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Thaddeus Stevens

Stevens, Thaddeus, was born at Danville, Caledonia County, Vermont, on the 4th day of April, 1792, and died at his residence in this city, at midnight, on the 11th day of August, 1868. His parents were poor, in a community where poverty was the rule and wealth the exception. Of his father I know but little, save that he enlisted in the war of 1812, and died in the service. Upon his mother chiefly fell the burden of rearing their four sons. She was a woman of great energy, strong will, and deep piety. Early seeing the ambition and fully sympathizing with the aspirations of her crippled boy, she devotedly seconded his efforts for the acquisition of knowledge, and by her industry, energy and frugality, largely aided him in procuring a collegiate education. He returned her affection with the full strength of his strong nature; and for many years after he had acquired fame and fortune in his adopted State; had the pleasure of making an annual pilgrimage to the home which he had provided for her comfort, and where she dispensed, with moans he furnished, a liberal charity.

In the last year of his life, in writing his will with his own hand, while making no provision for the care of his own grave, be did not forget that of his mother, but sot apart an ample sum for that purpose, directing yearly payments, upon the condition "that the sexton keep the grave in good order, and plant roses and other cheerful flowers at each of the four corners of said grave each spring." In the same instrument, devising one thousand dollars in aid of the establishment at his home of a Baptist Church, of which society his mother was an earnest member, he says; "I do this out of respect to the memory of my mother, to whom I owe whatever little of prosperity I have had on earth, which, small as it is, I desire emphatically to acknowledge."

After attending the common schools of the neighborhood, he fitted for college at the Peacham Academy, in his native county, entered the University of Vermont, and remained there about two years. The college suspending operations on account of the war, he proceeded to Dartmouth, and graduated at that institution in 1814. After reading law at Peacham in the office of Judge Mattocks for some months, he left his native State and settled in Pennsylvania in 1815, first in the town of York, where he taught an academy and pursued his legal studies. The rules of court in that district having required students to read one year in the office of an attorney, he went to Bel Air, Harford County, Md., and was there examined and admitted to practice in August, 1816. He at once returned to Pennsylvania and opened a law office at Gettysburg, in the county of Adams, and entered upon the practice of his profession in that and adjoining counties. He was soon in the possession of an extensive and lucrative business, to which he gave his entire attention for some sixteen years.

Mr. Stevens first engaged actively in politics with the anti-masonic party of 1828-'29, which he joined in their opposition to secret societies. He was elected to the popular branch of the Legislature of his State in 1888, as a representative from the county of Adams, and continued to serve in that body almost without interruption until 1840, during which entire period he was the leader of the party in the Legislature, if not the State. During this service he championed many measures of improvement; among others the Common School system of Pennsylvania, which, at a critical moment, he saved from overthrow by a speech which he always asserted to have, in his opinion, been the most effective he ever made.

By that single effort he established the principle, never since seriously questioned in Pennsylvania, that it is the duty of the State to provide the facilities of education to all the children of the Commonwealth. In behalf of this measure he joined hand with his bitterest personal and political enemies. He highly eulogized for his course upon this question, the chief of the opposing political party, Governor George Wolf, and denounced with all his power of invective the time-servers of his own party. Himself the child of poverty, he plead the cause of the poor, and by the force of his will, intellect and eloquence, broke down the barriers erected by wealth, caste and ignorance, and earned a name that will endure as long as a child of Pennsylvania gratefully remembers the blessings conferred by light and knowledge.

In 1837-'38 Mr. Stevens was a member of the Convention called to revise the Constitution of Pennsylvania, an assemblage which numbered as members many of the strongest men of the State, among whom Mr. Stevens stood in the front rank. This Convention, notwithstanding the able and strenuous opposition of a strong minority, led by Mr. Stevens, inserted the word "white" as a qualification of suffrage, thus disfranchising a race. On this account he refused to append his name to the completed instrument, and stood alone in such refusal. For the same cause he opposed, but unsuccessfully, the ratification by the people.

In 1842 Mr. Stevens, finding himself deeply in debt by reason of losses in the iron business, and liabilities incurred in numerous endorsements made for friends, removed to Lancaster County, one of the largest, richest, and most populous counties in the State, and resumed the practice of his profession. His reputation as a lawyer had preceded him, and his income almost at once became, the largest at the bar. In a few years he paid his debts and saved the bulk of his estate. In 1848 and 1850, he was elected to Congress from Lancaster county, when, declining to be a candidate, he returned to his profession until 1858, when he was again elected and continued to hold the seat without interruption until his death. His course upon this floor has passed into and forms no unimportant part in the history of a mighty people in a great crisis of their existence. But I have promised to leave to others to say what may be proper in illustration of his great achievements in his latter days.

