War Between The States
Category: History
Level 9.09 24:38 h
Alexander Hamilton Stephens was the Confederate States of America vice president during the American Civil War. The Civil War was the deadliest battle in American history and divided the country into two warring sides. War Between The States is a book by Stephens that collects his writing regarding the war, its causes, sides, and the results after its conclusion. The book's purpose was to provide an accurate and historical account of the entire situation and its impact on all parties involved. Read this interesting text from an active participant in the epic war.

A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States

Causes, Character, Conduct and Results
Presented in a
Series of Colloquies at Liberty Hall

Alexander H. Stephens

In Two Volumes
Vol. I

War Between The States

Times change and men often change with them, but principles never!



All true friends of the Union under the Constitution of the United States, throughout their entire limits, without regard to present or past party associations; and to all true friends of Constitutional Liberty, the world over, now and forever, — especially to all, everywhere, who may, now or hereafter, look to the Federative System, between neighboring Free Democratic States, as the surest means of saving Mankind from ultimate universal Monarchical Rule, — this Work, with all the earnestness of his nature, which the great subject thoroughly awakens, is hereby, not formally, but most solemnly and sacredly, dedicated by the


Liberty Hall,
16 Dec’r, 1867.


The purpose of the writer of this work is to present a Constitutional view of the late War between the States of “the Union,” known as the “United States of America.”

The view is intended to embrace a consideration of the causes, the character, conduct and results of this War, in relation to the nature and character of the joint Government of these States; and of its effects upon the nature and character of this Government, as well as of its effects upon the separate Governments, Constitutions and general internal Institutions of the States themselves. The subject is one that does not fall clearly within the domain of History, in the usual acceptation of that word. The design is rather to deal with the materials of History than to supply them. It is not so much to present any portion of American History, as it is, by Historical analysis, to show what are the principles embodied in those systems of Government established, by the Anglo-Saxons, on this Continent, and to illustrate their singularly happy adaptation, so long as adhered to, to the situation and character of the North American States.

The chief usefulness of all History consists in the lessons it teaches, in properly estimating the compound result of the action of the principles of any system of Government upon human conduct, and the counter-action of human conduct upon these principles, in effecting those moral and political changes which mark the type, as well as progress, of civilization, at all times, and in all countries. Mankind cannot live without Society or Association. Organized communities, with Governments of some sort, are no more universal than esscential to the existence of the Genus Homo, with all its Species and Varieties, in every age and clime. The organic laws, which enter into the Structure of any such Association, Society, Community, Commonwealth, State, or Nation, by whatever name it may be designated, form what may be styled the Constitution of that particular Organism. These are the elementary principles, from which spring the vital functions of the Political Being, thus brought into existence, and upon which depend, mainly, the future development of the Organism, and the character, as well as standard, of its civilization. But, while these Structural laws act upon Society, in its embryo state, as well as in shaping its subsequent development, Society is also constantly acting back upon them. As individual life, in all its forms and stages, is said to be the result of a war between opposing agencies, so it is with the political life or existence of every body politic.

Between the primary laws, from which Society first springs, and takes its first form and shape, and the internal movements of Society itself, in its progress, there are continued action and counter-action, producing endless changes, from slight innovations or alternations to entire Revolutions. With these come, either for better or worse, entire changes of the type, as well as standard, of civilization. History, for the most part, has confined itself, from the earliest times, to presenting but one side of this complex subject. It has devoted itself so exclusively to the consideration of human action only, that this has become, in general estimation, if not by common consent, its peculiar Province. Hence, it treats chiefly of men, their deeds, their achievements, their characters, their motives, their patriotism or ambition, and the impress their actions make upon Society.

The opposite workings and effects of principles, or the results of their neglect, upon the very actions of men, of which they treat so largely, receive but slight, if any attention, even in the most graphic descriptions of the most terrible convulsions, which, if traced to their origin, would often, and most frequently, perhaps, be found to arise, as effect follows cause, from these very principles or organic laws themselves. Those writings upon such subjects, whether considered as Historical or otherwise, are most to be prized as contributions to the general stock of knowledge, which treat of both of these elements of human destiny, together; and, in the progress of any political organism, trace, with Philosophic hand, the connection between them, and the reciprocal bearing they have upon each other.

