The threat of secession hung heavy over the land eight days after Abraham Lincoln’s election. Alexander Stephens, who had known Lincoln from his days in Congress, addressed the Georgia General Assembly on this day in 1860. He told the legislature secession was premature.
Alexander Hamilton Stephens, born in 1812 near Crawfordville, had been a dominant force in Georgia politics for half a century. Stephens staunchly defended slavery, but adamantly opposed secession. He argued that Lincoln’s constitutional and peaceful election alone didn’t justify breaking up the Union and told his fellow Georgians, “I am for exhausting all that patriotism demands before taking the last step.”
When Georgia seceded in January 1861, Stephens had deep misgivings. But he was elected Jefferson Davis’s Confederate vice president, in part because of his political moderation. Quarrelling openly with Davis, his years as vice president were marked by disappointment and frustration.
The man called “Little Aleck” — he weighed barely 100 pounds — gave one of his most memorable speeches in a moment of great crisis on November 14, 1860, Today in Georgia History.