The Cornerstone Speech

March 25, 1861/2011
Volume 2, Issue 14 (24 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

The Cornerstone Speech

by Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy

March 21, 1861. In this famous speech, delivered in Savannah, Georgia, on March 21, 1861, C.S.A. Vice President Stephens explained the differences between the Confederate constitution and that of the U.S. It is known as the “Cornerstone Speech” because he states that the cornerstone of the Confederacy is racial inequality. He said, in part:

” . . . The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right. . . . The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but . . . somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. . . . Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. . . .  

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. . . .”

Read the full Cornerstone Speech

“Brother Jonathan’s Lament for Sister Caroline”

by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

March 25, 1861. On this day New England poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the father of the future Supreme Court justice, wrote his poem “Brother Jonathan’s Lament for Sister Caroline,” which not only described the circumstances of South Carolina’s secession but also predicts the conflict that would follow:

She has gone,–she has left us in passion and pride,–
Our stormy-browed sister, so long at our side!
She has torn her own star from our firmament’s glow,
And turned on her brother the face of a foe!

O Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun,
We can never forget that our hearts have been one,–
Our foreheads both sprinkled in Liberty’s name,
From the fountain of blood with the finger of flame!

You were always too ready to fire at a touch;
But we said: “She is hasty,–she does not mean much.”
We have scowled when you uttered some turbulent threat;
But Friendship still whispered: “Forgive and forget!”

Has our love all died out? Have its altars grown cold?
Has the curse come at last which the fathers foretold?
Then Nature must teach us the strength of the chain
That her petulant children would sever in vain.

They might fight till the buzzards are gorged with their spoil,–
Till the harvest grows black as it rots in the soil,
Till the wolves and the catamounts troop from their caves,
And the shark tracks the pirate, the lord of the waves:

In vain is the strife! When its fury is past,
Their fortunes must flow in one channel at last,
As the torrents that rush from the mountains of snow
Roll mingled in peace through the valleys below.

Our Union is river, lake, ocean, and sky;
Man breaks not the medal when God cuts the die!
Though darkened with sulphur, though cloven with steel,
The blue arch will brighten, the waters will heal!

O Caroline, Caroline, child of the sun,
There are battles with Fate that can never be won!
The star-flowering banner must never be furled,
For its blossoms of light are the hope of the world!

Go, then, our rash sister! afar and aloof,–
Run wild in the sunshine away from our roof;
But when your heart aches and your feet have grown sore,
Remember the pathway that leads to our door!

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


SOURCES: Poetry and Eloquence from the Blue and the Gray, Francis Trevelyan Miller, ed. Pp. 44-45, (1957)

See a handwritten copy of the poem and historical information about the copy.

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1861

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