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Sat Nov 17, 2012, 05:00 AM

 

Rep. Thaddeus Stevens- Get to know this past American hero from the 1860s

the wiki entry


Thaddeus Stevens (April 4, 1792 – August 11, 1868), of Pennsylvania, was a Republican leader and one of the most powerful members of the United States House of Representatives. As chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Stevens, a witty, sarcastic speaker and flamboyant party leader, dominated the House from 1861 until his death. He wrote much of the financial legislation that paid for the American Civil War. Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner were the prime leaders of the Radical Republicans during the war and Reconstruction era.

Historians' views of Stevens have swung sharply since his death as interpretations of Reconstruction have changed. The Dunning School (1890s-1940s) held Stevens responsible for demanding harsh treatment of the white South and violating American traditions of republicanism, depicting Stevens as a villain for his advocacy of harsh measures in the South. This highly negative characterization held sway into the 1950s. The rise of the neo-abolitionist school in the 1950s led to a greater appreciation of Stevens' work on civil rights for Freedmen. A recent biographer characterizes him as, "The Great Commoner, savior of free public education in Pennsylvania, national Republican leader in the struggles against slavery in the United States and intrepid mainstay of the attempt to secure racial justice for the Freedmen during Reconstruction, the only member of the House of Representatives ever to have been known as the 'dictator' of Congress."


Personal life

Stevens never married though his 23-year relationship (1845-1868) with his widowed quadroon housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith (1813-1884), was well known in Washington, D.C. Carl Sandburg described Smith as "a comely quadroon with Caucasian features and a skin of light-gold tint, a Roman Catholic communicant with Irish eyes ... quiet, discreet, retiring, reputed for poise and personal dignity". Smith had two sons, William and Isaac, by her late husband, Jacob Smith, and she and Stevens raised the latter's nephews, whom he adopted in the 1840s.


Lydia Hamilton SmithDuring her time with Stevens—neighbors considered her his common law wife, and she was frequently called "Mrs. Stevens" by people who knew her, according to Sandburg—she invested in real estate and other businesses and owned a prosperous boarding house.

When Stevens died, Smith was at his bedside, along with his nephews Simon and Thaddeus Stevens Jr., two African-American nuns, and several other individuals. Under Stevens's will, Smith was allowed to choose between a lump sum of $5,000 or a $500 annual allowance; she was also allowed to take any furniture in his house. With the inheritance, she purchased Stevens's house, where she had lived for many years, and the adjoining lot.

Political life

At first, Stevens belonged to the Federalist Party, but switched to the Anti-Masonic Party, then to the Whig Party, and finally to the Republican Party. In 1833, he was elected on the Anti-Masonic ticket to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where he served intermittently until 1842. He introduced legislation to curb secret societies, to provide more funds to Pennsylvania's colleges, and to put a constitutional limit on state debt. He refused to sign the new state constitution of 1838 because it did not give the right to vote to black citizens. He also came to the defense of a new state law, passed on April 1, 1834, providing free public schools. Newly elected members of the Pennsylvania State Senate tried to repeal the public education act, while the lower house tried to preserve it. Although Stevens had been reelected with instructions to favor repeal, in a great speech, he defended free public education and persuaded the Pennsylvania Assembly to vote 2-1 in favor of keeping the new law.

Stevens devoted most of his enormous energies to the destruction of what he considered the Slave Power, that is the conspiracy he saw of slave owners to seize control of the federal government and block the progress of liberty. In 1848, while still a Whig party member, Stevens was elected to serve in the House of Representatives. He served in congress from 1849 to 1853, and then from 1859 until his death in 1868.

He defended and supported Native Americans, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Jews, Chinese, and women. However, the defense of runaway or fugitive slaves gradually began to consume the greatest amount of his time, until the abolition of slavery became his primary political and personal focus. He was actively involved in the Underground Railroad, assisting runaway slaves in getting to Canada. An Underground Railroad site has been discovered under his office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

During the American Civil War Stevens was one of the three or four most powerful men in Congress, using his slashing oratorical powers, his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, and above all his single-minded devotion to victory. His power grew during Reconstruction as he dominated the House and helped to draft both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Reconstruction Act in 1867.

Radical Republicanism

In July 1861 the Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution stating the limited war aim of restoring the Union while preserving slavery; Stevens helped repeal it in December. In August 1861, he supported the first law attacking slavery, the Confiscation Act that said owners would forfeit any slaves they allowed to help the Confederate war effort. By December he was the first Congressional leader pushing for emancipation as a tool to weaken the rebellion. He called for total war on January 22, 1862:

"Let us not be deceived. Those who talk about peace in sixty days are shallow statesmen. The war will not end until the government shall more fully recognize the magnitude of the crisis; until they have discovered that this is an internecine war in which one party or the other must be reduced to hopeless feebleness and the power of further effort shall be utterly annihilated. It is a sad but true alternative. The South can never be reduced to that condition so long as the war is prosecuted on its present principles. The North with all its millions of people and its countless wealth can never conquer the South until a new mode of warfare is adopted. So long as these states are left the means of cultivating their fields through forced labor, you may expend the blood of thousands and billions of money year by year, without being any nearer the end, unless you reach it by your own submission and the ruin of the nation. Slavery gives the South a great advantage in time of war. They need not, and do not, withdraw a single hand from the cultivation of the soil. Every able-bodied white man can be spared for the army. The black man, without lifting a weapon, is the mainstay of the war. How, then, can the war be carried on so as to save the Union and constitutional liberty? Prejudices may be shocked, weak minds startled, weak nerves may tremble, but they must hear and adopt it. Universal emancipation must be proclaimed to all. Those who now furnish the means of war, but who are the natural enemies of slaveholders, must be made our allies. If the slaves no longer raised cotton and rice, tobacco and grain for the rebels, this war would cease in six months, even though the liberated slaves would not raise a hand against their masters. They would no longer produce the means by which they sustain the war."

