Monday, June 09, 2008

Judge Francis Cone Attempts to Kill Alexander Stephens

The story of the assault by Judge Francis Cone (whose name I mistyped as "Coner" in a previous post) on Alexander Stephens is so dramatic that I thought I'd relate it.

I haven't been able to find much information about Judge Cone; I infer, from the lack of information that he was a local judge in Georgia. At all events, the background of the assault, according to Daniel Walker Howe, lay in Stephens' opposition to Whig Senator John Clayton's bill that would have referred the "the question of slavery in the new territories [created from the Mexican Cession] to the U.S. Supreme Court." Stephens did so because "he decided that the Court was bound to rule in favor of freedom." Stephens, like Joshua Giddings and many other northerners, believed that, "[s]ince Mexican law had prohibited slavery, the institution would remain illegal in the absence of any new legislation."

Back in Georgia, Stephens heard rumors that Judge Cone had called him "a traitor to the South," presumably because Stephens had "endorsed the same line of legal reasoning as the free soilers."

Stephens confronted Cone, who denied it. "Stephens responded, ungraciously, that if Cone had spoken [the words], he would have slapped his face."

Cone later wrote Stephens to demand that Stephens retract his parting insult. Stephens refused.

On September 3, 1848, the two men ran into each other outside the Thompson Hotel in Atlanta. I'll let Professor Howe tell the rest:
[This time], Cone did call Stephens a traitor, and Stephens hit him in the face with his cane, no doubt expecting this would lead to a duel. Instead of setting up a proper duel, however, Cone whipped out a knife and stabbed Stephens repeatedly. He climbed on top of his fallen antagonist, and, when Stephens still refused to retract anything, proceeded to slash his throat. Only then was Cone pulled off by others. Stephens miraculously survived and declined to press charges. Judge Cone pleaded guilty to wounding and was fine a thousand dollars.


  1. Anonymous1:10 PM

    I have information on F.H Cone is you would like it.

    Scott Cone
    Milner Georgia

  2. That strikes me as a deviation from the traditional _code duello._ Not cool, Judge.

  3. The magazine Georgia Backroads, summer 2010 issue has an excellent article that is several pages about Judge Cone attacking Stephens.

    Keith Lassiter
    Milner, Georgia

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


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