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Robert Toombs & Alexander H. Stephens

by William C. Davis

Pub Date: April 24th, 2001
ISBN: 0-7006-1088-X
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kansas

A crisp story capturing the important roles played by Georgia natives Toombs and Stephens in the birth of the Confederacy, from prolific historian Davis (Bluegrass Confederate, 1999, etc.).

“When it came to the breakup of the Union and the formation of a new nation, no two men together exerted as much influence on the creation and framing of the new government,” as did Toombs and Stephens, suggests Davis in this biography of the friendship of the men that concentrates its energy on the Confederate years. Toombs was the hothead, full of boasts and bluster, a powerhouse who scorned compromise and never scorned a tip of the bottle; Stephens hardly threw a shadow, but he knew how to maneuver politically, kept a cool hand, and exercised a subtle intellect. Davis molds a shapely story here, moving briskly through their early years and clarifying each man’s role in the secession before he gets to what is the meat of the matter: the crafting of the provisional, then permanent constitutions, and a depiction of how secession came to embody the notion of slavery as a “normal and natural condition” (as opposed to the view that looked upon the breakup of the Union being an act in defense of state sovereignty). Thereafter, once they had gotten “the concern” started, their political influence waned and both men went into opposition. Stephens might have become Vice President, but President Davis shared few of his ideas and had little use for him. Toombs took a commission and proved to be a loose cannon on the military field—although, at a distance, colorful in the extreme. Davis has a particular knack for recreating battle scenes, and they shine in these pages as he depicts Toombs’s regiment under fire.

Told with a sure voice and in clear delight of the period, Davis draws a sharp picture not merely of Toombs and Stephens, but of all the politicking of the Antebellum and Civil War South.