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Book Chapter

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Department 1

Civil War Era Studies

Department 2



In the threatening winter of 1861, as the United States was being ~ inched ever- closer td the outbreak of civil war by the secession of the Southern states over the issue of black slavery, the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, opened up a confidential correspondence with a f6rmer Southern political colleague, Alexander Stephens of Georgia. Stephens had made headlines in November 1860, in a speech to the Georgia legislature, urging Georgia not to follow tlie South into secession. Lincoln sent him a friendly note, asking- for a printed copy of the speech-and perhaps warming Stephens to an invitation to come into Lincoln's cabinet as a gesture of mollification toward the South. Stephens wrote back, apologizing that the speech was not yet in print (apart from the newspaper reports of it that Lincoln had read), but taking the opportunity to urge Lincoln to make some kind of conciliatory promise to the South about staying within the bounds of the Constitution, as president, and not threatening to take federal action against slavery in the South, where slavery had enjoyed a kind of constitutional immunity since the beginnings of the Republic. This, Stephens believed, would deflate the secession fire-eaters better than any cabinet offer, adding (with a phrase borrowed from the Book of Proverbs), "A word fitly spoken by you now would be like 'apple of gold in a picture of silver.'" [excerpt]

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