|In November, 1860, after Lincoln had been elected
President, Governor Joe Brown of Georgia called the
legislature into session to consider the question of
calling a secession convention. The legislature heard
from the leading Georgians of the day on the question.
This is the speech of future C.S. Vice-President Alec
Stephens. It is generally considered a response to the speech of the night before, given
by Robert Toombs.
I am indebted to Justin Sanders for sending me the etext of this.
Source: A.D. Candler, comp., Confederate Records of the State of Georgia (1909), vol 1, pp. 183-205.
Fellow Citizens: I appear before you tonight at the request of Members of the Legislature and others, to speak of matters of the deepest interest that can possibly concern us all, of an earthly character. There is nothing, no question or subject connected with this life, that concerns a free people so intimately as that of the Government under which they live. We are now, indeed, surrounded by evils. Never since I entered upon the public stage, has the country been so environed with difficulties and dangers that threatened the public peace and the very existence of our Institutions as now, I do not appear before you at my own instance. It is not to gratify any desire of my own that I am here. Had I consulted my personal ease and pleasure, I should not be before you; but believing that it is the duty of every good citizen, when called on, to give his counsels and views whenever the country is in danger, as to the best policy to be pursued, I am here. For these reasons, and these only, do I bespeak a calm, patient, and attentive hearing.
My object is not to stir up strife, but to allay it; not to appeal to your passions, but to your reason. Let us, therefore, reason together. It is not my purpose to say aught to wound the feelings of any individual who may be present; and if in the ardency with which I shall express my opinions, I shall say anything which may be deemed too strong, let it be set down to the zeal with which I advocate my own convictions. There is with me no intention to irritate or offend.
I do not, on this occasion, intend to enter into the history of the reasons or causes of the embarassments which press so heavily upon us all at this time. In justice to myself, however, I must barely state upon this point that I do think much of it depended upon ourselves. The consternation that has come upon the people is the result of a sectional election of a President of the United States, one whose opinions and avowed principles are in antagonism to our interests and rights, and we believe, if carried out, would subvert the Constitution under which we now live. But are we entirely blameless in this matter, my countrymen? I give it to you as my opinion, that but for the policy the Southern people pursued, this fearful result would not have occurred.
The first question that presents itself is, shall the people of Georgia secede from the Union in consequence of the election of Mr. Lincoln to the Presidency of the United States? My countrymen, I tell you frankly, candidly, and earnestly, that I do not think that they ought. In my judgment, the election of no man, constitutionally chosen to that high office, is sufficient cause to justify any State to separate from the Union. It ought to stand by and aid still in maintaining the Constitution of the country. To make a point of resistance to the Government, to withdraw from it because any man has been elected, would put us in the wrong. We are pledged to maintain the Constitution. Many of us have sworn to support it. Can we, therefore, for the mere election of any man to the Presidency, and that, too, in accordance with the prescribed forms of the Constitution, make a point of resistance to the Government, without becoming the breakers of that sacred instrument ourselves, by withdrawing ourselves from it? Would we not be in the wrong? Whatever fate is to befall this country, let it never be laid to the charge of the people of the South, and especially the people of Georgia, that we were untrue to our national engagements. Let the fault and the wrong rest upon others. If all our hopes are to be blasted, if the Republic is to go down, let us be found to the last moment standing on the deck with the Constitution of the United States waving over our heads. (Applause.) Let the fanatics of the North break the Constitution, if such is their fell purpose. Let the responsibility be upon them. I shall speak presently more of their acts; but let not the South, let us not be the ones to commit the aggression. We went into the election with this people. The result was different from what we wished; but the election has been constitutionally held. Were we to make a point of resistance to the Government and go out of the Union merely on that account, the record would be made up hereafter against us.
