Monday, January 10, 2022

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles No. 13

 The need for Thaddeus Stevens statues

January 2022

By Ross Hetrick

When Thaddeus Stevens died in 1868, there was no doubt that there would be statues aplenty to the man who helped save the American republic and set it on a course towards a more equitable society.  Major newspapers devoted their entire front pages to his life, he laid in state in the Capitol Rotunda and 20,000 people attended his funeral in Lancaster, PA.

"Monuments will be reared to perpetuate his name on the earth," said Horace Maynard, a Tennessee congressman on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1868. "Art will be busy with her chisel and her pencil to preserve his features and the image of his mortal frame. All will be done that brass and marble and painted canvas admit of being done."

Yet, 154 years after his death, there is only one Stevens statue and that only went up in 2008 at the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, PA. But a second one is slated to be dedicated on April 2 in front of the courthouse in Gettysburg where Stevens lived from 1816 to 1842. The dedication will be part of a three-day celebration of Stevens's 230th birthday. More information can be found at: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/calendar

There are many reasons why Stevens was not remembered in brass and marble. A big reason was that admirers did not vigorously pursue efforts to honor him. But a larger reason is that his enemies -- the people who wanted to destroy the country and preserve slavery -- were more determined to demonize Stevens as part of the "Lost Cause" propaganda effort to distort the historic record of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

There have been a few other efforts to erect Stevens statues, but they all failed. The first one was in 1900 by Vinnie Ream, a famous sculptress who did the Lincoln statue that stands in the U.S. Capitol. She had a close relation with Stevens and even did a bust of him, which unfortunately has been lost. That statue, which was to be in Lancaster, was never done. 

The second one was in 1909 when a group wanted to erect a monument in Harrisburg to public education, which would have included a statue of Thaddeus Stevens, who is known as the 
Savior of Public Education in Pennsylvania for a speech he made in 1835 that turned back a repeal effort effort of the fledgling state school system. Once again, the effort faded away.

And even in recent years, a statue was supposed to be erected at the historic Thaddeus Stevens school in Washington, D.C. as part of a renovation project, only to be scuttled by the city's bureaucracy.

Finally, in 2015, the Thaddeus Stevens Society decided the only way a statue would be erected is if it raised the money. The fundraising went on for years and then in 2018, the effort received a major contribution from Michael Charney of Ohio. The fundraising reached its goal of $55,000 and the Society did a nationwide search for a sculptor and selected Alex Loza of Chattanooga, TN. 

Plans are still being made for the dedication and people who would like to help can contact the Society at info@thaddeusstevenssociety.com or call 717-253-0099. If everything goes right, Gettysburg will finally have a statue to the man who was called the "fearless champion of freedom for the oppressed."

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/




Monday, December 6, 2021

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles No. 12

The Thaddeus Stevens Zone and the Second Founding History Festival

December 2021

By Ross Hetrick

In the heart of Gettysburg is the Thaddeus Stevens Zone, a block that is steeped in history and the perfect place to hold a Second Founding History Festival.

Appropriately enough, the zone is on the first block of West Stevens Street between Carlisle Street and Washington Street. At one end at the corner of Stevens and Carlisle is the historic McPherson mansion. At the other end at Stevens and Washington is the entrance to Gettysburg College and Pennsylvania Hall -- which was paid for with a state grant that Stevens secured for the college in 1834. Between these two historic buildings are a few college administrative buildings and parking lots, making it the perfect area for an outdoor festival.

The McPherson mansion is Gettysburg's greatest unheralded historical treasure. The ancestral home of one of Gettysburg's first families, the complex of buildings sits in pristine 19th century condition, practically unused since it was bought by Gettysburg College in 2018.

The history of the McPherson family was intertwined with Thaddeus Stevens and Gettysburg throughout the 1800s. John B. McPherson was a close business associate of Stevens and was involved in starting Gettysburg Bank and the Maria iron furnace in Fairfield. His son, Edward McPherson grew up in the shadow of Stevens's illustrious career and some historians have said Stevens was like a second father to Edward. And Stevens was a major influence, helping him to become a lawyer, congressman, newspaper editor and then clerk of the House of Representatives in 1863, where he played a critical role in American history. 

At the direction of Stevens and the Republican caucus, McPherson on December 4, 1865 omitted the names of ex-Confederates when he called the roll of the new Congress. Despite protests by the southerners and their allies, Stevens through a parliamentary maneuver was able to make the ban stick. Thus started Reconstruction which saw the passage of Constitutional amendments requiring equal treatment under the law, extension of civil rights to the state level and expansion of voting rights. 

