the other isms, are but the spattering drops that precede a social deluge…



Alexander Stephens, “Cornerstone Speech,” March 1861

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution 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. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. 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. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. 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. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at 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. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.