But it is said Mr. Lincoln's policy and principles are against the Constitution, and that, if he carries them out, it will be destructive of our rights. Let us not anticipate a threatened evil. If he violates the Constitution, then will come our time to act. Do not let us break it because, forsooth, he may. If he does, that is the time for us to act. (Applause.) I think it would be injudicious and unwise to do this sooner. I do not anticipate that Mr. Lincoln will do anything, to jeopardize our safety or security, whatever may be his spirit to do it; for he is bound by the constitutional checks which are thrown around him, which at this time render him powerless to do any great mischief. This shows the wisdom of our system. The President of the United States is no Emperor, no Dictator-- he is clothed with no absolute power. He can do nothing, unless he is backed by power in Congress. The House of Representatives is largely in a majority against him. In the very face and teeth of the majority of Electoral votes, which he has obtained in the Northern States, there have been large gains in the House of Representatives, to the Conservative Constitutional Party of the country, which I here will call the National Democratic Party, because that is the cognomen it has at the North. There are twelve of this Party elected from New York, to the next Congress, I believe. In the present House, there are but four, I think. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Indiana, there have been gains. In the present Congress, there were one hundred and thirteen Republicans, when it takes one hundred and seventeen to make a majority. The gains in the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Indiana, and other States, notwithstanding its distractions, have been enough to make a majority of near thirty, in the next House, against Mr. Lincoln. Even in Boston, Mr. Burlingame, one of the noted leaders of the fanatics of that section, has been defeated, and a Conservative man returned in his stead. Is this the time, then, to apprehend that Mr. Lincoln, with this large majority of the House of Representatives against him, can carry out any of this unconstitutional principles in that body?
In the Senate, he will also be powerless. There will be a majority of four against him. This, after the loss of Bigler, Fitch, and others, by the unfortunate dissensions of the National Democratic Party in their States. Mr. Lincoln can not appoint an officer without the consent of the Senate -- he can not form a Cabinet without the same consent. He will be in the condition of George the Third (the embodiment of Toryism), who had to ask the Whigs to appoint his ministers, and was compelled to receive a Cabinet utterly opposed to his views; and so Mr. Lincoln will be compelled to ask of the Senate to choose for him a Cabinet, if the Democracy or that Party choose to put him on such terms. He will be compelled to do this, or let the Government stop, if the National Democratic Senators (for that is their name at the North), the Conservative men in the Senate, should so determine. Then how can Mr. Lincoln obtain a Cabinet which would aid him, or allow him to violate the Constitution? Why, then, I say, should we disrupt the ties of this Union, when his hands are tied-- when he can do nothing against us?
I have heard it mooted, that no man in the State of Georgia, who is true to her interests, could hold office under Mr. Lincoln. But I ask, who appoints to office? Not the President alone; the Senate has to concur. No man can be appointed without the consent of the Senate. Should any man, then, refuse to hold office that was given him by a Democratic Senate?
]Mr. Toombs interrupted, and said, if the Senate was Democratic, it was for Breckenridge.]
Well, then, [continued Mr. Stephens], I apprehend that no man could be justly considered untrue to the interests of Georgia, or incur any disgrace, if the interests of Georgia required it, to hold an office which a Breckenridge Senate had given him, even though Mr. Lincoln should be President. (Prolonged applause, mingled with interruptions).
I trust, my countrymen, you will be still and silent. I am addressing your good sense. I am giving you my views, in a calm and dispassionate manner, and if any of you differ with me, you can on some other occasion give your views, as I am doing now, and let reason and true patriotism decided between us. In my judgment, I say, under such circumstances, there would be no possible disgrace for a Southern man to hold office. No man will be suffered to be appointed, I have no doubt, who is not true to the Constitution, if Southern Senators are true to their trusts, as I can not permit myself to doubt that they will be.
My honorable friend who addressed you last night [Mr. Toombs], and to whom I listened with the profoundest attention, asks if we would submit to Black Republican rule? I say to you and to him, as a Georgian, I would never submit to any Black Republican aggression upon our Constitutional rights.
I will never consent myself, as much as I admire this Union, for the glories of the past or the blessings of the present; as much as it has done for civilization; as much as the hopes of the world hang upon it; I would never submit to aggression upon my rights to maintain it longer; and if they can not be maintained in the Union standing on the Georgia Platform, where I have stood from the time of its adoption, I would be in favor of disrupting every tie which binds the States together. I will have equality for Georgia, and for the citizens of Georgia, in this Union, or I will look for new safeguards elsewhere. This is my position. The only question now is, can this be secured in the Union? That is what I am counseling with you tonight about. Can it be secured? In my judgment it may be, yet it may not be; but let us do all we can, so that in the future, if the worst comes, it may never be said we were negligent in doing our duty to the last.
