The Cornerstone Speech

What Trump and his Trumpist Supporters are Defending...

…given by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens a few weeks before the Civil War began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter.

Stephens’ speech defended “slavery” as a fundamental and just result of the inferiority of the black race, explained the fundamental differences between the constitutions of the Confederacy and that of the United States, enumerated contrasts between USA and Confederate ideologies, and laid out the Confederacy’s rationale for seceding from the USA.

Stephens’ speech declared that disagreements over the enslavement of African Americans were the “immediate cause” of secession and that the Confederate constitution had resolved such issues, saying:

The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution—African slavery as it exists among 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. […] 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 idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”

Stephens contended that advances and progress in the sciences proved that the 18th-century view that “all men are created equal” was erroneous and that all men were not created equal.[4] He stated that advances in science proved that enslavement of African Americans by white men was justified and that it coincided with the Bible’s teachings.[4] He also stated that the Confederacy was the first country in the world founded on the principle of racial supremacy:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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. 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.

Stephens stated that the Confederacy’s belief in human inequality was adhering to the “laws of nature”:

May we not therefore look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgement of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws.