28 April 2009

Examining The Cornerstone Speech

Rather than open wide and swallow the clichéd, shallow examination of Alexander Stephens's infamous "Cornerstone Speech," a careful look into the CSA VP's words, and the speech's background, reveals a lot more than what lies on the surface:
The Savannah speech is a sad affair, not just because of the blunt racism of that one passage -- the racism itself, it ought to be noted, would hardly have offended any white audience in 1861 America, North, South, or West, outside a few abolitionist circles. But sad because it shows a politician who has so twisted himself to try to hold the reins of a revolution that he has got tangled in them and they now rule him. He embraces what he once scorned, and he mocks positions he once held. He has thrown away his ideals, and the "cornerstone" passage, to me, reads so much more accurately as an odd eruption of a warped and very personal ideological struggle . . .

So far from slavery being the cause of secession, the fact is many thinking men in the South knew that secession would be the doom of slavery. Slavery could not be economically viable or legally enforcable where freedom was just a river away. They had pushed the North so hard to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws for just this reason. Stephens was among those who judged "slavery much more secure in the union than out of it."

21st century morality plays aren't for serious students of the WBTS. As is so often the case with history, the issues involving the Civil War, as well as its participants, are not all black and white. There are multiple shades of gray as imperfect human beings struggled with the moral issues of their times. Then, as today, some were guided by conscience, some by their faith, some by love of home and hearth, some by patriotism, some by fear, some by purely selfish motives; by power, by politics, by greed, by self-righteousness. The war that so deeply divided our Nation in 1861 was complicated by many competing interests. And judging one section over the other for any one of those interests is not in the best interest of pursuing the truth.

To read the full article by historian Douglas Harper quoted in this post, click here.

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