My countrymen, I am not of those who believe this Union has been a curse up to this time. True men, men of integrity, entertain different views from me on this subject. I do not question their right to do so; I would not impugn their motives in so doing. Nor will I undertake to say that this Government of our Fathers is perfect. There is nothing perfect in this world of human origin; nothing connected with human nature, from man himself to any of his works. You may select the wisest and best men for your Judges, and yet how many defects are there in the administration of justice? You may select the wisest and best men for your Legislators, and yet how many defects are apparent in your laws? And it is so in our Government. But that this Government of our Fathers, with all its defects, comes nearer the objects of all good Governments than any other on the face of the earth, is my settled conviction. Contrast it now with any on the face of the earth?
[England, said Mr. Toombs.]
[Mr. Stephens:[ England, my friend says. Well, that is the next best, I grant; but I think we have improved upon England. Statesmen tried their apprentice hand on the Government of England, and then ours was made. Ours sprung from that, avoiding many of its defects, taking most of the good, and leaving out many of its errors, and from the whole our Fathers constructed and built up this model Republic-- the best which the history of the world gives any account of. Compare, my friends, this Government with that of France, Spain, Mexico, the South American Republics, Germany, Ireland--(are there any sons of that down-trodden nation here tonight?)-- Prussia; or if you will travel further East, to Turkey, or China? Where will you go, following the sun in its circuit round our globe, to find a Government that better protects the liberties of its people, and secures to them the blessings we enjoy? (Applause.) I thinkk that one of the evils that beset us is a surfeit of liberty, and exuberance of the priceless blessings for which we are ungrateful. We listened to my honorable friend who addressed you last night (Mr. Toombs) as he recounted the evils of this Government. The first was the Fishing Bounties, paid mostly to the sailors of New England. Our friend states that forty-eight years of our Government was under the administration of Southern Presidents. Well, these fishing bounties begain under the rule of a Southern President, I believe. No one of them, during the whole forty-eight years, ever set his administration against the principle or policy of them. It is not for me to say whether it was a wise policy in the beginning; it probably was not, and I have nothing to say in its defence. But the reason given for it was to encourage our young men to go to sea, and learn to manage ships. We had at the time but a small navy. It was thought best to encourage a class of our people to become acquainted with seafaring life; to become sailors, to man our naval ships. It requires practice to walk the deck of a ship, to pull the ropes, to furl the sails, to go aloft, to climb the mast; and it was thought by offering this bounty, a nursery might be formed, in which young men would become perfected in these arts, and it applied to one section of the country as well as to any other. The result of this was, that in the war of 1812, our sailors, many of whom came from this nursery, were equal to any that England brought against us. At any rate, no small part of the glories of that war were gained by the veteran tars of America, and the object of these national bounties was to foster that branch of the national defence. My opinion is, that whatever may have been the reason at first, this bounty ought to be discontinued-- the reason for it at first no longer exists. A bill for this object did pass the Senate the last Congress I was in, to which my honorable friend contributed greatly, but it was not reached in the House of Representatives. I trust that he will yet see that he may with honor continue his connection with the Government, and that his eloquence, unrivalled in the Senate, may hereafter, as heretofore, be displayed in having this bounty, so obnoxious to him, repealed and wiped off from the statute book.
The next evil that my friend complained of, was the Tariff. Well, let us look at that for a moment. About the time I commenced noticing public matters, this question was agitating the country almost as fearfully as the Slave question now is. In 1832, when I was in college, South Carolina was ready to nullify or secede from the Union on this account. And what have we seen? The tariff no longer distracts the public councils. Reason has triumphed. The present tariff was voted for by Massachusetts and South Carolina. The lion and the lamb lay down together-- every man in the Senate and House from Massachusetts and South Carolina, I think, voted for it, as did my honorable friend himself. And if it be true, to use the figure of speech of my honorable friend, that every man in the North, that works in iron and brass and wood, has his muscle strengthened by the protection of the government, that stimulant was given by his vote, and I believe every other Southern man. So we ought not to complain of that.