In the prosecution of the design of the writer, it has not been his purpose to treat, at all, of men or their actions, civil or military, further than they relate to, or bear upon, those principles which are involved in the subject under consideration. Principles constitute the subject-matter of his work. Times change, and men often change with them, but principles never! These, like truths, are eternal, unchangeable and immutable!

Most of the diseases with which the human system is afflicted, proceed, as natural and inevitable consequences, from the violation or neglect of some one or more of the vital laws of its organization. All violent fevers and convulsions have their origin in this, though the real cause may be too occult to be ascertained by the most skilful Pathologist. So with political organizations, whether simple or complex, single or Federal. No great disorders ever occur in them without some similar real cause.

It is a postulate, with many writers of this day, that the late War was the result of two opposing ideas, or principles, upon the subject of African Slavery. Between these, according to their theory, sprung the “irrepressible conflict,” in principle, which ended in the terrible conflict of arms. Those who assume this postulate, and so theorize upon it, are but superficial observers.

That the War had its origin in opposing principles, which, in their action upon the conduct of men, produced the ultimate collision of arms, may be assumed as an unquestionable fact. But the opposing principles which produced these results in physical action were of a very different character from those assumed in the postulate. They lay in the organic Structure of the Government of the States. The conflict in principle arose from different and opposing ideas as to the nature of what is known as the General Government. The contest was between those who held it to be strictly Federal in its character, and those who maintained that it was thoroughly National. It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation, on the other.

Slavery, so called, was but the question on which these antagonistic principles, which had been in conflict, from the beginning, on divers other questions, were finally brought into actual and active collision with each other on the field of battle.

Some of the strongest Anti-slavery men who ever lived were on the side of those who opposed the Centralizing principles which led to the War. Mr. Jefferson was a striking illustration of this, and a prominent example of a very large class of both sections of the country, who were, most unfortunately, brought into hostile array against each other. No more earnest or ardent devotee to the emancipation of the Black race, upon humane, rational and Constitutional principles, ever lived than he was. Not even Wilberforce himself was more devoted to that cause than Mr. Jefferson was. And yet Mr. Jefferson, though in private life at the time, is well known to have been utterly opposed to the Centralizing principle, when first presented, on this question, in the attempt to impose conditions and restrictions on the State of Missouri, when she applied for admission into the Union, under the Constitution. He looked upon the movement as a political manoeuvre to bring this delicate subject (and one that lay so near his heart) into the Federal Councils, with a view, by its agitation in a forum where it did not properly belong, to strengthen the Centralists in their efforts to revive their doctrines, which had been so signally defeated on so many other questions. The first sound of their movements on this question fell upon his ear as a “fire bell at night.” The same is true of many others. Several of the ablest opponents of that State Restriction, in Congress, were equally well known to be as decidedly in favor of emancipation as Mr. Jefferson was. Amongst these, may be named Mr. Pinkney and Mr. Clay, from the South, to say nothing of those men from the North, who opposed that measure with equal firmness and integrity.

It is the fashion of many writers of the day to class all who opposed the Consolidationists in this, their first step, as well as all who opposed them in all their subsequent steps, on this question, with what they style the Pro-Slavery Party. No greater injustice could be done any public men, and no greater violence be done to the truth of History, than such a classification. Their opposition to that measure, or kindred subsequent ones, sprung from no attachment to Slavery; but, as Jefferson’s, Pinkney’s and Clay’s, from their strong convictions that the Federal Government had no rightful or Constitutional control or jurisdiction over such questions; and that no such action, as that proposed upon them, could be taken by Congress without destroying the elementary and vital principles upon which the Government was founded.

By their acts, they did not identify themselves with the Pro-Slavery Party (for, in truth, no such Party had, at that time, oi at any time in the History of the Country, any organized existence). They only identified themselves, or took position, with those who maintained the Federative character of the General Government.

