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Alexander H. Stephens Papers


Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Alexander H. Stephens (1812-1883) was a long-time politician from Georgia who served as the vice president of the Confederate States of America. He was a member of various political parties throughout his life and was an outspoken critic of Jefferson Davis.

Alexander Stephens was born on February 11, 1812 in Crawfordville, Georgia. Stephens was a career politician and lawyer who served at almost every level of government. After receiving his law degree in 1833, Stephens practiced at irregular intervals for the rest of his life. He was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and served one term, from 1836-1841. He was then elected to the Georgia Senate in 1842 but only served a few months of his term. In 1843, Stephens was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, in a special election to fill a vacant seat. He served there for eight terms, in various political parties, including the Whig party and, eventually, the Southern Democratic party. Stephens was aggressively involved in the sectional crisis of the two decades that preceded the Civil War. He was a strong proponent of the annexation of Texas and admission of Kansas as slave state, and opposed the Wilmot Proviso, which attempted to bar the spread of slavery into new territories.

In 1850, Stephens formed the Constitutional Union Party in response to what he felt was a lack of support of Southern interests in the Whig party. In 1854, the issue of the Kansas-Nebraska Act forced Stephens to choose between his new party and the growing strength of the Democrats. He voted for the act, and became a Democrat for the rest of his time in politics. In 1858, Stephens did not seek re-election, instead returning to private law practice.

In 1861, Stephens was elected to the Georgian special convention to decide whether or not to secede. While initially voting against secession, Stephens argued that if the Northern states continued to nullify the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Laws, he would fully support secession. The convention voted to secede, and on February 11, 1861, he was elected as vice president of the Confederate States of America by the Confederate Congress.

Throughout the war, Stephens was an outspoken critic of Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederacy. He disagreed with Davis' use of conscription and his suspension of habeas corpus. As the war progressed, Stephens made repeated efforts to secure a peace with the North that would honor the Confederacy’s independence. On May 11, 1865, shortly after the end of the war, Stephens was arrested in his home and taken to Fort Warren, in Boston, where he served a brief sentence of six months.

In 1866, Stephens was elected by the Reconstruction assembly in Georgia to the U.S. Senate. However, he was refused his seat because Georgia had not complied with all the Reconstruction requirements and had not yet been re-admitted to the Union. From 1866 until 1873, Stephens returned to his law practice. In 1873, he was again elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and served another five terms. In 1882, he left the House and was elected governor of Georgia. He served there for only four months, however.

Stephens was buried at his estate, Liberty Hill, in Crawfordville, Georgia.

Stephens correspondence is with William Hidell, his private secretary throughout the war. Hidell was previously a newspaper reporter. Stephens was a banfactor of sorts for Hidell, paying his college tuition and hiring him for the position of secretary.

This small collection, which spans the years 1858-1882, is primarily made up of correspondence from Stephens to his private secretary, William Hidell. He primarily discusses politics, mainly Southern secession and the day-to-day running of the Confederacy. Stephens occasionally mentions his poor health and his sense of loss and failure at the close of the Civil War. There are also letters from Stephens's time in Fort Warren prison immediately after the war, as well as letters from his continued career in politics as a U.S. representative from Georgia until his death in 1883. As with earlier correspondence, these letters are filled with personal news as well as a discussion of political concerns. Race, as a topic, is noticably absent. Some letters are accompanied by envelopes that have notes summarizing the contents of the letters.

Also included is a college transcript of William Hidell's (Box 1 Folder 1) as well as a few newspaper clippings regarding Stephens support of various pieces of Georgian legislation (Box 2, Folder 18).

This collection was processed using the More Product, Less Process model, and is not arranged into series. Materials are arranged alphabetically by title.

Rabun, James Z. “Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis.” American Historical Review 58, no. 2 (1953): 290-321. “Stephens, Alexander Hamilton (1812-1883).” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-present. Accessed 29 July 2010.


Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Amanda Fellmeth
Finding Aid Date
This collection was processed during the Digital Center for Americana pilot project, which was funded by the Barra Foundation and several individual donors.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Collection Inventory

College Transcript of Hidell, 1860.
Box 1 Folder 1
Correspondence, 1858-1869.
Box 1 Folder 2-13
Correspondence, 1870-1882.
Box 2 Folder 1-17
Newspaper Clippings, 1881.
Box 2 Folder 18

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