[Mr. Toombs: That tariff lessened the duties.]
[Mr. Stephens:] Yes, and Massachusetts, with unanimity, voted with the South to lessen them, and they were made just as low as Southern men asked them to be, and those are the rates they are now at. If reason and argument, with experience, produced such changes in the sentiments of Massachusetts from 1832 to 1857, on the subject of the tariff, may not like changes be effected there by the same means, reason and argument, and appeals to patriotism on the present vexed question? And who can say that by 1875 or 1890, Massachusetts may not vote with South Carolina and Georgia upon all those questions that now distract the country and threaten its peace and existence? I believe in the power and efficiency of truth, in the omnipotence of truth, and its ultimate triumph when properly wielded. (Applause.)
Another matter of grievance alluded to by my honorable friend, was the Navigation Laws. This policy was also commenced under the administration of one of these Southern Presidents, who ruled so well, and has been continued through all of them since. The gentleman's views of the policy of these laws and my own do not disagree. We occupied the same ground in relation to them in Congress. It is not my purpose to defend them now. But it is proper to state some matters connected with their origin.
One of the objects was to build up a commercial American marine by giving American bottoms the exclusive carrying trade between our own ports. This is a great arm of national power. This object was accomplished. We now have an amount of shipping, not only coastwise but to foreign countries, which puts us in the front rank of the nations of the world. England can no longer be styled the mistress of the seas. What American is not proud of the result? Whether those laws should be continued it another question. But one thing is certain, no President, Northern or Southern, has ever yet recommended their repeal. And my friend's effort to get them repealed has met with little favor North or South.
These were three of the grievances or grounds of complaint against the general system of our Government and its workings; I mean the administration of the federal government. As to the acts of several of the States, I shall speak presently, but these three were the main ones urged against the common Head. Now suppose it be admitted that all of these are evils in the system; do they overbalance and outweight the advantages and great good which this same Government affords in a thousand innumerable ways that cannot be estimated? Have we not at the South, as well as the North, grown great, prosperouse and happy under its operation? Has any part of the world ever shown such rapid progess in the development of wealth, and all the material resources of national power and greatness, as the Southern States have under the general government, notwithstanding all its defects?
[Mr. Toombs: In spite of it!]
Mr. Stephens: My honorable friend says we have, in spite of the general government; that without it I suppose he thinks we might have done as well, or perhaps better than we have done. This grand result is in spite of the government? That may be, and it may not be; but the great fact that we have grown great and powerful under the government, as it exists, is admitted. There is no conjecture or speculation about that; it stands out bold, high, and prominent, like your Stone Mountain, to which the gentleman alluded, in illustrating some facts, in his record-- this great fact of our unrivalled prosperity in the Union as it is, is admitted-- whether all this is in spite of the government-- whether we of the South would have been better off without the government, is, to say the least, problematical. On the one side we can only put the fact against speculation and conjecture on the other. But even as a question of speculation, I differ from my distinguished friend. What we would have lost in border wars without the Union, or what we would have gained, simply by the peace it has secured, it is not within our power to estimate. Our foreign trade, which is the foundation of all our prosperity, has the protection of the navy which drove the pirates from the waters near our coast, where they had been buccaneering for centuries before, and might have been still, had it not been for the American navy, under the command of such a spirit as Commodore Porter. Now, that the coast is clear, that our commerce flows freely, outwardly and inwardly, we cannot well estimate how it would have been, under other circumstances. The influence of the government on us, is like that of the atmosphere around us. Its benefits are so silent and unseen, that they are seldom thought of or appreciated.
We seldom think of the single element of oxygen, in the air we breathe, and yet, let this simple, unseen and unfelt agent be withdrawn, this life-giving element be taken away from this all-pervading fluid around us, and what instant and appalling changes would take place, in all organic creation.
It may be, that we are all that we are, in "spite of the general government," but it may be that without it, we should have been far different from what we are now. It is true, there is no equal part of the earth with natural resources superior, perhaps, to ours. That portion of this country known as the Southern States, stretching from the Chesapeake to the Rio Grande, is fully equal to the picture drawn by the honorable and eloquent Senator, last night, in all natural capacities. But how many ages, centuries, passed before these capacities were developed to reach this advanced stage of civilization? There, these same hills, rich in ore, same rivers, same valleys and plains, are, as they have been since they came from the hand of the Creator. Uneducated and uncivilized, man roamed over them, for how long no history informs us.
