by Keith Hebert
University of Tennessee Press, 2021
Cloth: 978-1-62190-634-6 | eISBN: 978-1-62190-652-0
Library of Congress Classification E645.H43 2021
Dewey Decimal Classification 305.80097309034


Born in early 1812 in Crawfordville, Georgia, Alexander Stephens grew up in an antebellum South that would one day inform the themes of his famous Cornerstone Speech. While Stephens made many speeches throughout his lifetime, the Cornerstone Speech is the discourse for which he is best remembered. Stephens delivered it on March 21, 1861—one month after his appointment as vice president of the Confederacy—asserting that slavery and white supremacy comprised the cornerstone of the Confederate States of America. Within a few short weeks, more than two hundred newspapers worldwide had reprinted Stephens’s words.

Following the war and the defeat of the Confederacy, Stephens claimed that his assertions in the Cornerstone Speech had been misrepresented, his meaning misunderstood, as he sought to breathe new and different life into an oration that may have otherwise been forgotten. His intentionally ambiguous rhetoric throughout the postwar years obscured his true antebellum position on slavery and its centrality to the Confederate Nation and lent itself to early constructions of Lost Cause mythology.

In Cornerstone of the Confederacy, Keith Hébert examines how Alexander Stephens originally constructed, and then reinterpreted, his well-known Cornerstone Speech. Hébert illustrates the complexity of Stephens’s legacy across eight chronological chapters, meticulously tracing how this speech, still widely cited in the age of Black Lives Matter, reverberated in the nation’s consciousness during Reconstruction, through the early twentieth century, and in debates about commemoration of the Civil War that live on in the headlines today.

Audiences both inside and outside of academia will quickly discover that the book’s implications span far beyond the memorialization of Confederate symbols, grappling with the animating ideas of the past and discovering how these ideas continue to inform the present.