Happy Birthday, Thad!

It’s more than two weeks late, but I do want to offer belated 216th birthday greetings to Thaddeus Stevens of Lancaster, PA. He plays a pivotal role in the book I’m writing about he impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, and one of my goals is to reintroduce “Old Thad” to American readers.
Stevens was ferocious. He opposed slavery with a passion that made more tepid souls, like Abraham Lincoln, uncomfortable. As a lawyer, he opposed the slave-catchers who often claimed fugitives — sometimes grabbing free Negroes — in his community. His home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In his first term in Congress, in 1850, he replied memorably to those Southerners who claimed that slavery benefitted the enslaved:
“Well, if this be so,” he said, “let us give all a chance to enjoy this blessing. Let the slaves, who choose, go free; and the free, who choose, become slaves. . . . We will not complain if they establish societies in the South for that purpose – abolition societies to abolish freedom.”
The Intimidating Thaddeus Stevens
Stevens never apologized for his strong views, powerfully expressed. He was a Radical Republican and was proud of it. He insisted that South had to change. He wanted to take land from 60,000 wealthy Southerners and give it to the four million freed slaves. By his reckoning, that trade would punish 60,000 traitors in favor of 4 million loyal citizens. Though not politically practical in America in 1866, or in America in 2008, his moral arithmetic was unassailable.
He was crippled by a club foot from birth, a handicap that seems to have made him sympathize with all of those who struggle in life. He engaged in secret and extravagant acts of charity, finally leaving the initial endowment for a school for orphans, which has become the Stevens Institute of Technology. After he died in August 1868, his neighbors in Lancaster still elected him to Congress that fall. His home and office are being renovated as part of the Stevens and Smith Historic Site in Lancaster.
And for his central role in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, you’ll just have to wait for my book.
So let’s wish a happy birthday to Old Thad, an American hero.


  1. klkatz on April 27, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    he does seem to have the personality that is worth researching, writing about… and reading about.
    good luck with the book david.

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