3d sess. United States. 40th Cong..

Memorial addresses on the life and character of Thaddeus Stevens, delivered in the House of representatives, Washington, D.C., December 17, 1868 online

. (page 1 of 7)
Online Library3d sess. United States. 40th Cong.Memorial addresses on the life and character of Thaddeus Stevens, delivered in the House of representatives, Washington, D.C., December 17, 1868 → online text (page 1 of 7)
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BemarJcs by Mr. Dickey.

Mr. Speaker : The paiuful duty lias devolved upon me of
auuonuciug to this House the death of \uy predecessor, Hon.
Thaddeus Stevens, of Peniisylvauia.

This distinguished statesman was not merely my predeces-
sor in this body, but in my childhood my tiither taught me to
admire and love him, who was the instructor and guide of my
youth and the friend of my mature years. If an intimacy
with wise and noble men be one of the greatest blessings that
can crown a man, then in no j^art of my career have I been so
fortunate as in my association with Thaddeus Stevens. It
was in his office, and in connection with him, that I com-
menced my i^rofessional life; and from that moment, through
the turmoil of many legal and political contests, down to the
moment when in his last will he selected me to i3erforni the
last service one man can ask from his fellow, our friendship
suffered neither diminution nor interrui^tion.

Informed that my duty requires of me a sketch of the his-
tory of my friend, I hope to be pardoned by the House for any
prolixity of statement, i^romising to leave to others abler and
fitter, his associates here who are to follow me, the analysis
of his character as a statesman and the story of his struggles
and triumphs in this arena, where he was recognized as a
great leader and bore the name of "The Old Commoner."

Thaddeus Steveus 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 Au-
gust, 1868. His parents were poor, in a community where
poverty was the rule and wealth the exception. Of his father


I kuow but little, save tliat lie enlisted in the war of 1812,
and died in 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 eftbrts for the acquisition of
knowledge, and by her industry, energy, and frugality largely
aided him in procuring a collegiate education. He returned
her aft'ection with the full strength of his strong natiu-e, and
for many years after he had acquired fame and fortune in his
adopted State had the pleasure of making an annual pilgrim-
age to the home which he had provided for her comfort, and
where she dispensed, with means he furnished, a liberal

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, he didr-not forget that of his mother, but set apart an
ample siun for that piu'pose, directing yearly payments upon
the condition "that the sexton keep the gTave in good order,
and plant roses and other cheerful flowers at each of the foiu"
corners of said grave every spring." In the same instrument,
in devising $1,000 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 .1 owe what-
ever little prosperity I have had on earth, which, small as it is, I desire em-
phatically 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 ofiice of Judge Mattocks, for some months,


he left his native State and settled in Pennsylvania in 1815,
first in the to^vll of York, where he tanght an academy and
pnrsned his legal stndies. The rules of conrt in that dis-
trict having requh-ed students to read one year in the office
of an attorney, he went to Belair, Harford connty, Maryland,
and was there examined and admitted to practice in Angust,
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. I may here be allowed briefly to allude to
a few traits of Mr. Stevens as a lawyer. Although not perhaps
of great national reputation as such, he was recognized by the
profession in a State claiming some eminence for the high
character of her advocates and jurists as one of her greatest
lawyers, and was so pronounced by three of her ablest chief
justices, Gibson, Black, and Lewis, who tried him by the sure
test of uniform power.

I need scarcely say that Mr. Stevens shone at the bar with
the same clearness of statement, force, and eloquence of ex-
pression, power of argumentation, wit, sarcasm, and invee-
tive, which he emjiloyed in legislative halls, and that there,
as here, he was master of all the weapons of debate. As an
advocate he was always jealous of the rights of his profes-
sion, and resisted their innovation. He was always courteous
to the court, and uniformly brief, never speaking beyond an
hour upon any question. He never took or used notes of the
evidence, the speeches of opponents, or the rulings of the
court, trusting wholly to a memory that never failed him. In
the preparation of his law he was industrious and careful;
here, too, relying upon his memory, his brief seldom con-
tained more than the name of the case and page of the book.