At the other end of the Stevens Zone is Pennsylvania Hall, a monument to Stevens's devotion to education. After it was founded in 1832, Gettysburg College, then called Pennsylvania College, tried to get state help to build its first building. As a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, Stevens was successful in 1834 in getting a $18,000 grant, but not without severe political backlash. "Let demagogues note it for future use," Stevens responded, "and send it on the wings of the wind to the ears of every one of my constituents, in matters of this kind, I would rather hear the approving voice of one judicious, intelligent, and enlightened mind, than to be greeted by the loud huzzahs of the whole host of ignorance." 

Stevens went on to provide the land for the campus at a price determined by the college's board and to serve on the board until his death in 1868. He also prevented the college from moving away from Gettysburg in 1854.

With such historic attributes, the Stevens Zone is the perfect place to hold the Second Founding History Festival -- a celebration of the start of the transformation of America to a more equal and representative country during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Besides the connection with Stevens and McPherson, Gettysburg also has the distinction of Lincoln proclaiming the "new birth of freedom" in his Gettysburg Address.

This could be a collective project of the history and social groups in Adams County. The event could be held in late July to coincide with the anniversary of the ratification of 14th Amendment and there could be historic skits, lectures, food vendors, and information booths for participating groups. 

Perhaps Gettysburg could eventually be as associated with the Second Founding as Philadelphia is the home of the First Founding in the late 1700s.

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/



Monday, November 8, 2021

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles No. 11

Thaddeus Stevens inspired iconic singer-songwriter Bob Dylan

November 2021

By Ross Hetrick

Bob Dylan, the troubadour to a generation and Nobel laureate is a great admirer of Thaddeus Stevens. In fact, you could say that Stevens inspired Dylan.

In his 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan wrote: "I read the biography of Thaddeus Stevens, the radical Republican. He lived in the early part of the 1800s and was quite a character. He's from Gettysburg and he's got a clubfoot like Byron. He grew up poor, made a fortune and from then on championed the weak and any other group who wasn't able to fight equally. Stevens had a grim sense of humor, a sharp tongue and a white hot hatred for the bloated aristocrats of his day. He wanted to confiscate the land of the slaveholding elite, once referred to a colleague on the floor of the [House of Representatives] chamber as 'slinking in his own slime.' Stevens was an anti-Mason and he denounced his foes as those whose mouths reeked from human blood. He got right in there, called his enemies a 'feeble band of lowly reptiles who shun the light and who lurk in their own dens.' Stevens was hard to forget. He made a big impression on me, was inspiring." (Italics added)

Obviously, the Thaddeus Stevens Society was thrilled to find such a famous admirer of the Great Commoner. But alas, Dylan is also famously reclusive, declining in 2016 to even pick up his Nobel prize in literature. But Dylan will be in Thaddeus Stevens country when he performs at the Hershey Theater on November 16.

So the Thaddeus Stevens Society plans to spread the word about the Great Commoner outside the concert by having a Stevens re-enactor (Ross Hetrick) stroll around with a sign requesting Bob meet his inspiration. He will be accompanied by an entourage of people in nineteenth century garb. They will also be bearing a Thaddeus Stevens bobble head and the new Stevens biography as gifts to Bob.

They will be handing out leaflets quoting Bob's admiration of Thad and informing Dylan's fans about the Stevens's 230th birthday celebration next April when a Stevens statue will be dedicated in Gettysburg. Perhaps they will even be able to persuade some people to join the Society which promotes Dylan's idol. 

Will Bob Dylan meet with them? The answer is blowing in the wind.

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/



Monday, October 4, 2021

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles No. 10

 Thaddeus Stevens ranks in top six American leaders

October 2021

By Ross Hetrick

Frederick Douglass, the famous Black abolitionist, said congressman Thaddeus Stevens had "the power of conviction, the power of will, the power of knowledge and the power of conscious ability," that "made him more potent in Congress and in the country than even the president and cabinet combined."

This assessment was not his alone and was shared by other contemporaries and some historians. Coupled with his monumental impact, Stevens deserves to be ranked as one of America's six most important leaders.

Of course, the other five are presidents. The first three are the great triumvirate -- Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln -- known to every school child who paid attention in class. The fourth is less well known and less respected -- James K. Polk, the 11th president who served from 1845 to 1849. His contribution was to increase the size of the nation by one-third by annexing Texas, settling the boundaries of Oregon with England and then provoking a war with Mexico and taking the spoils of California and the southwest. He is the reason that America stretches from sea to shining sea.  The fifth is Franklin D. Roosevelt, who lead the nation during the Depression and World War II and established the U.S. welfare state.

