Thad Stevens had a Way with Words

John Hartwell

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Viewers of the film Lincoln will recall the colorful and effective way in which Thaddeus Stevens responded to his opponents on the floor of Congress. Hollywood screen-writers had little to do with that part of the script. Thad's words were all his own. I've been looking through the first volume of Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens, and quickly came across these examples of The Great Commoner's eloquence:

"John Brown deserves to be hung for being a hopeless fool! He attempted to capture Virginia with seventeen men when he ought to know that it would require at least twenty-five."

"There is a wrong impression about one of the candidates. There is no such person running as James Buchannan. He is dead of lock-jaw. Nothing remains but a platform and a bloated mass of political putridity."

"It has been suggested that the President [Buchannan] intentionally left those forts in a defenseless condition, that South Carolina might seize them before his successor had time to take means for their safety. I cannot believe it; I will not believe it, for it would make Mr. Buchannan a more odious traitor than Benedict Arnold. Every drop of blood that shall be shed in the conflict would sit heavy on his soul forever.

"Gentlemen on this floor (the House) and in the Senate, had repeatedly, during this discussion, asserted that slavery was a moral, political, and personal blessing; that the slave was free from care, contented, happy, fat, and sleek. Comparisons have been instituted between slaves and laboring freemen, much to the advantage of the condition of slavery. Instances are cited where the slave, having tried freedom, had voluntarily returned to resume his yoke. Well, if this be so, let us give all a chance to enjoy this blessing. Let the slaves, who choose, go free; and the free, who choose, become slaves. If these gentlemen believe there is a word of truth in what they preach, the slaveholder need be under no apprehension that he will ever lack bondsmen. Their slaves would remain, and many freemen would seek admission into this happy condition. Let them be active in propagating their principles. We will not complain if they establish Societies in the South for that purpose -- abolition societies to abolish freedom. Nor will we rob the mails to search for incendiary publications in favor of slavery, even if they contain seductive pictures, and cuts of those implements of happiness -- handcuffs, iron yokes and cat-o'-nine tails."

"You must be a b*stard for I knew your mother's husband and he was a gentleman and honest man."

"It is my purpose nowhere in these remarks to make personal reproaches; I entertain no ill-will toward any human being, nor any brute, that I know of, not even that skunk across the aisle to whom I refer."

When someone pointed out to him that like Stevens himself, Andrew Johnson was a self-made man, Stevens remarked: "I never thought of it that way, but it does relieve God Almighty of a heavy responsibility."
 

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JPK Huson 1863

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I keep getting drawn back into the forum this afternoon- saw ' Thaddeus Stevens ', inevitable. Thanks very much Jno, crying! He was hysterical!
Heeheeheehee. Butler / Stevens! Did they have bumper stickers?:angel: Nobody pop a gasket, it's not like it's real politics or coming up in 2017.

For those who can't get enough Tad.

ts3.jpg
 

John Hartwell

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A few more:

“I can never acknowledge the right of slavery. I will bow down to no deity however worshipped by professing Christians – however dignified by the name of the Goddess of Liberty, whose footstool is the crushed necks of the groaning millions, and who rejoices in the resoundings of the tyrant’s lash, and the cries of his tortured victims.” May 4, 1838.

“I have done what I deemed best for humanity. It is easy to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. But it is a great labor to protect the interests of the poor and downtrodden. It is the eternal labor of Sisyphus, forever to be renewed. I know how unprofitable is all such toil. But he who is earnest heeds not such things. It has not been popular. But if there be anything for which I have entire indifference; perhaps I might say contempt, it is the public opinion which is founded on popular clamor.”

"I wish the Indians had newspapers of their own. If they had, you would have horrible pictures of the cold-blooded murders of inoffensive Indians. You would have more terrible pictures than we have now revealed to us [of white people], and, I have no doubt, we would have the real reasons for these Indian troubles. I suppose they would be as accurate as those you have in the letters which have just been read, and which have come in here so opportunely.”

“There can be no fanatics in the cause of genuine liberty. Fanaticism is excessive zeal. There may be, and have been fanatics in false religion – in the bloody religions of the heathen. There are fanatics in superstition. But there can be no fanatic, however warm their zeal, in the true religion, even although you sell your goods and bestow your money on the poor, and go on and follow your Master. There may, and every hour shows around me, fanatics in the cause of false liberty – that infamous liberty which justifies human bondage, that liberty whose ‘corner-stone is slavery.’ But there can be no fanaticism however high the enthusiasm, in the cause of rational, universal liberty – the liberty of the Declaration of Independence.”

