The Confederate States Vice President Admits He Can No Longer Write a Letter: “I have not been able to do without great inconvenience & pain since I left Washington”

Signed by Alexander Stephens

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STEPHENS, ALEXANDER. (1812-1883). Vice president of the Confederate States of America. LS. (“Alexander H. Stephens”). 1½pp. 4to. Atlanta, January 29, 1883. On a single sheet of illustrated State of Georgia Executive Department letterhead. To Mrs. Wilson.

“Your welcome letter of the 19th was received three or four days ago. But heavy pressure of official business has prevented me from replying sooner. I was much entertained by the account you gave of your visit to Washington, & I feel that I must apologize to Mrs. Springer for my not having written to her at least I must give you my reasons for not having done so. I have but few lady acquaintances whom I esteem more highly than I do her & very few whose writings I esteem so highly as hers but she put upon me the injunction that I must write a letter with my own hand & this in point of fact I have not been able to do without great inconvenience & pain since I left Washington. I wanted to write Mrs. Springer a long letter & I postponed doing so from time to time hoping I might get in a condition to pen it with my own hand. That time has not yet come – all my writing is done with the hand of another. I seldom use the pen at all except in signing my name & while I can do that just about as well as I ever did, yet if I undertake to write as much as half a page the hands & fingers break down from rheumatic affection. I make this explanation to you that you may thoroughly understand the case, & know why I have not written to Mrs. Springer.

Mr. Harper is now at home; he wishes to go out with the survey corps next June but Prof Hiljard [?] has not yet assured him that he would give him a place. I have written the Professor an earnest letter on behalf of Mr. Harper but have not yet heard from him. I send you by the mail that carries this copy of the [Atlanta] Post Appeal of today with a marked article that may be of interest to you and the Colonel…”

Alexander Stephens

After earning a law degree and passing the bar, Stephens was active in state politics before being elected to represent Georgia in the House of Representatives in 1843. Although initially moderate in his defense of slavery, he soon rose to become one of the most prominent Southern Whigs in the House. In 1848, after tabling the bipartisan Clayton Compromise which excluded slavery from Oregon and allowed the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the fate of slavery in New Mexico and California, Stephens was violently attacked by Georgia Supreme Court Justice Francis H. Cone who declared him a traitor to the South. Despite Stephens’ frail health and repeatedly being stabbed by Cone (“‘Retract or I’ll cut your cursed throat,’ [Cone] said. ‘Cut! I’ll never retract,’ Stephens gasped. He caught the descending knife in his right hand. It cut through the muscles and tendons and into the bones,” Little Aleck, a Life of Alexander Stephens, Richardson), he survived the attack but never fully regained the comfortable use of his right hand. Stephens did not press charges against Cone who, in 1856, was elected to Georgia’s Senate.

In January 1861, Stephens represented Georgia at the Secession Convention where he urged the body to remain loyal to the Union. Nonetheless, he was elected vice president of the Confederacy the following month. Despite supporting the Confederacy and his stated “great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition,” Stephens was frequently at odds with President Jefferson Davis and his policies.

After the war, he served five months in prison before being elected to the Senate. However, as a former Confederate, Stephens was not permitted to serve. During his hiatus from politics, he devoted himself to penning his two-volume apology A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States. From 1873-1882 he served in Congress, and, in November 1882, he became governor of Georgia but died on March 4, 1883, a mere four months after taking office. Our letter, mentioning the pressures of his office, is written roughly a month before his death.

Mrs. Springer” might be Rebecca Ruter Springer (1832-1904), wife of William M. Springer, Democratic representative from Illinois who served in Congress alongside Stephens. She was a spiritualist and the daughter of a Methodist minister who wrote “My Dream of Heaven,” also known by the title “Intra Muros” (“between the walls”). Folded with several fold tears including an approximately two-inch long closed tear along the center fold. In very good condition. A very late letter; the examples described in ABPC only go as far as 1878.


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