While Stevens was not a president, his contribution was for pushing and assisting one president and blocking another. As the most powerful congressman during the Civil War, he helped to win the war by revamping the government's economic structure and more importantly, he was relentless in pushing a reluctant Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

But those achievements were dwarfed by what he did after the war by thwarting President Andrew Johnson from losing the war after the war. Johnson, who was part of the ruling class of the pre-war South, wanted to revert back to the ways things were in the South with rich planters in control and even the reinstatement of slavery by the criminalization of the black population.

Stevens was able to block these dark dreams of Johnson by orchestrating the exclusion of ex-Confederates from Congress in December 1865. He then went on to shepherd through the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which calls for equal treatment under the law and extending civil liberties to the state level.  He was also an architect of Reconstruction  legislation that imposed military control  on the conquered South to protect freed slaves and give them a chance at political power.

If Stevens had not been successful, the United States today could have become a much different place with states making laws for different groups and legally infringing on such basic rights as freedom of speech and religion. As the leader of a veto-proof Congress against President Johnson, Stevens also had a hand in the purchase of Alaska from Russia and the construction of the transcontinental railroad. He richly deserves the title of the 17th and a half president and his picture should also be on our money, particularly since he helped create federal paper money. 

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles 9

 All aboard the Thaddeus Stevens Express

September 2021

By Ross Hetrick

The Thaddeus Stevens Society will hold a community picnic on Sunday, October 10, at 1 p.m. at the Hamiltonban park, 4020 Bullfrog Road, Fairfield, PA where there are signs detailing Steven's efforts to build a railroad and run an iron furnace. To bring this history to life, Society president Ross Hetrick will give a portrayal of Stevens. Free hot dogs, chips and sodas will be provided and side dishes are welcomed. We ask that participants be vaccinated. 

Stevens is generally known for his political career in which he was known as a foremost champion  of freedom and equality. But he was also a strong promoter of commerce and industry and remnants of those efforts can be found around Fairfield and are highlighted at the new community park, which includes a jungle gym shaped like a train.

When Thaddeus Stevens represented Adams county in the Pennsylvania legislature in the 1830s he was able to get the state to foot the bill to build a railroad from Gettysburg to western Maryland to link up with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which had just started operating in 1830. If the railroad had been completed, it might have linked Adams county to the developing Ohio valley and Gettysburg would have seen a booming economy.

Instead, the railroad was relentlessly attacked for its expense and the fact that it took a zigzag course to get over the mountains, prompting critics to call it the "Tapeworm Railroad." The project was abandoned after Stevens lost political power as a result of the 1838 "Buckshot War," a bizarre event in Pennsylvania history where Democrats took over the state legislature by force. It wasn't until 50 years later that the railroad was completed by the Western Maryland Railroad. Massive stone viaducts built in the earlier effort can still be found in the Fairfield area on Mt. Hope Road and Iron Springs Road. 

The Maria iron furnace stack, a remnant of another Stevens venture, also still exists along Iron Springs Road though it is obscured by thick vegetation. Stevens and other investors started the iron mill in 1826 and operated it for 11 years before starting the Caledonia iron works near Chambersburg. Because the Maria furnace was along the route of the proposed Tapeworm railroad, Stevens was accused of feathering his own nest. But in actuality, the operation was shut down in 1837, long before the railroad would have been finished under the best of circumstances.

So come to the Hamiltonban community park on October 10 and learn about the history of Stevens and Fairfield and enjoy a hot dog and soda.

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/



The Great Commoner, Fall 2021, Number 43, www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com

 Society meets Oct. 10 in Fairfield, PA

      Picture of Thaddeus Stevens on sign at Fairfield, PA park

The Thaddeus Stevens Society will meet on Sunday, October 10, at 1 p.m. at the Hamiltonban Community Park, 4020 Bullfrog Rd., Fairfield, PA. The new park has signs about Stevens's Maria iron furnace and Tapeworm railroad in the Fairfield area.

The Society will hold a community picnic and provide free hot dogs, chips and soft drinks. Additional dishes from attendees are welcomed. We also ask that participants be vaccinated. 

Besides a short business meeting, Ross Hetrick will portray Thaddeus Stevens and talk about the Great Commoner's life and involvement with Fairfield history. If you plan to attend, please contact the Society at info@thaddeusstevenssociety.com or call 717-253-0099. 

