"Men in pursuit of justice must never despair."
By Ross Hetrick
"Men in pursuit of justice must never despair." Those were the words of Thaddeus Stevens and the title of the new statue that was dedicated in Gettysburg on April 2. The weekend was a fabulous celebration for fans of freedom, equality and Thaddeus Stevens.
The festivities started on Friday, April 1, with an update on Stevens's house at Vine and Queen Street in Lancaster, PA. The outside of the house has been restored to its 1860s appearance for more than a decade, but the inside still awaits to be transformed into a museum. That goal, Thomas Ryan, CEO of LancasterHistory explained to a crowd, is still years off as the history group needs to do a great deal of fundraising.
The activities then moved to the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology where attendees heard a lecture from Stevens biographer Dr. Bradley Hoch about the 1838 Buckshot War where a mob took over the Pennsylvania state legislature that was similar to the riot of January 6 in Washington, D.C. In that earlier event, Stevens had to jump out a window to escape a rampaging gang.
His talk was followed by Ross Hetrick, president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, who spoke on how Stevens has been portrayed in three Hollywood movies -- two as a villain and one as a hero. The three films were: Birth of a Nation (1915), Tennessee Johnson (1942) and Lincoln (2012).
The rest of the day was taken up with a graveside ceremony at Stevens's grave at the Shreiner-Concord cemetery near downtown Lancaster and then a banquet at Stevens College. At the banquet a new video about Stevens and the new statue was premiered.
The next day, Saturday, started with a great seminar featuring Thaddeus Stevens experts Bruce Levine, the author of the most recent Stevens biography; and Fergus Bordewich, author of Congress At War, which details Stevens's importance during the Civil War.
Then came the main event -- the dedication of the new Stevens statue in front of the Adams county courthouse on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg. From 2 to 3, the crowd of more than 200 was entertained by a Civil War reenactment group, the 46th Pennsylvania Regiment Brass Band, which played nineteenth century music, some written specifically to honor Stevens. The band was courtesy of the Maryland Sutler. Then at 3 p.m. speeches were made by Gettysburg Mayor Rita Frealing, Gettysburg Borough Council President Wesley Heyser, Adams County Commissioners Chairman Randy Phiel and Michael Charney of Ohio, the major donor for the statue.
Then everybody gathered around the covered statue and cheered as Charney unveiled the bronze statue of Stevens, clutching a copy of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, one of his greatest achievements.
Then at a banquet in the evening, Alex Paul Loza, the statue's creator, explained how he fashioned the work to look like Stevens was in motion even as he had his head tilted as if listening to the concerns of the people.
The weekend wrapped up on Sunday at Caledonia State Park near Chambersburg, PA, the site of Stevens's iron furnace, where Duke Professor William Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen talked about their book, , and the need to de-Confederize (a term they coined) America just like Germany was de-Nazified after World War II.
And after all the celebrations, we still have the wonderful statue to remind us of Stevens's contributions to humanity.
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/