In arguinent he cited but few autliorities, and those directly
to his purpose. Grasping one or two points which he con-
ceived vital to the cause, he directed all his energies and
con(;entrated all his powers upon them, giving little attention
to subordinate (piestions. No matter with whom associated,
he never tried a cause save upon his own theory of the case.
At nisi irrius he uniformly insisted on personally seeing
and examining, before they were called, the important wit-
nesses on his own side. Generally relying upon the strength
and presentation of his own case, he seldom indulged in
extended cross-examination of witnesses, though possess-
ing rare ability in that direction. He never consented to be
concerned or to act as counsel in the prosecution of a capital
case, not from opposition to the punishment, but because it
was repugnant to his feelings and that service was the duty
of public officers. He was as remarkable for his consideration,
forbearance, and kindness when opposed by the young, weak,
or diffident, as he was for the grim jest, haughty sneer,
pointed sarcasm, or fierce invective launched at one who
entered the lists and challenged battle with such weapons.
He was always willing to give advice and assistance to the
young and inexperienced members of the profession, and his
large library was ever open for their use. He had many
young men read law with him, though he did not care to
have students. There were, however, two recommendations
which never failed to ])rocure an entrance into his office : am-
Ijition to learn, and inability to pay for the privilege.

Mr. Stevens first engaged actively in politics with the rise
of the anti-Masonic party in 1828-'29, which he joined in their
o]»p(»sition to secret societies. He was elected to the popular
branch of the legislature of his State, in 1833, as a rei)resent-
ative from the county of Adams, and continued to serve in
that body almost without interruption until 1840, during


wliicli entire period lie was the leader of his party in the
legislatnre, if not the State. During this service he chain-
Ijioned 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 been, in his opinion, 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 for education to all
the children of the Commonwealth. In behalf of this measure
he joined hands with his bitterest personal and political ene-
mies. 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, intel-
lect, and eloquence, broke down the barriers enacted by
wealth, caste, and ignorance, and earned a name that will
endure as long as a child of Pennsylvania gratefully remem-
bers 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 assem-
blage 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 stren-
uous 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 nnsuccessfidly,
the ratification by the people.

In 1842 Mr. Stevens, finding himself deeply in debt by rea-
son of losses in the iron business, aud liabilities incurred for


numerous ciidorseiueuts made for friends, removed to Lancas-
ter county, one of the largest, richest, and most popidous
counties of the State, and resumed the practice of his profes-
sion. His reputation as a hxwyer 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 CongTess from Lancaster
county, when, declining to be a candidate, he returned to his
profession until 1858, when he was again elected, and con-
tinued to hold the seat without interruption till his death.
His coui'se 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 bm-den 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 com})lexion, with face and feature
of great mobility and under ijerfect command and control. In
his youth and early manhood, notAvithstanding his lameness,
he entered with zest into almost all of the athletic games and
si)orts of the times. He was an expert swimmer and an
excellent horseman. When residing at Gettysburg he fol-
lowed the chase, and kept his hunters and hounds.

On a recent visit to his iron-works I found the old moun-
tain 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 wonkl hibor and sacrifice without
stint, complaint, or regret. In his hours of relaxation there
could be no more genial companion. His rare conversational
l)Owers, fund of anecdote, brilliant sallies of wit, and wise say-
ings upon the toi«c of the hour, made his company much
sought, and many of these are the current coin of the circle
in which he moved.

Mr. Stevens was an honest and truthful man in public and
in 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 faidt, and out of his immense professional
income he left but a meager estate. In his private charity he
Avas 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 clas-
sical scholar, and was well read in ancient and modern litera-
ture, especially on subjects of philosophy and law. In his old
age he read but few books. Shakspeare, Dante, Homer, Mil-
ton, and the Bible could, however, generally be found upon
the 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 to his house intoxicating drinks except by
direction of his physician.

