The need for Thaddeus Stevens statues
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 email@example.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/