In his Virginia Convention Speech, Confederate Vice President Alexander “Little Alec” Stephens offers us a real contrast in his own words to the muddleheadness and fantasy talk of the Baby Boomer generation that is so prevalent in the so-called “Southern Heritage Preservation Movement.”
Alexander Stephens’ position is rational and consistent given his premises. It flows naturally from his rejection of the Yankee principle and assumption that “all men are created equal”:
“One good and wise feature in our new or revised Constitution is, that we have put to rest the vexed question of slavery forever, so far as the Confederate legislative halls are concerned. On this subject, from which sprung the immediate cause of our late troubles and threatened dangers, you will indulge me in a few remarks as not irrelevant to the occasion.”
Both Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens claimed that slavery was the “immediate cause” or the “occasion” of the War Between the States. It was the “incident” that brought about the secession crisis. This is to say that the clash over slavery sparked or triggered secession, but it was not the final cause of the creation of the Confederacy. It could have just as easily happened over some other question or at some other time. The North and South continued to clash long after the war.
The ability to distinguish between proximate and final causes is the mark of an intelligent and sophisticated mind. The sinking of the Maine was the proximate cause of the Spanish-American War. The ultimate cause was the desire to project American naval power into the Caribbean.
“The condition of the negro race amongst us presents a peculiar phase of republican civilization and constitutional liberty. To some, the problem seems hard to understand. The difficulty is in theory, not in practical demonstration; that works well enough—theories in government, as in all things else, must yield to facts.”
Alexander Stephens characterizes Dixie as a republican civilization. There is a perceived clash between the republican principle of equality before the law and the status of the negro race in the South. The theory of equality before the law must yield to the reality of racial differences.
“No truth is clearer than that the best form or system of government for any people or society is that which secures the greatest amount of happiness, not to the greatest number, but to all the constituent elements of that society, community or State. If our system does not accomplish this; if it is not the best for the negro as well as for the white man; for the inferior as well as the superior race, it is wrong in principle. But if it does, or is capable of doing this, then it is right, and can never be successfully assailed by reason or logic. That the negroes with us, under masters who care for, provide for and protect them, are better off, and enjoy more of the blessings of good government than their race does in any other part of the world, statistics abundantly prove.”
Alexander Stephens is making a bold claim here: the best form or system of government, in principle, is the government that secures the greatest amount of happiness to all its constituents. It is the sort of argument made by a practical and enlightened utilitarian and realist. In a multiracial society, where the Whites live alongside negroes, Stephens thought that the subordination of the negroes to the White race produces the best possible outcome for both races.
The proof of this, ironically enough, Stephens thought was the condition of the free negro in the Caribbean and back in his indigenous environment in West and Central Africa. Stephens was speaking decades before the Scramble for Africa partitioned the continent between the European powers. He is saying that Southern paternalism is better than the type of “liberty” enjoyed by Africans in Africa – he was probably right too, given what we know about life in West Central Africa at the time, we can at least say that Southern slaveowners never ate their slaves or engaged in ritual human sacrifice.
“As a race, the African is inferior to the white man. Subordination to the white man is his normal condition. He is not his equal by nature, and cannot be made so by human laws or human institutions.”
Stephens believes the African is racially inferior to the White man. He believes there are biological differences between the races which make the African less intelligent and less conscientious. These differences in behavior are natural and ineradicable and cannot be remedied by legislation or education. Therefore, it is normative to find the African subordinated to European.
The African and European are not equals by nature. It is a harsh assessment of the potential of the African and Stephens later defended black voting rights during Reconstruction, but let’s not pretend this wasn’t a key part of the argument he made for Virginia to secede from the Union. There is too much make believe and disingenuous arguments in the Southern heritage movement.
“Our system, therefore, so far as regards this inferior race, rests upon this great immutable law of nature. It is founded not upon wrong or injustice, but upon the eternal fitness of things.”
The whole Southern social system is based on this truth: the acceptance of the reality of racial differences, which are thought to be natural and immutable, and which not the product of any wrong or injustice. Stephens believed the African was inferior because he was born that way. God or Nature made him that way. Nothing can be done about it. It is worth noting modern day progressives have spent the last 65 years trying in vain to close racial gaps in intelligence and have made virtually zero progress.
“Hence, its harmonious working for the benefit and advantage of both. Why one race was made inferior to another, is not for us to inquire. The statesman and the Christian, as well as the philosopher, must take things as they find them, and do the best he can with them as he finds them.”
Stephens argues here the question is what to do with this inferior race.
The answer seemed obvious at the time: if it is natural and normal for the African to be subordinated to the White race because of immutable biological racial differences, then the African could be profitably employed in cash crop agriculture, which would generate wealth and lead to the progress of Western civilization, and which would leave both races better off than they otherwise would be.
“The great truth, I repeat, upon which our system rests, is the inferiority of the African. The enemies of our institutions ignore this truth.”
The whole social system rests upon race realism and white supremacy: slavery is an economic extension of race realism and white supremacy to labor relations, not its foundation.
“They set out with the assumption that the races are equal; that the negro is equal to the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be legitimate. But their premises being false, their conclusions are false also.”
Stephens argues the false premise of racial equality is the basis of the abolitionist attack on slavery. It is a deduction from the abstract principle that “all men are created equal.”
If all men were not were created equal (the empirical inference from observation), however, if say, science and experience had shown otherwise in places like Haiti and the British Caribbean, then there is no valid reason to believe this. Rather, it is a type of insanity to go on believing in racial equality, and to be willing to kill people and lay waste to civilization over this patently false belief.