Mr. Stevens was deepl}' loved and fully trusted by his con-
stituents. 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 action and the piuity of his jjurpose that
they never failed to sustain him. Popidar with men of all
parties, with his own supporters his name was a household
word. To them, and among themselves, "Old Thad" was a
phrase of endearment ; while even his foes spoke of him Avith


piidc as the '' Great Commoner." No man ever died more
deeply mourned bj' a constituency tlian Tliaddeus Stevens.

ITaviiijj;' briefly selected some of the incidents that marked
the history of my friend, I will in conclusion sa}' a few words
of him on a subject in connection with which he is probably
more widely kno^^ni tha.n any other — slavery. Mr. Stevens was
always an anti-slavery man. From the time he left his native
mountains to the moment of his death he was not only anti-
slavery in the common acceptation of the term, but a bold,
fearless, determined and uncompromising foe to opi)ression in
any and every form. He was an abolitionist before there was
such a party name.

His opposition to American slavery, no matter what his
party connection, was never based upon mere questions of
political economj". He always viewed it as a great wrong, at
war with the fundamental principles of this and all good gov-
ernment, 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, at the forum, in party conventions and deliberative
assemblies. On this question he 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 aboli-
tionist 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 comjiensated by living to see the destruction
of an institution which he loathed, and by receiving for his
reward, and as the crowning glory of his life, the blessings of
millions he had so largely aided to make free.

The remains of Mr. Stevens lie in Lancaster, in a private
cemetery established by an old friend, in a lot selected by him-


self, for reasons stated in the touching and beautiful epitaph
prepared by himself for inscription ui)on his tomb :

J. repose ill this quiet and 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 mip^ht be enabled to illustrate in my death the principles
which I have advocated through a long life — equality of man before liis Creator.

Let us trust and believe that if the earnest and sincere
prayers of millions of the jjoor, downtrodden, and oppressed
may smooth the pathway of the traveller on his journey from
this world to the boiu-ne of all, his has been a happy exit.

I offer the following resolutions :

Resolved, That this House has heard with deep regret the death of Hon. Thad-
deus Stevens, a member of this House from the State of Pennsylvania.

Resohcd, That as a testimony of respect to the memory of this distinguished
statesHiau the officers and members of this House will wear the usual badge of
mourning for the space of thirty days.

Resolveil, That a copy of these resolutions be transmitted to the family of the
deceased by the Clerk.

Resulted, That this House, as a further mark of respect to the memory of the
deceased, do now adjourn.

Remarks by Mr. Poland.

Mr. Speaker: I rise to second the resolutions offered by the
gentleman from Pennsylvania. The town of Danville, where
Mr. Stevens was born, and the town of Peacham, in which he
lived until he had completed his education and attained his
majority, are both adjacent to the town where I reside, and
form a part of the district I have the honor to represent. It
seems appropriate that a representative of Mr. Stevens's native
State and the representative of his native town and county
should perform this duty, but I regiet that it has fallen upon
one who had so little personal knowledge of him. Mr. Stevens
removed from Yermont to Pennsylvania before my birth, and
I became a resident of his native county but a few years since,
and after his youthful associates were nearly all gone. I met


him once or twice in Vernunit when he came to visit his aged
mother, but except this I never saw him until I came to the
Senate at the beginning of the thirty-ninth Congress. Since
I became a member of this House his advanced age and broken
health i)revented his active participation in much of its busi-
ness, and for a great part of the time his attendance during
its sessions. I can, therefore, do little more than express the
general estimation of his public character and service ent-er-
tained by myself in common with the people of his native
State. I have learned that the parents of Mr. Stevens were
poor, and that his education was mainly secured by his own
energy and efforts. Wlien he removed to the State of Penn-
sylvania to begin his career of active manhood he went
among strangers, dependent for friends, for success in busi-
ness, for professional or other advancement, for the means
of living even, upon what he might, by force of his own
unaided efforts and ability, be able to win. How hardly he
struggled, how bravely he fought, how successfully he won
friends, professional distinction, political advancement, name
and fame, we have been told by his long-time friend and
neighbor and successor in this House. His career and his
success is another instance of what is so common in this
country, but so uncommon in all others : the attainment of
the highest professional and political distinction from the
humblest condition by the mere force of ijersonal effort and