“I will be satisfied if my epitaph shall be written thus: ‘Here lies one who never rose to any eminence, who only courted the low ambition to have it said that he had striven to ameliorate the condition of the poor, the lowly, the downtrodden of every race and language and color.’”

Thaddeus Stevens on YouTube.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Please excuse a disruption in your thread, Jno? Because Thaddeus Stevens was so outspoken on the topic of enslaving humans he was a particular target. Still seems to be, very odd.

" Mr. Stevens is an enemy of the South. He is in favor of confiscating their property and arming the Negroes. His property must be destroyed." Jubal Early

Caledonia Ironworks was hit by General Early- owned by Stevens, just decimated. 200 workers destitute their homes, all of it, despite being told it was run for the workers. To this day it's a weirdly contentious topic? A Pennsylvania, tourist website tells the story from the perspective that the mill manager, Sweeny lied about this? ( intend a sourced and pointed email requesting the information be corrected to match facts found in Steven's business papers ) I don't have time to source it- Stevens papers, etc. show he supported those workers after they no longer had Caledonia.

" Caledonia Ironworks was also a station on the Underground Railroad, ....... which offered runaway slaves help on their journey north. Despite the overwhelming financial loss, which Stevens calculated at about $90,000, he reportedly still worried about the 200-250 men who worked at the forge. "I know not what the poor families will do," he wrote in a letter to an ex-law student. "I must provide for their present relief." Stevens did not request government assistance in repairing the ironworks, but he was able to continue to pay his workers, rebuild the ironworks and continued to operate it until his death in 1868."
 

John Hartwell

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There was a lot of "show" in Stevens public rhetoric -- and it was public, reserved for the rostrum and the floor of Congress. "In private life, Mr. Stevens was ever genial, kind, and considerate. In his hours of relaxation there could be no more genial companion. His rare conversational powers, fund of anecdote, brilliant sallies of wit, and wise sayings upon the topic of the hour, made his company much sought."

In politics, "he was master of all the weapons of debate." Yet, "he was as remarkable for his consideration, forbearance, and kindness when opposed by the young, weak, or diffident, as he was for the grim jest, haughty sneer, pointed sarcasm, or fierce invective launched at one who entered the lists and challenged battle with such weapons." In debate, he would take as well as give; but he gave a darn sight better than he took!

In 1869, Congress ordered the printing of Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Thaddeus Stevens, in which members from both parties, including some of the very targets of his sarcastic wit, paid tribute to him. Stevens kindness, generosity, and good nature were testified to by all. "Even his foes speak of him with pride as the 'Great Commoner.'"
 

unionblue

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There was a lot of "show" in Stevens public rhetoric -- and it was public, reserved for the rostrum and the floor of Congress. "In private life, Mr. Stevens was ever genial, kind, and considerate. In his hours of relaxation there could be no more genial companion. His rare conversational powers, fund of anecdote, brilliant sallies of wit, and wise sayings upon the topic of the hour, made his company much sought."

In politics, "he was master of all the weapons of debate." Yet, "he was as remarkable for his consideration, forbearance, and kindness when opposed by the young, weak, or diffident, as he was for the grim jest, haughty sneer, pointed sarcasm, or fierce invective launched at one who entered the lists and challenged battle with such weapons." In debate, he would take as well as give; but he gave a darn sight better than he took!

In 1869, Congress ordered the printing of Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Thaddeus Stevens, in which members from both parties, including some of the very targets of his sarcastic wit, paid tribute to him. Stevens kindness, generosity, and good nature were testified to by all. "Even his foes speak of him with pride as the 'Great Commoner.'"
John,

Thank you for taking the time to post this valuable resource.

It is much appreciated.

Sincerely,
Unionblue
 
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#14
There was a lot of "show" in Stevens public rhetoric -- and it was public, reserved for the rostrum and the floor of Congress. "In private life, Mr. Stevens was ever genial, kind, and considerate. In his hours of relaxation there could be no more genial companion. His rare conversational powers, fund of anecdote, brilliant sallies of wit, and wise sayings upon the topic of the hour, made his company much sought."

In politics, "he was master of all the weapons of debate." Yet, "he was as remarkable for his consideration, forbearance, and kindness when opposed by the young, weak, or diffident, as he was for the grim jest, haughty sneer, pointed sarcasm, or fierce invective launched at one who entered the lists and challenged battle with such weapons." In debate, he would take as well as give; but he gave a darn sight better than he took!