“Most of that fanatical spirit at the North on this subject, which in its zeal without knowledge, would upturn our society and lay waste our fair country, springs from this false reasoning. Hence so much misapplied sympathy for fancied wrongs and sufferings. These wrongs and sufferings exist only in their heated imaginations. There can be no wrong where there is no violation of nature’s laws.”
Stephens understands that the Yankee position is sensible … if, and only if, the underlying premise that “all men are created equal” is true. He argues it isn’t true.
He counters by saying the exact opposite is true: all men are not created equal, that some races are naturally superior to others and the differences in their condition arise ultimately from heredity, not from prejudice or their environmental condition as the abolitionists falsely assumed, that God or Nature has made them that way, and that it is not the fault of anyone and that anti-racist legislation and education will never succeed in eradicating these racial differences.
“We have heard much of the higher law. I believe myself in the higher law. We stand upon that higher law. I would defend and support no Constitution that is against the higher law. I mean by that the law of nature and of God.”
Stephens claims the “higher law” supports the South. He says the Confederacy stands on the “higher law” of reality and thus morality. The Black Republican position is false. It rests on the discredited claim that “all men are created equal.” The logic of abolitionism flows from that flawed premise.
“Human Constitutions and human laws that are made against the law of nature or of God, ought to be overturned; and if Seward was right the Constitution which he was sworn to support, and is now requiring others to swear to support, ought to have been overthrown long ago. It ought never to have been made. But in point of fact it is he and his associates in this crusade against us, who are warring against the higher law—we stand upon the laws of the Creator, upon the highest of all laws. It is the fanatics of the North, who are warring against the decrees of God Almighty, in their attempts to make things equal which he made unequal.”
God Almighty made the African an inferior race. The Black Republicans are fanatics like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. It is a foolish quest that can only end in total failure. In fact, 150 years later it has ended in total failure because both intelligence and personality traits are largely heritable and no amount of education will ever change that.
“My assurance of ultimate success in this controversy is strong from the conviction, that we stand upon the right.”
The Confederate position is based upon reality. It rests upon God and Nature. Thus, Stephens concludes it is the right position whereas the Yankee position is the false one.
“Some years ago in the Hall of the House of Representatives, a very prominent gentleman from Ohio, announced with a great deal of effect, that we at the South would be obliged to yield upon this question of slavery, because we warred against a principle; and that it was as impossible to war successfully against principle in politics as it was in mechanics. The principle, said he, would ultimately prevail. He announced this with imposing effect, and endeavored to maintain that we were contending against the great principle of equality in holding our fellow men. in the unnatural condition of bondage.”
The South is warring against “the great principle of equality”: the principle that “all men were created equal,” and was thus doomed to failure because hierarchy is unnatural, or so the Yankee argued. In the aftermath of the war, the Yankee no more eliminated hierarchy or was able to bring about racial equality than the Medieval alchemist was able to transmute lead into gold.
“In reply, I stated to him, that I admitted his proposition as he announced it, that it was impossible to war successfully against a principle in mechanics and the same was true in politics—the principle would certainly prevail—and from that stand point I had come to the conclusion that we of the South would ultimately succeed, and the North would be compelled to yield their ideas upon this subject.”
Alexander Stephens assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that the North would eventually be compelled to yield on the subject because the assumption of racial equality would be proven false in practice.
It is proven false on a daily basis in the United States in every integrated public school district in the country. It is proven false in Detroit, Liberia, Haiti and Zimbabwe and all of sub-Saharan Africa. It has been proven false on a global scale for literally a century now. Stephens failed to grasp that equality was an article of faith to the Yankee that was imperious to reason and empirical evidence.
Ideology is the ability to self consciously lie to oneself and deny the evidence of reality. Liberal ideology explains the ridiculous notion that there is going to be an “African Renaissance” or a “Detroit Renaissance.” These people are only capable of creating a civilization that reflects their own level of intelligence and character and when they are immersed in a European society like the United States which is being rapidly transformed by global economic forces it has devastating consequences.
Were it not for the 20th century welfare state, Black America would be significantly worse off than it is now and likely burning down most of our major cities. We’ve spent the last half century incarcerating the blacks and buying social peace from them as the economy changes and cognitive stratification of the workforce and automation creates havoc in black communities.
“For it was they who were contending against a principle and not we. It was they who were trying to make the black man a white man, or his equal, which was nearly the same thing.”
They are contending against reality. It is impossible to achieve racial equality because the races are naturally unequal in their capacities for government and free enterprise.
“The controlling laws of nature regulate the difference between them as absolutely as the laws of gravitation control whatever comes within their action—and until he could change the laws of gravitation, or any other law of nature, he could never make the negro a white man or his equal. No human efforts or human laws can change the leopard’s spots or the Ethiopian’s skin. These are the works of Providence—in whose hands are the fortunes of men as well as the destiny of nations and the distinctions of races.”
Alexander Stephens argues that racial inequality is as established and immutable as the laws of gravity. It is as foolish to war against racial inequality as it is to deny the existence of gravity. God or Nature made the African inferior. Nothing can be done to change their condition.
Note: If you are reading this and getting mad about it, take a deep breath and remember that YOU live in the 21st century. The goal here of the historian is to understand the past and make sense of it while shedding light on the present and possibly the future.
The best thing that could ever happen to race relations in the United States is TO ADMIT THE TRUTH ABOUT RACE. After all, these small racial differences between Europeans and East Asians or between Europeans and Hispanics and Africans aren’t going to matter anyway in a world in which everyone is vastly inferior to artificial intelligence. What’s more, we will solve the lingering problems of historical racial inequality in the future by redistributing wealth from robotic slaves.