To those here who judged of the personal appearance of the deceased only as they looked on him bearing the burden of years, and stricken with disease, though he still stood with eye undimmed and will undaunted, I may say that in his prime he was a man physically well proportioned, muscular and strong, of clear and ruddy complexion, with face and feature of great nobility and under perfect command and control. In his youth and early manhood, notwithstanding his lameness, he entered with zest into almost all of the athletic games and sports of the times. He was an expert swimmer and an excellent horseman. When residing at Gettysburg he followed the chase, and kept his hunters and hounds.

On a recent visit to his iron works, I found the old mountain men garrulous with stories of the risks and dangers of the bold rider, as with horse and hound he followed the deer along the slopes and through the gaps of the South Mountain.

In private life, among his friends, Mr. Stevens was ever genial, kind and considerate. To them he was linked with hooks of steel. For them he would labor and sacrifice without stint, complaint or regret. In his hours of relaxation there could be no more genial companion. His rare conversational powers, fund of anecdote, brilliant sallies of wit, and wise sayings upon the topics of the hour, made his company much sought, and many of these are the current coin of the circles in which he moved.

Mr. Stevens was an honest and truthful man in public and private life. His word was sacred in

letter and spirit, and was never paltered in a double sense. In money matters he was liberal to a fault, and out of his immense professional income he left but a meager estate. In his private charity he was lavish. He was incapable of saying no in the presence of want or misery. His charity, like his political convictions, regarded neither creed, race nor color. He was a good classical scholar, and was well read in ancient and modern literature, especially on subjects of philosophy and law. In his old age he read but few books. Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, Milton and the Bible would, however, generally be found upon his table in his sleeping room, where he was accustomed to read in bed. He was simple and temperate in his habits. He disliked the use of tobacco, and for forty years never used or admitted in his house intoxicating drinks, and only then by direction of his physician.

Mr. Stevens was deeply loved and fully trusted by his constituents. He was often in advance of their views; sometimes he ran counter to their prejudices or passions; yet such was his popularity with them, so strong their faith in his wisdom, in the integrity of his actions and the purity of his purpose, that they never failed to sustain him.

Popular with men of all parties, with also his own supporters, his name was a household word. To them and among themselves, "Old Thad" was a name of endearment, while even his foes spoke of him with pride as the "Great Commoner." No man ever died more deeply mourned by a constituency than Thaddeus Stevens.

Having briefly selected some of the incidents that marked the history of my friend, I will in conclusion say a few words of him on the subject in connection with which the is probably more widely known than any other-slavery. Mr. Stevens was always an anti-slavery man. From the time the left his native mountains, to the moment of his death the was always not only anti-slavery in the common acceptation of the term, but a bold, fearless, determined and uncompromising foe of oppression in any and every form. He was an abolitionist before there was such a party name. His opposition to American slavery never altered with his party connection, and was never based upon mere questions of expediency or political economy. He always viewed it as a great wrong, at war with the fundamental principles of this and all good governments, as a sin in the sight of God, and a crime against man. For many years, long before it became popular to do so, he denounced this institution as the great crime of the nation, on the stump, in the forum, in party conventions, in deliberative assemblies. On this question the was always in advance of his party, his State, and his constituents.

Always resident in a border county, he defended the fugitive on all occasions, asserted the right of free speech, and stood between the abolitionist and the mob, often with peril to himself. This was one great cause of his having been so long in a minority, and of his entrance late in life into the councils of the nation; but for this, he was fully compensated by living to see the destruction of an institution which he loathed, and by receiving for his reward, and as time crowning glory of his life, the blessings of millions he had so largely aided to make free.

The remains of Mr. Stevens he in Lancaster, in a private cemetery, established by an old friend, in a lot selected by himself, for reasons as stated in the touching and beautiful epitaph prepared by himself for inscription on his tomb: "I repose in this quiet, secluded spot; not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited by charter rules as to race, I have chosen it that I might be enabled to illustrate in my death the principles which I have advocated through a long life-equality of man before his Creator."

Source: An authentic history of Lancaster County, in the state of Pennsylvania; Lancaster, Pa.: J.E. Barr, 1869, 813 pgs.

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