Stephens, Alexander Hamilton

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Stephens, Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton Stephens, 1812–83, American political leader, Confederate vice president (1861–65), b. Taliaferro co. (then part of Wilkes co.), Ga. He was admitted to the bar in 1834, served six terms in the Georgia legislature, and was a Whig (later a Democratic) Representative in Congress from 1843 to 1859. Stephens, together with Howell Cobb and Robert Toombs, was influential in Georgia's acceptance of the Compromise of 1850, and with them he organized in the state the short-lived Constitutional Union party. He voted against secession in the Georgia convention of 1861, but accepted his state's decision and was a delegate to the convention in Montgomery, where the Confederacy was born. As vice president, Stephens consistently opposed the policies of Jefferson Davis, objecting notably to conscription and to suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. An early advocate of peace, he was one of three Confederate commissioners to the Hampton Roads Peace Conference. After the Civil War, Stephens was arrested and interned for several months in Fort Warren, Boston. After his release, he was elected (1866) to the U.S. Senate but was not allowed to take his seat. He then applied himself to the writing of Constitutional View of the Late War between the States (2 vol., 1868–70), considered the ablest defense of the right of secession. He served again in Congress from 1873 to 1882, when he was elected governor of Georgia.

See biographies by R. von Abele (1946, repr. 1971) and T. E. Schott (1988).

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