Alexander Hamilton Stephens
Born: February 11, 1812
Alexander Hamilton Stephens was born on February 11, 1812 near Crawfordsville, Georgia. He attended local schools, and graduated from Franklin College in 1832 when he was 20 years old. In 1834 he was admitted to the bar. His private practice was short-lived, however, as he became very active in the political scene. He aligned with the Whigs, and served in the Georgia state house from 1834 to 1841. As Stephens gained political momentum, he was elected to the Georgia state senate in 1842. He served as a U.S. Representative from Georgia for sixteen years, from 1843 to 1859. By 1860, the Whig Party disintegrated, and Stephens joined the Democratic Party to support Stephen Douglas in his attempt to gain the Presidency against Abraham Lincoln. But Lincoln was elected, and Alexander Stephens faced a dilemma. Many of his Southern compatriots favored secession from the Union. Stephens believed strongly in the U.S. Constitution and tried to keep Georgia from breaking with the Union. But as Georgia's path to secession became clear, Stephens acquiesced to the prevailing sentiments in his state and in 1861 he was elected Vice President of the Confederacy. He held the position of Vice President until 1865. He spent five months in a Union prison at the end of the war, and was released in October of 1865. Stephens returned to Georgia and again became active in state politics. He served again in Congress after the end of the Reconstruction Period until 1882, and then in 1882 he took office as Governor of the state of Georgia. During his term as governor, he became ill, and Alexander Hamilton Stephens died in Savannah on March 4, 1883.
Alexander Stephens was a moderating voice in the shaping of the Confederacy. He believed that the Constitution of the United States was powerful and workable through interpretation and modification, even for the Southern states. But he was also a compromiser and a statesman, and when the establishment of the Confederacy was inevitable, he served as a thoughtful, moderate leader. He was an accomplished orator and a writer as well as a Constitutional scholar. He kept journals and wrote in detail about his experiences and how this turbulent time in history was shaped by the beliefs and passions of his peers. Many of his works are out of print and hard to find now, but we found the following at Amazon.com. Click to order History of the United States, by Alexander Stephens. Stephens also kept a journal when he was imprisoned at the end of the Civil War, and it is available for purchase. Click to order Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens: His Diary Kept When a Prisoner at Fort Warren, Boston Harbour, 1865. For the history buff who would like to understand the thinking of the delegates to the convention that created the Confederacy, we recommend 'A Government of Our Own': The Making of the Confederacy, by William C. Davis. Davis is a prize-winning author and Civil War historian, and this book chronicles four decisive months in 1861, presenting the unique story of the birth of a nation within a nation. It examines the leaders of the Confederacy--from those who wanted war to those who wanted reconciliation--and their struggle to form a southern nation.
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