One of the most supple minds of the Confederacy
was encased in the gaunt and consumptive frame of
Alexander Hamilton Stephens. No other Southern statesmen
better embodied the paradoxical elements inherent
in the new nation itself. During his long tenure
in Congress, this sallow wisp of a man had been
a staunch Unionist, a devotee of Webster over Calhoun,
and a friend and supporter of his Whig colleague
Abraham Lincoln. When secession came, however, he
cast his destiny with his native Georgia, accepted
the Confederate vice-presidency, and proclaimed,
in one of the most notable speeches of the hour,
that slave ownership and its underlying assumption
of racial inferiority was the corner-stone
on which the new republic rested.
Stephens played his most important role in framing
the Confederate government. During the subsequent
four years, however, his penchant for constitutional
restraints and his doctrinaire scruples turned
him into the nation's leading obstructionist.
Having early lost the ear of President Davis,
he withdrew into melancholy isolation and generally
displayed less leadership ability than at any
previous time in his career.