It was only under our Institutions as they are, that they were developed. Their development is the result of the enterprise of our people under operations of the government and institutions under which we have lived. Even our people, without these, never would have done it. The organization of society has much to do with the development of the natural resources of any country or any land. The Institutions of a people, political and moral, are the matrix in which the germ of their organic structure quickens into life, takes root, and develops in form, nature, and character. Our institutions constitute the basis, the matrix from which spring all our characteristics of development and greatness. Look at Greece: There is the same fertile soil, the same blue sky, the same inlets and harbors, the same Aegean, the same Olympus-- there is the same land where Homer sung, where Pericles spoke -- it is, in nature, the same old Greece; but it is "living Greece no more." (Applause.)
Descendants of the same people inhabit the country; yet what is the reason of this mighty difference? In the midst of present degradation we see the glorious fragments of ancient works of art-- temples with ornaments and inscriptions that excite wonder and admiration, the remains of a once high order of civilization, which have outlived the language they spoke. Upon them all, Ichabod is written -- their glory has departed. Why is this so? I answer this, their institutions have been destroyed. These were the fruits of their form of government, the matrix from which their grand development sprung; and when once the institutions of our people shall have been destroyed, there is no earthly power that can bring back the Promethean spark to kindle them here again, any more than in that ancient land of eloquence, poetry and song. (Applause.) The same may be said of Italy. Where is Rome, once the mistress of the world? There are the same seven hills now, the same soil, the same natural resources; nature is the same; but what a ruin of greatness meets the eye of the traveller throughout the length and breadth of that most down-trodden land. Why have not the people of that heaven-favored clime the spirit that animated their fathers? Why this sad difference? It is the destruction of her institutions that has caused it. And my countrymen, if we shall, in an evil hour, rashly pull down and destroy those institutions which the patriotic hand of our fathers labored so long and so hard to build up, and which have done so much for us, and for the world; who can venture the prediction that similar results will not ensue? Let us avoid them if we can. I trust the spirit is amongst us that will enable us to do it. Let us not rashly try the experiment of change, of pulling down and destroying; for, as in Greece and Italy, and the South American Republics, and in every other place, whenver our Liberty is once lost, it may never be restored to us again. (Applause.)
There are defects in our Government, errors in our administration, and shortcomings of many kinds, but in spite of these defects and errors, Georgia has grown to be a great State. Let us pause here a moment. In 1850 there was a great crisis, but not so fearful as this, for of all I have ever passed through, this is the most perilous, and requires to be met with the greatest calmness and deliberation.
There were many amongst us in 1850 zealous to go at once out of the Union -- to disrupt every tie that binds us together. Now do you believe, had that policy been carried out at that time, we would have been the same great people we are today? It may be that we would, but have you any assurance of that fact? Would we have made the same advancement, improvement, and progress, in all that constitutes material wealth and prosperity, that we have?
I notice in the Comptroller-General's report, that the taxable property of Georgia is six hundred and seventy million dollars, and upwards -- an amount not far from double what it was in 1850. I think I may venture to say that for the last ten years the material wealth of the people of Georgia has been nearly, if not quite, doubled. The same may be said of our advance in education, and everything that marks our civilization. Have we any assurance that had we regarded the earnest but misguided patriotic advice, as I think, of some of that day, and disrupted the ties which bind us to the Union, we would have advanced as we have? I think not. Well, then, let us be careful now, before we attempt any rash experiment of this sort. I know that there are friends whose patriotism I do not intend to question, who think this Union a curse, and that we would be better off without it. I do not so think; if we can bring about a correction of these evils which threaten-- and I am not without hope that this may yet be done. This appeal to go out, with all the promises for good that accompany it, I look upon as a great, and I fear, a fatal temptation.
