The Cornerstone Speech, also known as the Cornerstone Address, was an oration given by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens at the Athenaeum in Savannah, Georgia, on March 21, 1861, delivered extemporaneously a few weeks before the Civil War began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. Stephens’ speech defended “slavery” as a fundamental and just result of the inferiority of the black race, explained the fundamental differences between the constitutions of the Confederacy and that of the United States, enumerated contrasts between U.S. and Confederate ideologies, and laid out the Confederacy’s rationale for seceding from the U.S. In particular, he stated that “Our new government[‘s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.”
The Cornerstone Speech is so called because Stephens used the word “cornerstone” to describe the “great truth” of white supremacy and black subordination upon which secession and confederation were based:
[I]ts foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner”—the real “corner-stone”—in our new edifice.