The Age of Hate: Andrew Johnson and the Radicals

By George Fort Milton | Go to book overview

XIII. THE TRIUMPH OF CALIBAN

ON the last day of November, the Union State Central Committee of Pennsylvania passed resolutions that Johnson's administration "commends itself to the admiration, respect and confidence of the people of the Commonwealth." But such were not the feelings of Thaddeus Stevens, Pennsylvania's Commoner, who came to Washington that same day.1 Stevens was quite as bitter against Andrew Johnson as was Sumner, but he did not rely on letters and speeches. He brought with him to Washington a campaign plan designed to checkmate the President.2

Fertility of resource was characteristic of Thad Stevens, a very practical man. In surveying the career of this Pennsylvania Caliban, it is hard to repress a feeling of admiration for his brutal realism. Sumner never dropped his pose of statesmen, never admitted that other than the loftiest idealism animated his every act. Stevens did not stoop to self-deception; he knew what he wanted, was cynically frank in admitting his true motives, and did not scruple as to means.

In some respects the career of Pennsylvania's Great Commoner bore striking resemblance to that of the President whom he so bitterly maligned. Stevens was born in Vermont in 1792. Malformed from childhood with a clubfoot, and born in dire poverty, he was embittered in character. From his earliest recorded years, Stevens' attitude of mind was grim, unrelenting and severe. What education he had was due to the self- denial of his mother, who worked night and day to get the money to send him first to school and then to Dartmouth College.

In 1815 he was graduated from college and went to Pennsylvania to teach school. A few years later he was admitted to law practice at Gettysburg and became a jury lawyer par excellence, his biting words and acid phrases having great effect upon the talesmen of Gettysburg and Lancaster and York. Stevens' first incursion into politics was characteristic. At the beginning as at the end, he was an apostle of proscription and hate. He was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature

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