Joint Committee on Reconstruction
Alexander H. Stephens
Georgia Majority Against Secession in 1860

WASHINGTON, April 11, 1866.
Alexander H. Stephens sworn and examined.
By Mr. BOUTWELL: (Mr. GEORGE S. BOUTWELL, (of Massachusetts,) House of Representatives.)

Question. What are their present views concerning the justice of the rebellion? Do they at present, believe that it was a reasonable and proper undertaking, or otherwise?
Answer. My opinion of the sentiment of the people of Georgia upon that subject is that the exercise of the right of secession was resorted to by them from a desire to render their liberties and institutions more secure, and a belief on their part that this was absolutely necessary for that object. They were divided upon the question of the policy of the measure. Their was, however, but very little division among them upon the question of the right of it. It is now their belief, in my opinion - and I give it merely as an opinion - that the surest, if not only hope for their liberties is the restoration of the Constitution of the United States and of the government of the United States under the Constitution.

Question. Has there been any change of opinion as to the right of secession as a right in the people or in the States?
Answer. I think there has been a very decided change of opinion as to the policy by those who favored it. I think the people generally are satisfied sufficiently with the experiment never to make a resort to that measure of redress again by force, whatever may be their own abstract ideas upon that subject.They have given up all idea of the maintenance of those opinions by a resort to force. They have come to the conclusion that it is better to appeal to the forums of reason and justice, to the halls of legislation and the courts, for the preservation of the principles of constitutional liberty, than to the arena of arms. It is my settled conviction that there is not any idea cherished at all in the public mind of Georgia of ever resorting again to secession or to the exercise of the right of secession, by force. That whole policy of the maintenance of their rights, in my opinion, is at this time totally abandoned.

Question. But opinion as to the right, as I understand, remains substantially the same.
Answer. I cannot answer as to that. Some may have changed their opinions in this respect. It would be an unusual thing, as well as a difficult matter, for a whole people to change their convictions upon abstract truths or principles. I have not heard this view of the subject debated or discussed recently, and I wish to be understood as giving my opinion only on that branch of the subject which is of practical character and importance.

Question. To what do you attribute the change of opinion as to the propriety of attempting to maintain their views by force?
Answer. Well, sir, it is my opinion about that - my individual opinion, derived from observation - is that this change of opinion arose mainly from the operation of the war among themselves, and the results of the conflict from their own authorities on their individual rights of person and property, the general breaking down of constitutional barriers which usually attend all protracted wars.

Question. In 1861, when the ordinance of secession was adopted in your State, to what extent was it supported by the people?
Answer. After the proclamation of President Lincoln calling out the 75,000 militia, under the circumstances it was issued, and blockading the southern ports, and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, the southern cause, as it was termed, received the almost unanimous support of the people of Georgia. Before that, they were very much divided on the question of the policy of secession; but afterwards they supported the cause, with very few exceptions within the range of my knowledge. There were some few exceptions, not exceeding half a dozen, I think. The impression then prevailing was that public liberty was endangered, and they supported the cause because of their zeal for constitutional rights. They still differed very much as to the ultimate object to be attained and the means to be used, but these differences yielded to the emergency of the apprehended common danger.

Question. Was not the ordinance of secession adopted by Georgia earlier in date than the proclamation for the 75,000 volunteers?
Answer. Yes, sir. I stated that the people were very much divided on the question of the ordinance of secession, but that after the proclamation the people became almost unanimous in their support of the cause. There were some few exceptions in the State, I think not more than half a dozen among my acquaintances. As I said, while they were thus almost unanimous in support of the cause, they differed as to the end to be attained by sustaining it. Some looked to an adjustment or settlement of the controversy upon any basis that would secure their constitutional rights. Others looked to a southern separate nationality as their only object and hope. These different views as to the ultimate objects did not interfere with the general active support of the cause.

Question. Was there a popular vote upon the ordinance of secession?
Answer. Only in so far as in the election of delegates to the convetion.

Question. There was no subsequent action?
Answer. No, sir. The ordinance of secession was not submitted to a popular vote afterwards.

Question. Have you any opinion as to the vote it would have received as compared with the whole, if it had been submitted to the free action of the people?
WITNESS. Do you mean after it was adopted by the convention?

Mr. BOUTWELL. Yes, after it was adopted by the convention, if it had been submitted forthwith or within a reasonable time.
Answer. Taking the then state of things, South Carolina, Florida, and Mississippi, I think, having seceded, my opinion is that a majority of the people would have ratified it, and perhaps a decided or large majority. If, however, South Carolina and the other States had not adopted their ordinances of secession, I am very well satisfied that a majority of the people of Georgia, and perhaps a very decided majority, would have been against secession if her ordinance had been submitted to them. But as matters stood at the time, if the ordinance had been submitted to a popular vote of the State it would have been sustained. That is my judgement and opinion about that matter.

Question. What was the date of the Georgia ordinance?
Answer. The 18th or 19th - I think the 19th - of January, 1861.

Question. The question of secession was involved in the election of delegates to that convention, was it not?
Answer. Yes, sir.

Question. And was there, on the part of candidates, a pretty general avowal of opinions?
Answer. Very general.

Question. What was the result of the election, as far as the convention expressed any opinion upon the question of secession?
Answer. I think the majority was about thirty in favor of secession.

Question. In a convention of how many?
Answer. In a convention based upon the number of senators and members of the house in the general assembly of the State. The exact number I do not recollect, but I think it was near 300, perhaps a few over or under.

Question. Was there any difference in different parts of the State in the strength of Union sentiment as that time?
Answer. In some of the mountain counties the Union sentiment was generally prevalent. The cities, towns, and villages were generally for secession. The anti-secession sentiment was more general in the rural districts and in the mountain portions of the State. Yet the people of some of the upper counties were very active and decided secessionists. There was nothing like a sectional division of the State at all. For instance, the delegation from Floyd county, situated in the upper portion of the State, was an able one, and strong for secession; while the county of Jefferson, down in the interior of the cotton belt, sent one of the most prominent delegations for the Union. I could designate particular counties in that way throughout the State, showing there was nothing like a sectional or geographical division of the State on the question.

Question. In what particular did the people believe their constitutional liberties were assailed or endangered from the Union?
Answer. Mainly, I would say, in their internal social polity, and their apprehension from the general consolidating tendencies of the doctrines and principles of that political party which had recently succeeded in the choice of a President and Vice-President of the United States. It was the serious apprehension that if the republican organization, as then constituted, should succeed to power, it would lead ultimately to a virtual subversion of the Constitution of the United States, and all its essential guarantees of public liberty. I think that was the sincere, honest conviction in the minds of our people. Those who opposed secession did not apprehend that any such results would necessarily follow the elections which had taken place; they still thought that all their rights might be maintained in the Union and under the Constitution, especially as there were majorities in both houses who agreed with them on constitutional questions.

Question. To what feature of their internal social polity did they apprehend danger?
Answer. Principally the subordination of the African race, as it existed under their laws and institutions.


Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction of the First Session Thirty-Ninth Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1866, Arkansas - Georgia - Mississippi - Alabama, pages 159-160.