In 1850, for instance, what greater injustice could be done any one, or what greater violence could be done the truth of History, than to charge Cass, Douglas, Clay, Webster and Fillmore, to say nothing of others, with being advocates of Slavery, or following in the lead of the Pro-Slavery Party, because of their support of what were called the adjustment measures of that year?

Or later still, out of the million and a half, and more, of the votes cast, in the Northern States, in 1860, against Mr. Lincoln how many, could it, with truth, be said, were in favor of Slavery, or even that legal subordination of the Black race to the White, which existed in the Southern States?

Perhaps, not one in ten thousand! It was a subject, with which, they were thoroughly convinced, they had nothing to do, and could have nothing to do, under the terms of the Union, by which the States were Confederated, except to carry out, and faithfully perform, all the obligations of the Constitutional Compact, in regard to it.

They simply arrayed themselves against that Party which had virtually hoisted the banner of Consolidation. The contest, so commenced, which ended in the War, was, indeed, a contest between opposing principles; but not such as bore upon the policy or impolicy of African Subordination. They were principles deeply underlying all considerations of that sort. They involved the very nature and organic Structure of the Government itself. The conflict, on this question of Slavery, in the Federal Councils, from the beginning, was not a contest between the advocates or opponents of that peculiar Institution, but a contest, as stated before, between the supporters of a strictly Federative Government, on the one side, and a thoroughly National one, on the other.

It is the object of this work to treat of these opposing principles, not only in their bearings upon the minor question of Slavery, as it existed in the Southern States, and on which they were brought into active collision with each other, but upon others (now that this element of discord is removed) of far more transcendant importance, looking to the great future, and the preservation of that Constitutional Liberty which is the birthright of every American, as well as the solemnly-guaranteed right of all who may here, in this new world, seek an asylum from the oppressions of the old.

The general scope of the work is intended to embrace: —

First. An inquiry into the nature of the Government of the United States, or the nature of that Union which exists between the States under the Constitution, with the causes, or conflict of principles, which led to a resort to arms; and the character of the War, thus inaugurated.

Secondly. The conduct of the War on both sides, so far as it affected Constitutional principles, with its final results upon the organic structure of the entire system of American Democratic Free Institutions.

It was the writer’s intention, at first, to embody the whole in one volume; but, as he progressed, he found the materials so massive, and the subject so vast, that it was utterly impossible to do justice to the great theme in so small a compass.

He finds quite enough for one volume wrought up under the first part of his design. This he has concluded to give to the public in advance of what may follow hereafter; especially, as what is now prepared is perfectly complete in itself, upon the general head on which it treats; that is, the nature of the Government of the United States, and those organic principles from which the conflict arose. The remaining portions of his design will be embraced in an additional volume, to be issued as soon as circumstances will permit.

As to the manner of execution, or the form in which the view is presented, a few words may be proper. The method adopted is the Colloquial style. This manner of treating subjects of this character is, as far as he knows, without precedent in this age and country. He was aware, therefore, of the difficulties to be encountered on this score. He felt the risk attending putting forth any thing, in the form of a Book, which, in its departure from the usual mode of treating subjects of the character in hand, might not be in accordance with the ruling taste of the day. He remembered, however, that such subjects, in remoter times, were thus treated by the master writers of antiquity.

Plato and Cicero are illustrious examples. Without any purpose to imitate these classic models, it was enough for him to know that the plan adopted by him, in this particular, was not without well-established precedents in other ages and countries.

But the real controlling reason which determined his course in the matter was that it was in strict accordance with nature. If writing be an art, and if art, in this line, consists in presenting to the mind real images of nature, through the medium of language, as painting does by colors, then he has not deviated from a proper rule of taste, so far as relates to the method adopted. For these Colloquies are but an elaboration of conversations actually had at his residence, as they purport, in substance, to be.

