Monday, January 17, 2011

January 17, 1861 - Alexander Stephens Warns of Coming Desolation

Alexander H. Stephens
January 17, 1861

As the delegates to the Georgia Secession Convention debated the future course of their state, they heard on this date from the man who would soon rise to prominence as the Vice President of the Confederacy.

A lawyer and former congressman, Alexander Hamilton Stephens was a powerful speaker despite the fact that he was ill throughout his life and weighed less than 100 pounds. Although he opposed anti-slavery measures and owned slaves, Stephens was a strong believer in the Union. Like most Southerners of his day, he put his loyalty to his state first, but 150 years ago today he rose to warn of what would come if the delegates continued on their path to passage of an Ordinance of Secession:
Old Capitol Building in Milledgeville

...When we and our posterity shall see our lovely South desolated by the demon of war which this act of yours will inevitably invite and call forth; when our green fields of waving harvests shall be trodden down by the murderous soldiery and fiery car of war sweeping over our land; our temples of justice laid in ashes; all the horrors and desolations of war upon us - who but this Convention shall be held responsible for it? - Alexander Stephens, January 17, 1861.


 It was said by those who knew and heard him that Stephens was one of the most powerful speakers of his day, able to keep audiences spellbound with the thundering and emotional quality of his voice. Stories are told to this day of how word would pass through capitol halls in both Georgia and Washington, D.C., when the "Little Giant" rose to speak and spectators would crowd legislative chambers until they were overflowing with eager listeners.


Stephens' words were powerful on that January day and held the delegates and visitors to the historic Old Capitol Building in Milledgeville spellbound, but even he was unable to turn the course of his state away from the step it would take two days later.


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