When I look around and see our prosperity in everything -- agriculture, commerce, art, science, and every department of progress, physical, mental and moral -- certainly, in the face of such an exhibition, if we can, without the loss of power, or any essential right or interest, remain in the Union, it is our duty to ourselves and posterity to do so. Let us not unwisely yield to this temptation. Our first parents, the great progenitors of the human race, were not without a like temptation when in the garden of Eden. They were led to believe that their condition would be bettered -- that their eyes would be opened -- and that they would become as Gods. They, in an evil hour, yielded -- instead of becoming Gods, they only saw their own nakedness.
I look upon this country, with our institutions, as the Eden of the World, the Paradise of the Universe. It may be that out of it we may become greater and more prosperous, but I am candid and sincere in telling you that I fear if we yield to passion, and without sufficient cause shall take that step, that instead of becoming greater or more peaceful, prosperous and happy-- instead of becoming Gods, we will become demons, and at no distant day commence cutting one another's throats. This is my apprehension. Let us, therefore, whatever we do, meet these difficulties, great as they are, like wise and sensible men, and consider them in the light of all the consequences which may attend our action. Let us see, first clearly, where the path of duty leads, and then we may not fear to tread therein.
Now, upon another point, and that the most difficult, and deserving your most serious consideration, I will speak. That is, the course which this State should pursue toward those Northern States which, by their legislative acts, have attempted to nullify the Fugitive Slave Law.
Northern States, on entering into the Federal Compact, pledged themselves to surrender such fugitives; and it is in disregard of their constitutional obligations that they have passed laws which even tend to hinder or inhibit the fulfillment of that obligation. They have violated their plighted faith. What ought we to do in view of this? That is the question. What is to be done? By the law of nations, you would have a right to demand the carrying out of this article of agreement, and I do not see that it should be otherwise with respect to the States of this Union; and in case it be not done, we would, by these principles, have the right to commit acts of reprisal on these faithless governments, and seize upon their property, or that of their citizens, wherever found. The States of this Union stand upon the same footing with foreign nations in this respect.
Suppose it were Great Britain that had violated some Compact of Agreement with the General Government -- what would be first done? In that case, our Ministers would be directed, in the first instance, to bring the matter to the attention of that government, or a commissioner be sent to that country to open negotiations with her, asking for redress, and it would only be after argument and reason had been exhausted in vain that we would take the last resort of nations. That would be the course toward a foreign government, and toward a member of this Confederacy, I would recommend the same course. Let us not, therefore, act hastily, or ill-temperedly in this matter. Let your Committee on the state of the Republic make out a bill of grievances; let it be sent by the Governor to those faithless States, and if reason and argument shall be tried in vain -- if all shall fail to induce them to return to their constitutional obligations, I would be for retaliatory measures, such as the Governor has suggested to you. The mode of resistance in the Union is in our power.
Now, then, my recommendation to you would be this: In view of all these questions of difficulty, let a convention of the people of Georgia be called, to which they may all be referred. Let the sovereignty of the people speak. Some think that the election of Mr. Lincoln is cause sufficient to dissolve the Union. Some think those other grievances are sufficient to justify the same; and that the Legislature has the power thus to act, and ought thus to act. I have no hesitancy in saying that the Legislature is not the proper body to sever our Federal relations, if that necessity should arise.
I say to you, you have no power so to act. You must refer this question to the people, and you must wait to hear from the men at the cross-roads, and even the groceries; for the people of this country, whether at the cross-roads or groceries, whether in cottages or palaces, are all equal, and they are the Sovereigns in this country. Sovereignty is not in the Legislature. We, the people, are sovereign. I am one of them, and have a right to be heard; and so has every other citizen of the State. You Legislators -- I speak it respectfully -- are but our servants. You are the servants of the people, and not their masters. Power resides with the people in this country. The great difference between our country and most others, is, that here there is popular sovereignty, while there sovereignty is exercised by kings or favored classes. This principle of popular sovereignty, however much derided lately, is the foundation of our institutions. Constitutions are but the channels through which the popular will may be expressed. Our Constitutions, State and Federal, came from the people. They made both, and they alone can rightfully unmake either.
Should Georgia determine to go out of the Union, I speak for one, though my views might not agree with them, whatever the result may be, I shall bow to the will of her people. Their cause is my cause, and their destiny is my destiny; and I trust this will be the ultimate course of all. The greatest curse that can befall a free people, is civil war.
