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Alexander Stephens, Future Confederate Vice President,
Rants Against Congress Refunding Andrew Jackson’s
War of 1812 Fine
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Today is the ‘memorable 8th’ and the Party in Power chose this as the day to pass in the House the Bill to refund to Genl Jackson the fine imposed on him at New Orleans. I tried hard to get the floor to make a speech upon an amendment I had proposed – which was to pay the amount of the fine without reFlection [?] upon the judge – but the Locos would not let me. They ‘gagged’ all discussion and I was not permitted to say anything on my amendment. A more outrageous proceeding I hardly ever witnessed. I was the more anxious to make a speech…misstated by the Globe reporter.”

ALEXANDER STEPHENS. Autograph Letter Signed, to John L. Bird, January 8, 1844, Washington, D.C. With integral address leaf franked “Free A.H. Stephens MC.” 3 pp., 8 x 10 in.

Inventory #21096       Price: $1,500

Historical Background

Andrew Jackson had been fined $1,000 for detaining a federal judge and unconstitutionally imposing martial law in New Orleans immediately following his famous victory over the British on January 8, 1815. Jackson called on his allies in Congress in 1842 to pass a bill refunding the fine. His enemies within The Whig party, which controlled both the House and Senate, flatly rejected the proposal. But Democrats, looking for a rallying cry in an election year, successfully seized upon the issue and used Jackson’s status as a war hero to take back the House in the next election. On the date of this letter – the twenty-ninth anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans – Democrats passed a bill providing for the refund by a landslide.

Alexander H. Stephens (1812-1883) was born in Georgia and graduated from the University of Georgia in 1832. He established a law practice in Crawfordville, Georgia, where he acquired land and slaves. He served in the Georgia legislature from 1836 to 1842. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1843-1859. In 1862, he became the first and only Vice President of the Confederate States of America. He was one of three peace commissioners who met with President Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in February 1865, in an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate an end to the war. After the war, Stephens was imprisoned for five months. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives again from 1873 to 1882 and briefly as Governor of Georgia during the last five months of his life.

Stephens’ service in Congress overlapped with Abraham Lincoln’s single Congressional term, 1847-9). We’ve often heard a great anecdote from the failed peace conference before the end of the Civil War. Lincoln, commenting to Ulysses S. Grant after seeing Stephens take off his huge wool overcoat, Well, “didn't you think it was the biggest shuck and the littlest ear you ever did see?”


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