We Have Rescued the Constitution from Utter Annihilation

Alexander H. Stephens.

[…] I presume that no event since the separation of the more Southern States from the late Union, has occurred to give such unbounded pleasure to the whole Southern people, as the news that the Old Dominion had thrown her fortunes with ours.

We had thought, from the beginning, that this result would ultimately be inevitable. Individually, you will allow me to say I had not the slightest doubt upon the subject, and I feel extremely gratified that my anticipations have been so early realized.


The importance of a union or an alliance of some sort on the part of your Commonwealth with the present Confederated States South, in this conflict for our common rights, I need not discuss before this intelligent body. Any one State, acting in its own capacity, without concert with other States, would be powerless, or at least could not exert its power efficiently. The cause of Virginia, and I will go further, the cause of Maryland, and even the cause of Delaware, and of all the States with institutions similar to ours, is the cause of the Confederate States — the cause of each, the interests of each, the safety of each is the same; and the destiny of each, if they could all but be brought to realize the dangers, would be the same. Therefore, where there is a common danger, where there is a common interest, where there is a common safety, where there is a common destiny, there ought to be a common and united effort.


Map of Virginia, 1861.

But to be entirely frank, I must say that we are looking to a speedy and early union of your State with our Confederacy. Hence the greater importance for this immediate and temporary alliance. We want Virginia, the mother of States, as well as of statesmen, to be one of the States of our Confederation. We want it because your people are our people –your interests are our interests; nay, more: because of the very prestige of the name of the Old Commonwealth. We want it, because of the memory of Jefferson, of Madison, and Washington, the father of his country — we want it for all the associations of the past — we want it because the principles in our Constitutions, both provisional and permanent, sprung from Virginia. They emanated from your statesmen — they are Virginian throughout — taught by your illustrious sages and, by their instrumentality mainly, were incorporated in the old Constitution. That ancient and sacred instrument has no less of our regard and admiration now than it ever had. We quit the Union, but not the Constitution — this we have preserved. Secession from the old Union on the part of the Confederate States was founded upon the conviction that the time honored Constitution of our fathers was about to be utterly undermined and destroyed, and that if the present administration at Washington had been permitted to rule over us, in less than four years, perhaps, this inestimable inheritance of liberty, regulated and protected by fundamental law, would have been forever lost. We believe that the movement with us has been the only course to save that great work of Virginia statesmen.


On this point indulge me a moment. Under the latitudinarian construction of the Constitution which prevails at the North, the general idea is maintained that the will of the majority is supreme; and as to constitutional checks or restraints, they have no just conception of them. The Constitution was, at first, mainly the work of Southern men, and Virginia men at that. The Government under it lasted only so long as it was kept in its proper sphere, with due regard to its limitations, checks and balances. This, from the origin of the Government, was effected mainly by Southern statesmen.


We have rescued the Constitution from utter annihilation. This is our conviction, and we believe history will so record the fact. You have seen what we have done. Our Constitution has been published. Perhaps most of you have read it. If not I have a copy here, which is at the service of any who may wish to examine it. It is the old Constitution, with all its essentials and some changes, of which I may speak presently.


The people of Virginia may have been attached to the Union; but they are much more attached to their homes, their firesides and all that is dear to freemen — constitutional liberty.

All hopes of preserving this in the old Union are gone forever. We must for the future look to ourselves. It is cheering to feel conscious that we are not without hope in that quarter. At first, I must confess, that I was not without serious apprehensions on that point. These apprehensions were allayed at Montgomery.


Virginia Capitol.

For, while I have no authority to speak on that subject, I feel at perfect liberty to say, that it is quite within the range of probability that, if such an alliance is made as seems to me ought to be made, the seat of our Government will, within a few weeks, be moved to this place.

— Excerpts from address by Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederate States of America, and Special Commissioner to the Commonwealth of Virginia, to the Secret Session of the Virginia Secession Convention, Tuesday, 23 April 1861.

Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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