As to the other matter, I think we have a right to pass retaliatory measures, provided they be in accordance with the Constitution of the United States; and I think they can be made so. But whether it would be wise for this Legislature to do this now, is a question. To the Convention, in my judgment, this matter ought to be referred. Before making reprisals, we should exhaust every means of bringing about a peaceful settlement of the controversy. Thus did General Jackson, in the case of the French. He did not recommend reprisals until he had treated with France and got her promise to make indemnifications, and it was only on her refusal to pay the money which she had promised, that he recommended reprisals. It was after negotiation had failed. I do think, therefore, that it would be best before going to extreme measures with our Confederate States, to make the presentation of our demands, to appeal to their reason and judgment to give us our rights. Then if reason should not triumph, it will be time enough to make reprisals, and we would be justified in the eyes of a civilized world. At least, let these offending and derelict States know what your grievances are, and if they refuse, as I said, to give us our rights under the Constitution, I should be willing, as a last resort, to sever the ties of our Union with them. (Applause.)
My own opinion is, that if this course be pursued, and they are informed of the consequences of refusal, these States will recede, will repeal their nullifying acts; but if they should not, then let the consequences be with them, and the responsibility of the consequences rest upon them. Another thing that I would have that Convention do. Re-affirm the Georgia Platform with an additional plank in it. Let that plank be the fulfillment of these Constitutional obligations on the part of these States-- their repeal of these obnoxious laws as the condition of our remaining in the Union. Give them time to consider it, and I would ask all States South to do the same thing.
I am for exhausting all that patriotism demands, before taking the last step. I would invite, therefore, South Carolina to a conference. I would ask the same of all the other Southern States, so that if the evil has got beyond our control, which God in his mercy grant may not be the case, we may not be divided among ourselves; (cheers) but if possible, secure the united cooperation of all the Southern States, and then in the face of the civilized world, we may justify our action, and, with the wrong all on the other side, we can appeal to the God of Battles, if it comes to that, to aid us in our cause. (Loud applause.) But do nothing, in which any portion of our people, may charge you with rash or hasty action. It is certainly a matter of great importance to tear this government asunder. You were not sent here for that purpose. I would wish the whole South to be united, if this is to be done; and I believe if we pursue the policy which I have indicated, this can be effected.
In this way, our sister Southern States can be induced to act with us; and I have but little doubt, that the States of New York, and Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and the other Western States, will compel their Legislatures to recede from their hostile attitude, if the others do not. Then, with these, we would go on without New England, if she chose to stay out.
[A voice in the Assembly: `We will kick them out.']
[Mr. Stephens:] No. I would not kick them out. But if they chose to stay out they might. I think, moreover, that these Northern States, being principally engaged in manufactures, would find that they had as much interest in the Union, under the Constitution, as we, and that they would return to their constitutional duty -- this would be my hope. If they should not, and if the Middle States and Western States do not join us, we should, at least, have an undivided South. I am, as you clearly perceive, for maintaining the Union as it is, if possible. I will exhaust every means, thus, to maintain it with an equality in it. My position, then, in conclusion, is for the maintenance of the honor, the rights, the equality, the security, and the glory of my native State in the Union, if possible; but if these cannot be maintained in the Union, then I am for their maintenance, at all hazards, out of it. Next to the honor and glory of Georgia, the land of my birth, I hold the honor and glory of our common country. In Savannah, I was made to say by the reporters, who very often make me say things which I never did, that I was first for the glory of the whole country, and next for that of Georgia. I said the exact reverse of this. I am proud of Georgia, of her history, of her present standing. I am proud even of her motto, which I would have duly respected at the present time, by all her sons -- "Wisdom, Justice and Moderation." I would have her rights, and those of the Southern States maintained now upon these principles. Her position now is just what it was in 1850, with respect to the Southern States. Her platform, then established, was subsequently adopted by most, if not all, the other Southern States. Now I would add but one additional plank to that platform, which I have stated, and one which time has shown to be necessary, and if that shall likewise be adopted in substance by all the Southern States, all may yet be well. But, if all this fails, we shall at least have the satisfaction of knowing that we have done our duty, and all that patriotism could require.