Stevens led the Radical Republican faction in their battle against the bankers over the issuance of money during the Civil War. Stevens made various speeches in Congress in favor of President Lincoln and Henry Carey's "Greenback" system, interest-free currency in the form of fiat government-issued United States Notes that would effectively threaten the bankers' profits in being able to issue and control the currency through fractional reserve loans. Stevens warned that a debt-based monetary system controlled by for-profit banks would lead to the eventual bankruptcy of the people, saying "the Government and not the banks should have the benefit from creating the medium of exchange," yet after Lincoln's assassination the Radical Republicans lost this battle and a National banking monopoly emerged in the years after

Stevens was so outspoken in his condemnation of the Confederacy that Major General Jubal Early of the Army of Northern Virginia made a point of burning much of his iron business, at modern-day Caledonia State Park, to the ground during the Gettysburg Campaign. Early claimed that this action was in direct retaliation for Stevens' perceived support of similar atrocities by the Union Army in the South.

Stevens was the leader of the Radical Republicans, who had full control of Congress after the 1866 elections. He largely set the course of Reconstruction. He wanted to begin to rebuild the South, using military power to force the South to recognize the equality of Freedmen. When President Johnson resisted, Stevens proposed and passed the resolution for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.

Stevens told W. W. Holden, the Republican governor of North Carolina, in December 1866, "It would be best for the South to remain ten years longer under military rule, and that during this time we would have Territorial Governors, with Territorial Legislatures, and the government at Washington would pay our general expenses as territories, and educate our children, white and colored and both."

Death
Stevens's grave in LancasterThaddeus Stevens died at midnight on August 11, 1868, in Washington, D.C., less than three months after the acquittal of Johnson by the Senate. Stevens' coffin lay in state inside the Capitol Rotunda, flanked by a Black Honor Guard (the Butler Zouaves from the District of Columbia). Twenty thousand people, one-half of whom were African-American, attended his funeral in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He chose to be buried in the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery because it was the only cemetery that would accept people without regard to race.

Stevens wrote the inscription on his headstone that reads: "I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator."

Stevens' monument is at the intersection of North Mulberry Street and West Chestnut Street in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Stevens dreamed of a socially just world, where unearned privilege did not exist. He believed from his personal experience that being different or having a different perspective can enrich society. He believed that differences among people should not be feared or oppressed but celebrated. In his will he left $50,000 to establish Stevens, a school for the relief and refuge of homeless, indigent orphans. "They shall be carefully educated in the various branches of English education and all industrial trades and pursuits. No preference shall be shown on account of race or color in their admission or treatment. Neither poor Germans, Irish or Mahometan, nor any others on account of their race or religion of their parents, shall be excluded. They shall be fed at the same table."

This original bequest has now evolved into Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. The College continually strives to provide underprivileged individuals with opportunities and to create an environment in which individual differences are valued and nurtured.

In Washington, D.C., the Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School was built in 1868 as one of the first publicly funded schools for black children. President Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy Carter, attended the school.

Other locations named in honor of Thaddeus Stevens includes the community of Stevens, Pennsylvania,Stevens County, Kansas, Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in New Castle, Pennsylvania, Thaddeus Stevens School in Lyndon Center, Vermont, Stevens School (York, Pennsylvania), Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in the Chartiers neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (built in 1940 with architectural details by Charles Bradley Warren), Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Stevens High School (Lancaster, Pennsylvania).

Buildings associated with Stevens are currently being restored by the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster, Pennsylvania with an eye toward focusing on the establishment of a $20 million dollar museum. These include his home, law offices, and a nearby tavern. The effort also celebrates the contributions of his common-law wife, Lydia Hamilton Smith, who was involved in the underground railroad.

Portrayals
Austin Stoneman, the naive and fanatical congressman in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, was modeled on Stevens. Additionally, he was portrayed as a villain in The Clansman, the second novel in the trilogy upon which Birth of a Nation was based. He was also portrayed (by Lionel Barrymore) as a villain and fanatic in Tennessee Johnson, the 1942 MGM film about the life of President Andrew Johnson. In May 2011, Steven Spielberg cast Tommy Lee Jones to play Stevens in a film adaptation of the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, titled Lincoln, and released in late 2012.

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Reply Rep. Thaddeus Stevens- Get to know this past American hero from the 1860s (Original post)
graham4anything Nov 2012 OP
Pab Sungenis Nov 2012 #1
graham4anything Nov 2012 #2

Response to graham4anything (Original post)

Sat Nov 17, 2012, 08:03 AM

1. Hero?

 

The man who elevated political disagreement to the level of impeachable offense? The man who almost single-handedly destroyed what little chance there was of amicable reconstruction?

Thaddeus Stevens is a stain on American History, not a hero by any stretch of anyone's wildest imagination.

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Response to graham4anything (Original post)

Sat Nov 17, 2012, 08:08 AM

2. Heroes to those that back the 13th amendment. Others of course hated him like they hate Obama today

 

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