In 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, Alexander Stephens was inaugurated as the provisional President of the Confederate States of America.
Inauguration of POTCS Alexander H. StephensIt was a surprising turn for the long-time Congressional Representative who was chosen as President for the provisional government of the Confederate States of America to hold office until formal elections could be held. The constitutional convention meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, had been expected to choose Jefferson Davis, who had twice served as senator from Mississippi as well as being the Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce. However, it became clear that Davis would rather serve his country as a general, and so Stephens was chosen, as he was also a moderate, instead of fiery secessionists Howell Cobb and Robert Toombs. While Toombs had called for war almost immediately (his farewell speech to the US Senate had included, "as one man would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other"), Stephens was slow to raise arms. Earlier in the convention that elected him, he campaigned against secession and detailed the American political system with the Republicans holding a minority in Congress and, even if any laws were to be passed around them, the Supreme Court would continue the status quo, as it had in its 7-2 decision in the Dred Scott case four years before.
A new story by Jeff ProvineGeorgia native Stephens had always seemed to best understand the mechanics behind the obvious. Despite growing up poor, benefactors had paid for his education, and he passed the Georgia bar at age 24 after graduating at the top of his class. He was routinely ill, even from childhood, but he was a masterful lawyer who, in his 34 years of practice, never had a client charged with a capital crime meet the death penalty. As he became wealthy and established himself with land and slaves, he returned the generosity he had been given by opening his own home to the homeless and paying for more than one hundred students' educations. Even though he was constantly thin from illness, he earned the nickname "The Strongest Man in the South" from his intelligence and craftiness. Stephens went on to Washington as a Representative as a Whig, Unionist, and finally Democrat. His self-described "greatest glory of my life" would be the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the House by use of rare point of order, thus bringing popular sovereignty to the territory despite the Missouri Compromise limiting slavery to the South.
After the election of 1860 gave Lincoln the White House, Stephens was sent as a delegate to the convention judging the question of secession. Stephens opposed it, arguing that the South bide its time, but was eventually convinced on the grounds of the North not abiding by the Fugitive Slave Law. As one of his first acts in the presidency, Stephens gave his impromptu "Cornerstone Speech" in Savannah describing the new constitution the convention had written, clarifying its differences from that of the United States. While Lincoln referred to the famous line "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, Stephens replied, "Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas" and called slavery a "natural and moral condition". Stephens also outlined economic independence rather than the Federalism of the North, stating, "If Charleston harbor needs improvement, let the commerce of Charleston bear the burden. If the mouth of the Savannah river has to be cleared out, let the sea-going navigation which is benefited by it, bear the burden".
Finally, Stephens also noted the significance of Fort Sumter, which would prove the first issue of his presidency. Lincoln, only a month into his own presidency, ordered a relief expedition after skillfully dodging any agreements with the South that would have served as a political recognition of the CSA instead of considering it a rogue government. He notified South Carolina's Governor Pickens of a delivery of "provisions only", and Pickens turned to General P.G.T. Beauregard, who relayed the information to Stephens. While his cabinet (interestingly, though, not Secretary of State Robert Toombs) called for an attack to clear out the fort, Stephens ordered the CSA to stand down, and Lincoln achieved his goal of feeding Sumter. Stephens was declared "yellow" by many, but the political tide turned back to favor the South a month later when the heavy-handed actions of Union General Lyon in the West attacked parading Missouri State Militia called up by secessionist Governor Claiborne "Fox" Jackson.
While not enough to swing Virginia's support to the South, Yankees were increasingly perceived as brutes, tarnishing Lincoln's image, who sent additional troops to Missouri and Kansas, resulting in secession by Arkansas. Guerilla fighting continued, but it was never enough to make a full move against the South without seeming the aggressor. The quasi-war dragged on for years until Lincoln lost his bid at reelection in 1864, and President Horace Greeley was elected by Copperheads to end the war.
Stephens retired the presidency after his single term (as per the CSA constitution) in 1867 as a hero who had "waited out the Union" and became governor of Georgia, confirming the supremacy of the states. The Confederacy continued on its states' rights, later seeing the secession of the Republic of Texas in 1874 (who later had a number of military disputes with both the US and CS as the West became settled). Attempts were made to add Caribbean and Middle American states to the Confederacy, but each turned into either military blunders or economic burdens. By the 1890s, the South was seen as economically and culturally stunted compared to the great wealth and strength of the industrialized North. A movement began around the turn of the century to rejoin the Union, but many on both sides would refuse. President Theodore Roosevelt's 1907 Goodwill Tour proved for naught after it brought international attention to the deplorable poverty of newly freed Africans and entrenched the crippling conservatism of the nation.