Lincoln and Alexander Stephens had known each other and had developed a friendship when both served in Congress, a friendship Lincoln refers to in this letter. Stephens, who opposed secession, nevertheless remained loyal to his home state of Georgia and would become Vice-President of the Confederacy. (At the time of this letter, secession was only threatened, however). With this note Lincoln attempted to reassure his old friend that he had no intention of interfering with slavery in the South.
Lincoln StephensTo Alexander H. Stephens
Dec. 22, 1860
Hon. A. H. Stephens--
My dear Sir
Your obliging answer to my short note is just received, and for which please accept my thanks. I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me.
Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.
The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us. Yours very truly
Famous Lincoln Letters