                                 Train jungle gym at Hamiltonban Community Park

Stevens 230th birthday celebration, statue dedication taking shape

The Thaddeus Stevens Society will hold the largest celebration in its 23 year existence on April 1, 2 and 3 when it dedicates a Stevens statue in Gettysburg and fundraises for the restoration of his house in Lancaster, PA. 

We will have seminars, banquets and video shows. The festivities will start in Lancaster, PA on April 1, move to Gettysburg on April 2 and conclude on April 3 at Caledonia State Park near Chambersburg, PA.  A tentative schedule for the celebration can be found at: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/calendar

We are also considering putting together a package deal where participants would travel from city to city by bus and stay in hotels near the events. If you are interested in this or would like to help with the celebration, please contact the Society at info@thaddeusstevenssociety.com or call 717-253-0099.

Stevens statue coming alive
Alex Loza, sculptor of Stevens statue, accepts check from Stevens Society President Ross Hetrick in front of clay model.

The Stevens statue to be put in front of the Adams County courthouse in Gettysburg took another important step in June when the clay model was completed and work began on the final bronze version. 

The statue presents a dynamic version of Stevens clutching a copy of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution -- one of Stevens's greatest achievements. Stevens stands on a base in the shape of Pennsylvania with the following places important to his history marked: Philadelphia, Lancaster, York, Gettysburg, Harrisburg and Caledonia.

 Stevens holding 14th Amendment to Constitution.

Base of statue with places related to Stevens marked.

Quote about Stevens:
"That which gives Mr. Stevens the great power which he wields in the House -- a power which is almost irresistible -- is his emphatic and earnest denunciation of treason. The country has suffered so much in the past from vacillation that it greatly admires any thing which looks thorough and straightforward. Mr. Stevens's words have a gladiatorial strength which would have done honor to the boldest of Rome's orators. They sway men by their sledge-hammer strokes -- they are words of iron. Whatever be the verdict of posterity in regard to the wisdom of Mr. Stevens's acts and speeches, future generations can not fail to render him the tribute which is always yielded to extraordinary force of character." Harper's Weekly, unsigned, April 7, 1866.

Leave a legacy for Thad
Support Thaddeus Stevens's legacy by leaving a legacy of your own. If you wish to include the Stevens Society in your will, please let us know by contacting Ross hetrick 717-253-0099 or email info@thaddeusstevenssociety.com. Thank you.








Monday, August 2, 2021

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles 8

 "Equality of man before his Creator"

August 2021

By Ross Hetrick

"My lifelong regret is that I lived so long and so uselessly," Thaddeus Stevens said shortly before he died on August 11, 1868 at the age of 76. It was an incredibly ironic false statement. 

In his last eight years, Congressman Stevens had led the remaking of America. He had helped to end slavery, changed the Constitution to make equality the law of the land and enacted legislation to protect the recently freed slaves, not to mention changed the nation's financial structure that enabled the Union to win the war.

But Stevens was a man intent on making the United States "a more perfect union," during the brief period that the federal government was not dominated by the "slave power" of the southern states. But despite having this advantage, Stevens was unable to change the Constitution so that it would promote universal voting for both men and women, black and white. And he had failed to remove the chief obstacle to his revolution -- President Andrew Johnson. 

But his greatest failure -- in Stevens's eyes -- was his inability to pass legislation that would have confiscated land from the super-rich southern aristocracy and redistribute it to the freed slaves on whose backs the wealth had been accumulated. Stevens was blunt and prophetic about what would happen if this was not done.

"If we do not furnish them with homesteads and hedge them around with protective laws," Stevens said. "If we leave them to the legislation of their late masters, we had better have left them in bondage. Their condition would be worse than that of our prisoners at Andersonville." -- a notorious Confederate prison camp. And true to Stevens's prediction, several decades of  white supremacy repression were ushered in after a brief period of multiracial democracy. 

But despite his despondency, Stevens retained his famous wit. A visitor commented on his good appearance despite his illness. "It is not my appearance, but my disappearance, that troubles me," Stevens responded.

He also comforted himself by recalling his victory 33 years earlier when he gave a stirring speech in the Pennsylvania legislature that turned back a repeal effort of the state's fledgling public school system. "I shall feel myself abundantly rewarded for all my efforts in behalf of universal education if a single child, educated by the Commonwealth, shall drop a tear of gratitude on my grave." he said.

Stevens also took steps to ensure his grave would be a great inspiration for equality. Instead of being buried in Lancaster's main cemetery where President James Buchanan laid, Stevens bought a plot in a small integrated graveyard. And his reason is explained in the epitaph on the grave. 

"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."

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website: https://www.thaddeusstevenssociety.com/