In 1869, Congress ordered the printing of Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Thaddeus Stevens, in which members from both parties, including some of the very targets of his sarcastic wit, paid tribute to him. Stevens kindness, generosity, and good nature were testified to by all. "Even his foes speak of him with pride as the 'Great Commoner.'"
That's really interesting to see. My admiration just went up a peg.
 
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" Caledonia Ironworks was also a station on the Underground Railroad, ....... which offered runaway slaves help on their journey north. Despite the overwhelming financial loss, which Stevens calculated at about $90,000, he reportedly still worried about the 200-250 men who worked at the forge. "I know not what the poor families will do," he wrote in a letter to an ex-law student. "I must provide for their present relief." Stevens did not request government assistance in repairing the ironworks, but he was able to continue to pay his workers, rebuild the ironworks and continued to operate it until his death in 1868."
Did he actually do this? It's a nice thought, but if so and in the spirit of "follow the money," how did he do it?

We know he left the Gettysburg area for Lancaster deeply in debt. I just wonder who was lining his pockets for him that may have allowed this. Railroads and Lord knows what other war profiteers I'm sure.

Now I'm going to have to find a good book on him that addresses this issue.
 

John Hartwell

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Now I'm going to have to find a good book on him that addresses this issue.
"In 1842 Mr. Stevens, finding himself deeply in debt by reason of losses in the iron business, and liabilities incurred for numerous endorsements made for friends, removed to Lancaster county, one of the largest, richest, and most populous
counties of the State, and resumed the practice of his profession. His reputation as a lawyer had preceded him, and his income almost at once became the largest at the bar. In a few years he paid his debts, and saved the bulk of his estate. In 1848 and 1850 he was elected to Congress from Lancaster county, when, declining to be a candidate, he returned to his profession until 1858, when he was again elected, and continued to hold the seat without interruption till his death." Memorial Addresses, pp. 5-6

He made a fortune during his career, but, "in money matters he was liberal to a fault, and out of his immense professional income he left but a meager estate. In his private charity he was lavish. He was incapable of saying no in the presence of want or misery. His charity, like his political convictions, regarded neither creed, race, nor color." ibid, p. 4

True, this is a memorial volume, and as such has nothing really negative to say about him. But, it at least suggests an answer.

On the other hand, Fawn Brodie's 1959 biography is the classic. And Hans Trefousse's from the late '90s is very highly considered. They are both respected historians. But, there are quite a few others, and with a little searching I expect you could find a hatchet-job to fit your expectations.
 
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"In 1842 Mr. Stevens, finding himself deeply in debt by reason of losses in the iron business, and liabilities incurred for numerous endorsements made for friends, removed to Lancaster county, one of the largest, richest, and most populous
counties of the State, and resumed the practice of his profession. His reputation as a lawyer had preceded him, and his income almost at once became the largest at the bar. In a few years he paid his debts, and saved the bulk of his estate. In 1848 and 1850 he was elected to Congress from Lancaster county, when, declining to be a candidate, he returned to his profession until 1858, when he was again elected, and continued to hold the seat without interruption till his death." Memorial Addresses, pp. 5-6

He made a fortune during his career, but, "in money matters he was liberal to a fault, and out of his immense professional income he left but a meager estate. In his private charity he was lavish. He was incapable of saying no in the presence of want or misery. His charity, like his political convictions, regarded neither creed, race, nor color." ibid, p. 4

True, this is a memorial volume, and as such has nothing really negative to say about him. But, it at least suggests an answer.
True as far as I have read. He was quite a successful lawyer who realized a good amount of fees for his services. He did indeed die with a small estate. You beat me to the defense. He also had a long rumored relationship with his African-American maid. Another part of the movie that was apparently accurate.
 

John Hartwell

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True as far as I have read. He was quite a successful lawyer who realized a good amount of fees for his services. He did indeed die with a small estate. You beat me to the defense. He also had a long rumored relationship with his African-American maid. Another part of the movie that was apparently accurate.
Lydia Smith Hamilton was Stevens' housekeeper from 1848 until his death. With one black grandparent, she was legally "colored" by the standards of the time, though she was fair-skinned, with 'anglo' features.
lydismith.jpg
The exact nature of their relationship remains unclear. Suffice it to say that it was close and very private. She was at very least a close confidant, who shared Stevens' abolitionist sentiments. They together raised her two children by her deceased husband, and also Stevens' nephews (whom he had adopted) -- and who considered her part of the family.
lydiasmith2.jpg
Lydia Smith in later life.​

See: https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_Hamilton_Smith
 
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