The Cornerstone Speech


This study guide will help you analyze Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech. In addition to help for your analysis, you can find a summary of the text and ideas for putting it into perspective

Presentation of the text

Title: The Cornerstone Speech (1861)

Sender: Alexander Stephens

Genre: Speech

Alexander Stephens (1812-1883) was an American politician and member of the Democratic Party. He served as the Vice President of the Confederate States and later as Governor of Georgia. In his Cornerstone speech, Stephens inaccurately predicts the success of the Confederacy and defends slavery. Following the defeat of the Confederate States in the Civil War, Stephens was briefly imprisoned, but after his release, he continued his political career. It should be noted that the text we are dealing with is not an exact transcript of the speech, but only a sketch reconstructed by a reporter who attended the convention were the speech was given.


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Allusions and direct references

In his speech, Stephens also uses many allusions. When he discusses the topic of slavery, Stephens makes a biblical allusion by saying: “he, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system”. In the Bible, Canaan is cursed to become the lowest of slaves or servants to his brothers. This line was often used by Southern slave owners as a justification and defense of slavery, as they claimed this line referred to the idea that some people were fundamentally inferior to others, and they believed this difference was shown by race. However, many argued that this is a misinterpretation used to further an ideological agenda, and later Martin Luther King Jr. claimed...

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The Cornerstone Speech

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