It so happened, in the spring, and early part of the summer, of 1867, while the writer was at his home, devoting his mind, in that quiet retreat, to the general subjects herein discussed, with a view to the preparation of a work of some sort, upon them, for publication, that he was visited, at different times, by great numbers of his old friends, from the Northern States, representing almost every shade of opinion upon the present state of public affairs. During these visits, conversations were had, and very thoroughly indulged in, with perfect good temper, on all sides, upon all these subjects. These actual Colloquies, with rare exceptions, began just as the following pages begin; and they usually took the same course.

As this was so general, and almost universal, it seemed to indicate that line or mode of writing, on the same subjects, which would be the most natural for the entertainment of the great majority of those who might be disposed to read any thing that might be written upon them.

Hence the conclusion as to the mode of treatment now presented. Whether it will be acceptable to modem taste, the test of experiment must disclose. It certainly enabled the writer to present the views of both sides more clearly and forcibly, upon many points, than he could have done in a more stately or didactic form.

The only fiction in the machinery is in the names of the parties, and in connecting the whole discussion with the same persons. The real names of the parties, for obvious reasons, are not given. Others, and entirely fictitious ones, are substituted. For unity in the general plan, three representative characters, thus selected, are retained throughout the discussion.

JUDGE BYNUM, from Massachusetts, represents, througbout, that class of visitants who belong to what is called the Radical branch of the Republican Party. PROFESSOR NORTON, from Connecticut, represents, in like manner, those of that class known as the Conservative branch of the same Party; while MAJOR HEISTER, from Pennsylvania, represents those of that class known as War Democrats.

The living prototypes of each of these fictitious representatives were in the actual conversations had; and the writer trusts, when the real characters shall see, if they ever do, the reports, now given to the public, of the actual Colloquies which took place, and the parts they took in them, that they will not feel that any injustice has been done to them or their positions.

With this explanation, let the reader imagine all the parties in the Portico, at Liberty Hall, the day after the arrival of the guests, and after the usual salutations and inquiries, upon the reunion of old acquaintances and personal friends — especially upon such a re-union, after years of separation, and these years marked by such scenes as marked those of the separation in this case — and he will be fully prepared for the curtain to rise, and to be entertained, or not, with what follows in the Colloquies, according to his taste and judgment.

Constitutional View of the War

Colloquy I


Judge Bynum. We were all at the North very much surprised as well as disappointed, Mr. Stephens, at your course on Secession.

Mr. Stephens. Why so?

Judge Bynum. Because we were led to believe, from your speech against that measure on the 14th of November, 1860, before the Legislature of your State in Milledgeville, that you were really and thoroughly for the Union. We regarded your speech on that occasion as one of the best Union speeches ever made. There was a tone of earnestness and sincerity in it which created that impression. It was published in all our leading papers, and was almost literally spread broadcast throughout the whole country. From that speech especially, as well as from your course in 1850 — and indeed from your whole course from the time you entered public life — we thought that, when the crisis came, if it ever should come, you would certainly go for the Union.

Mr. Stephens. It is quite as surprising to me that any such conclusion touching my course, in case Secession should be resorted to, should have been drawn from the speech you allude to, or from my course in 1850, or from any act of my life, as you say my actual course was to you when the event occurred. I was indeed thoroughly for the Union. This the speech referred to fully attested, as well as my whole public course. No words were ever uttered with more earnestness or greater sincerity than were the words of that speech. No stronger or more ardent Union man ever lived than I was. Not a man in the Convention which framed the Constitution of the United States, which sets forth the terms of “the Union,” was or could have been more devoted to it than I was. But what Union? or the Union of what? Of course, the Union of the States under the Constitution. That was what I was so ardently devoted to. The Union is a phrase often used, I apprehend, without considering its correct import or meaning. By many it is used to signify the integrity of the country as it is called, or the unity of the whole people of the United States, in a geographical view, as one Nation.

Judge Bynum. Certainly; that is what I mean by it.