Mr. Stevens was another tribute to our system of free insti-
tutions, founded upon the equality of all men — institutions
which he loved so well, and exerted himself so faithfully to
extend and perpetuate. That Mr. Stevens was a man of
marked ability has ever been conceded, as well by his politi-
cal opponents as by his political and personal friends. He
luul indomitable courage, energy of character, and tenacious


will ; SO that when he had once settled upon a coui'se of action
he pursued it to the end with an tipparent, almost reckless,
disregard of the opinions and judgments of other men. His
leading and characteristic ambition seemed to be to elevate
the masses of his feUow-men. He seemed ever to desire and
to labor that all men should have an equal start and a fair
chance m the race of life. His earlj^ and successful efforts in
his adopted State in the cause of popular and general educa-
tion were an apt and enduriug illustration of this great trait
of his character. He loved freedom and liberty for himself,
and for all men as well. He hated every form of tyranny and
oppression which clogged and opposed the advancement of
men to better conditions ; and especially did he abhor and
detest that vast oppression which once prevailed in this
country and which seemed likely to prevail forever — human
slavery. Accordingly, when that institution came to be one
of the subjects of political controversy in the country, he was
found among its most determined and advanced opi)onents.
It is not saying more than I believe to be just to him that to
his efforts as much as to those of any one man is the country
indebted for its final oveithrow. When the country had
become involved in a civil war of appalling magnitude upon
this question of slaverj', and the great question of the time
was whether the Union or slavery should go down, Mr.
Stevens seemed to rise at once to the magnitude and majesty
of the occasion.

His leadership of the Union men and opponents of slavery
and its abettors during the period of the war, in the great
American Commons, was perhaps as brilliant and successful
as the world has ever seen. Though I have no reason to doubt
he loved his country, its free institutions, and its government
as well as others, I have thought his great efforts in their


behalf during that period were actuated as much by his
hatred of slavery as by his lo\'e of couiitr^^

I will uot further allude to Mr. Stevens's congressional career,
though his public life is mainly included in it, but leave
that to others Avhose opportunities to know it are so much
better than my own. Mr. Stevens had very warm sympathies
and great kindness of heart. JS'o case of suffering or distress
ever appealed to him in vain ; his heart and his hand were
always open to sympathize Avith and relieve the needy and the
downtrodden of the earth.

I am aware that since the close of the war, in dealing with
the subject of the restoration of the revolted States and their
people, Mr. Stevens has been charged with entertaining
malignant and uncharitable feelings, and being influenced by
them in his i)ublic action. So far as this charge applies to
the masses of the people of those States, who might well be
regarded as the deluded victims of unwise leaders, I have
never seen anj evidence of it-s tiuth. He did regard the pro-
moters and leaders of the rebellion as great criminals, who
ought to be punished as such ; he felt a kind of righteous and
holy indignation against them, and as if the nation itself was
endangered unless justice and judgment were meted out
against them. Mr. Stevens always retained a strong feeling
of attachment to his native State, and a very high regard for
her people. It Avas a sufflcient passport to his favor that the
applicant came from Vermont. So long as his mother lived
he made almost annual pilgrimages to the old home uj^ou the
Green mountains to see to her comfort and to visit the scenes
of his boyhood. I do not think I ever met him since I have
been in Washington but he inquired about something or
somebody in Vermont, and almost always had some amusing
anecdote to relate connected with his early life. His strong


filial affection is beautifully sliown bj' the provision in his will
for the annual planting of roses and other cheerful flowers at
the corners of the graves of his mother and brother ; and his
attachment to the scenes and memories of his youthful days
is equally well exhibited by his bequest to the Juvenile
Library Association of the old Peacham Academy, where he

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Online Library3d sess. United States. 40th Cong.Memorial addresses on the life and character of Thaddeus Stevens, delivered in the House of representatives, Washington, D.C., December 17, 1868 → online text (page 1 of 7)