Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Little Aleck"

"Little Aleck" Stephens around 1860
See that guy over there on the right? That's Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia. He was the vice president of the Confederate States; he was born in 1812 and died in 1883. And in 1988 I published a book about his life. Once you write a book about somebody, especially if the work took about ten years to do, the person never really leaves your life. A pretty attractive caricature of him from Puck, the 19th century British satirical magazine, hangs right outside my study door.  I see Aleck Stephens every day.

"Little Aleck"**--that was what the press and admirers and enemies called him--was a highly interesting character. A lifelong bachelor--I used to be convinced he was not gay; now I'm not so sure, but I still don't have hard evidence--he grew up poor in Middle Georgia, son of a farmer. Several benefactors enabled him to get an education, including college. After an ill-fated year teaching, he became a lawyer, then a state legislator, a U.S. congressman, and vice president, as I've said. He went back to Congress after the war and died as governor of Georgia.

If he looks sickly, it's because he was. The man never weighed more than 90 pounds in his life. More than one observer said he looked like some refugee from the graveyard. But he was a good and diligent lawyer and largely through his practice, and later through the products of his land, he amassed a good deal of money. He was definitely part of the upper crust. He ended up owning 32 slaves, all of whom stayed right there on his property after the end of the war.

But I'm letting myself get caught up in his story when all I meant to do was explain that this guy is the reason I have not been diligent about posting to the blog this week. I've been working on a presentation about him and Jefferson Davis to Civil War Round Tables in Milwaukee and Chicago at the end of next week. So he will also be the reason I'm going to be offline again at that time. My hope is to try and get something up on the blog--I think I've told you the guilt trip I put on myself for not posting every day--even on the days I'm gone. There will be a few more of those near the end of May when I'm off to Denver to see my mom and then to Louisiana for another history presentation.

**As any southerner can tell you, "Aleck" is pronounced "Ellick." People in Louisiana, for example, call Alexandria "Ellick."
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