Mr. Stephens. Well, allow me then to say that there never was in this country any such union as you speak of; there never was any political union between the people of the several States of the United States, except such as resulted indirectly from the terms of agreement or Compact entered into by separate and distinct political bodies. The first Union so formed, from which the present Union arose, was that of the Colonies in 1774. They were thirteen in number. These were distinct and separate political organizations or bodies. After that the Union of States was formed under the Articles of Confederation, in 1777; and then, the modifications of the terms of this Union by the new Compact of 1787, known as the present Constitution. To this last Union, at first, only eleven of the original thirteen States became parties. Afterwards the other two (North Carolina and Rhode Island) also acceded and became members. The last of these (Rhode Island) rejoined her former associates in 1790. Subsequently, twenty new members were admitted into the association, on an equal footing with those first forming it. Whatever intimate relationships, therefore, existed between the citizens of the respective thirty-three States constituting the Union in 1860, they were created by, or sprung from, the terms of the Compact of 1787, by which the original States as States were united. These terms were properly called the Constitution of the United States; not the Constitution of one people as one society or one nation, but the Constitution of a number of separate and distinct peoples, or political bodies, known as States. The absolute Sovereignty of these original States, respectively, was never parted with by them in that or any other Compact of Union ever entered into by them. This at least was my view of the subject. Georgia was one of these States. My allegiance therefore was, as I considered it, not due to the United States, or to the people of the United States, but to Georgia in her Sovereign capacity. Georgia had never parted with her right to command the ultimate allegiance of her citizens. In that very speech this doctrine, or these principles, were clearly asserted and distinctly maintained. However strongly opposed I was to the policy of Secession, or whatever views I gave against it as a policy, or wise measure, yet in that very speech, which you considered so strong a Union speech, I declared my convictions to be, that if the people of Georgia, in their majesty, and in the exercise of their resumed full Sovereignty, should, in a regularly-constituted Convention called for that purpose, withdraw from the Compact of Union, by which she was confederated, or united, with the other States under the Constitution, that it would be my duty to obey her high behest. That speech was made mainly, it is true, against the policy of Secession for then existing grievances complained of, but also against the unconstitutionality of measures proposed to be passed by the State Legislature, with a view of dissolving the Union. The Sovereign power of the people of the State, which alone could regulate its relations with the other States, was not vested in the Legislature. That resided with the people of the State. It had never been delegated either to the State authorities, or the authorities created by the Articles of Union. It could be exercised only by the people of the State in a regularly-constituted Convention, embodying the real Sovereignty of the State — just such Convention as had agreed to and adopted the Constitution of the United States. It required the same power to unmake as it had to make it. Hence, I said — “Let the sovereignty of the people of Georgia be first heard on this question of severing the bonds that united them with the other States;” and that, whatever decision the State might thus and then make, “my fortunes would be cast with hers and her people.”

I indulged a strong hope that when the Sovereignty of the people should be so invoked that it would take the same view I did of the policy of Secession or Disunion. In this hope, however, I was disappointed. The Convention was called; it was regularly and legally assembled; the Sovereign will of the State, when expressed through its properly constituted organ, was for Secession, or a withdrawal of the State from the Union. The Convention passed an Ordinance repealing and rescinding the State Ordinance of the second of January, 1788, by which Georgia became one of the United States ulider the constitutional Compact of 1787. I was in this Secession Convention, which assembled on the sixteenth day of January, 1861. The rescinding Ordinance passed that body on the nineteenth day of that month; I voted against that Ordinance. It was an Ordinance repealing and rescinding the Ordinance of a similar Sovereign Convention of the people of the State, passed the second day of January, 1788, as before stated, and placed Georgia just where she was, or would have been, if her Convention in 1788 had not passed the Ordinance by which she acceded to the Union under the Constitution of 1787. Such were my convictions.

After the passage of this Ordinance by the State Convention on the nineteenth day of January, 1861, withdrawing from the Union, I obeyed the high and Sovereign behest of my State, as I felt bound in duty and patriotism to do, and as I liad on all occasions declared that I should do. My position, in that Convention and after, was the same that it would have been if I had been in the State Convention of 1788. Had I been in that Convention, I should have been warmly in favor of Georgia’s entering into the Union under the Constitution; but it she had decided otherwise, I should, as a good citizen, have felt myself bound to obey her Sovereign will.

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