The Overcoat Of Alexander H. Stephens

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Ulysses S. Grant relates the following anecdote in his memoirs.

At one point while campaigning, Grant received a message from the Confederates that they wished to negotiate a settlement to the conflict.  They proposed to send a delegation to meet Grant.  Among the delegates was Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens.  Grant further relates:

I had always supposed that he was a very small man, but when I saw him in the dusk of the evening I was very much surprised to find so large a man as he seemed to be….I found that he was wearing a coarse gray woollen overcoat, a manufacture that had been introduced into the South during the rebellion.

The cloth was thicker than anything of the kind I had ever seen, even in Canada.  The overcoat extended nearly to his feet, and was so large that it gave him the appearance of being an average-sized man.  He took this off when he reached the cabin of the boat, and I was struck with the apparent change in size, in the coat and out of it.

Grant referred the delegates to President Lincoln, having no authority to deal with them himself.  He later discussed the matter with the president.  Lincoln was in one of his mirthful moods, as Grant tells us:

Right here I might relate an anecdote of Mr. Lincoln.  It was on the occasion of his visit to me just after he had talked with the [Confederate] peace commissioners…After a little conversation, he asked me if I had seen the overcoat of Stephens’s.  I replied that I had.

“Well,” said he, “did you see him take it off?”  I said yes.

“Well,” said he, “didn’t you think it was the biggest shuck and the littlest ear [of corn] that you ever did see?

Long afterwards I told this story to the Confederate general J.B. Gordon, at the time a member of the Senate.  He repeated it to Stephens, and, as I heard afterwards, Stephens laughed immoderately at the simile of Mr. Lincoln.

This story, relayed by Grant, is one of the many examples of the sly humor of Abraham Lincoln.

 

4 thoughts on “The Overcoat Of Alexander H. Stephens

  1. I love stories like this about historical people that are usually portrayed as larger than life. Makes you appreciate their human side. On a side note, I picked up On Duties, and having never even heard about Cicero before I am hooked. I understand why On Duties needed to be released today, in this bizzaro world we live in. The parallels to today are astonishing.

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  2. Interesting, especially since it got back to Stephens.

    More important -Stephen’s amazing five (or 8) city tour, speaking to crowds, cheering crowds per the paper, explaining in great detail that they had just founded their new nation on “the great truth” that blacks were inferior beings, ordained by God or Providence not just to be enslaved — Stephens went further.

    Blacks were being punished by God for biblical sins. And the crowd cheered.

    Stephens said nothing that others, including Stephen A Douglas said about how if the Declaration of Independence was correct, (as Lincoln said) and all men are created equal, men of honor would at once end slavery and forever live in peace with the black race. Douglas himself eviscerated the “silly’ idea that the Declaration of Independence applied to blacks, because if it did- -white women would be able to “sleep with ******” as Douglas screamed the crowd repeatedly in Charleston IL Lincoln Douglas debate.

    The language of Douglas Grand Jury speech in 1857 is nearly identical to that used by Stephens in his touring speech called “Cornerstone speech”.

    Less anyone think Stephens was misquoted, on the contrary, Stephens himself said he helped the reporters get their words right, after the speeches.

    God was punishing the black race!

    Not long after Stephens claimed blacks were being punished for biblical sins, Jefferson Davis issued a “Address to the People of Free States” which is the Davis version of Trump tweet mania, only in Davis style of long winded pompous rhetoric, there being no 140 character limit on Jeff.

    Davis proudly and loudly claimed he “looked forward to” the time, by “force of Arms” the Confederacy would invade the North and there place all blacks “and their issue” forever on the “slave status” in perpetuity.

    If anyone says to you the South had some scheme to free slaves eventually, there are dozens, hundreds, of indications to the contrary, but Davis own clear and very specific address calls slavery “perpetual” and he said all this, he wrote “so there would be no confusion in the future”.

    So Davis and Stephens and Douglas were all on the same page.

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