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Robert McNamara

Newspaper Sunday: Thaddeus Stevens

By November 25, 2012

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People are going to the movies to see "Lincoln" and afterwards they are talking about a particular historical figure who happens to steal any scene in which he appears. Lively mentions of Thaddeus Stevens on Twitter in recent days illustrate the impact the eccentric and passionate abolitionist, as brilliantly portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, is having on the modern public.

In his own day, Thaddeus Stevens attracted plenty of attention. Wielding power and creating controversy, he was often in the news.

When he died in 1868, the entire front page of the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph was devoted to an account of his life.

This week in Newspaper Sunday we take a look at some mentions of Thaddeus Stevens as he battled to end slavery while dominating debates on Capitol Hill.

  • Stroudsburg Jeffersonian Republican, August 15, 1844: Decades before the Civil War, Stevens delivering "one of his eloquent and soul-stirring appeals" was a major attraction at a Pennsylvania rally for the Whig Party.
  • New York Tribune, September 28, 1860: During the 1860 presidential election campaign Stevens was the featured speaker at a large Republican meeting at New York City's Cooper Institute. His fiery speech, which the newspaper printed in its entirety, must have lasted about an hour.
  • New York Tribune, September 28, 1860: In his address at Cooper Institute, Stevens savaged slave owners, Supreme Court justices who coddled them, and politicians who allowed slavery to exist. He concluded by calling upon voters "who love liberty more than slavery" to join "the triumphal throng who are about to escort a Republican President to the executive mansion."
  • The Smoky Hill and Republican Union, April 30, 1864: A feature story noting "curious facts" about members of Congress, such as the tallest (Brutus J. Clay of Kentucky) or youngest (future president James Garfield), noted that Stevens was "the most sarcastic man" on Capitol Hill.
  • The Daily Phoenix, March 8, 1866: Rumors circulated for years that Stevens was secretly married to Lydia Smith, his African American housekeeper. A South Carolina newspaper printed a rumor about her, gleefully using a racial slur in the headline.
  • Philadelphia Evening Telegraph, August 13, 1868: An obituary tribute to Stevens noted that he battled the "two demons of ignorance and slavery." And "he turned his arms against slavery, and astonished its friends by the audacity of his tactics."
  • Charleston Daily News, August 18, 1868: In South Carolina, where Stevens was hated, a newspaper viciously mocked his funeral for its inclusion of black federal troops.

Note: After clicking to the pages with article excerpts, you can click through to the "persistent link" at the Chronicling America site to see the entire page of the newspaper.

Those with a particular interest in Thaddeus Stevens may want to read his entire address delivered at the Cooper Institute, which begins in the third column of page 7 of the New York Tribune of September 28, 1860.


Illustration: Congressman Thaddeus Stevens/Library of Congress

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