Thaddeus Stevens portrait unveiled at the Vermont State House

The three attend­ing Hem­locks added a period ele­ment of respect to the unveil­ing. Pho­tos by Ken Linsley

The Old Com­moner finally makes a vis­i­ble pres­ence in the Ver­mont State House

After many months of work, Thad­deus Stevens has been hon­ored in his home state of Ver­mont by hav­ing his like­ness hung in the State House. In a lovely cer­e­mony in the his­tor­i­cal Cedar Creek room, his por­trait was unveiled and cel­e­brated on March 28, 2012.

Ver­mont State­house cura­tor, David Schutz, spoke before the unveil­ing. The Stevens por­trait will be hung in the paper prints gallery.

Cura­tor David Schutz opened the cer­e­mony. Three Ver­mont Civil War Hem­locks sur­rounded the draped image while Schutz explained where the por­trait was to be hung and what he had dis­cov­ered about Stevens dur­ing his own inves­ti­ga­tion of the man and his times.

Paul Chouinard, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Danville Historical

Lt. Gov­er­nor Phil Scott and Sen­a­tor Jane Kitchel from Danville quipped about Thad­deus Stevens being known as a rad­i­cal republican.

Soci­ety and the main force behind the effort to bring this event to fruition, then stepped to the lectern and intro­duced Lt. Gov­er­nor Phil Scott and Sen­a­tor Jane Kitchel. Both spoke briefly to the gath­ered assem­bly, com­mend­ing the efforts to honor Stevens who was a major force in rec­og­niz­ing the civil rights of all citizens.

Chouinard then spoke of Stevens’ accom­plish­ments and back­ground. Much of what was included in his speech was taken from research he had con­ducted and included in the fol­low­ing let­ter he wrote in Jan­u­ary of 2010 after his­to­rian and author Howard Cof­fin chal­lenged Danville at its annual meeting.

Dear David Schutz:

The Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety respect­fully requests that you make arrange­ments with the Leg­isla­tive Com­mit­tee On The State House to con­sider our request to include a por­trait of Danville native, Thad­deus Stevens, in the State House collection.

On Jan­u­ary 10, 2010, Howard Cof­fin addressed the Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety at its Annual Meet­ing, focus­ing on Danville’s involve­ment in the Civil War. Fol­low­ing deliv­ery of his address, Mr. Cof­fin sug­gested that he felt it would be a most appro­pri­ate sesqui­cen­ten­nial project for the Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety to coor­di­nate an effort to raise funds for com­mis­sion­ing a por­trait of Thad­deus Stevens to be pre­sented to the State House for inclu­sion in its col­lec­tion of por­traits of promi­nent Vermonters.

Thad­deus Steven, the sec­ond son of Joshua and Sally Stevens, was born in Danville, Ver­mont April 4, 1792. Like his old­est brother Joshua who had two club feet, Thad­deus was born with a club foot. Fol­low­ing the birth of two addi­tional sib­lings, Abner and Alan­son, their father aban­doned the fam­ily. Their mother ded­i­cated her life to her sons, strug­gling to over­come poverty and pro­vide them with an oppor­tu­nity to receive an edu­ca­tion. About 1807, Sally sold her farm in Danville and moved to Peacham so that her boys could attend Cale­do­nia County Gram­mar School (Peacham Acad­emy). Thad­deus’ infir­mity set him apart and made him the object of ridicule and dis­crim­i­na­tion. He did gain respect as an out­stand­ing stu­dent grad­u­at­ing from Cale­do­nia County Gram­mar School in 1811 and gain­ing admis­sion to Dart­mouth Col­lege as a sopho­more. He grad­u­ated from Dart­mouth in 1814 and returned to Peacham to teach and read law with John Mat­tock – lawyer, banker and influ­en­tial politi­cian. Based on a friend­ship formed at Dart­mouth with a young men­tor, Samuel Mer­rill, who also hailed from Peacham, Thad­deus was con­vinced to move to Penn­syl­va­nia to teach and con­tinue study­ing law. In 1815 he moved to York, Penn­syl­va­nia, where he taught at Dr. Perkins’ Acad­emy. He was admit­ted to the bar in Bel Air, Mary­land, in 1816. He soon estab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion for him­self as an out­stand­ing attor­ney. In 1833 he was elected to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Penn­syl­va­nia where he become a strong advo­cate for free pub­lic edu­ca­tion which led to the pas­sage of a law to pro­vide free pub­lic edu­ca­tion to the chil­dren of Penn­syl­va­nia; it became a prece­dent which was fol­lowed by other states.

He was elected to the United States Con­gress, serv­ing in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives 1849–1853 and 1859–1868.

James Albert Wood­burn, one­time pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can his­tory and pol­i­tics, at Indi­ana Uni­ver­sity, has said:

Thad­deus Stevens was the dom­i­nant fig­ure in the Amer­i­can Con­gress dur­ing this notable period (Civil War and Recon­struc­tion). It may rea­son­ably be claimed that no more mas­ter­ful leader ever directed the pol­i­tics and leg­is­la­tion of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives …and it may be said that for a part of this decade he led both the House and the nation by the sheer force and energy of his mind and will.”

Richard Nel­son, pro­fes­sor of his­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois, has writ­ten that Stevens

 “ had exerted more influ­ence upon Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tion, dur­ing the decade of con­flict, than any other per­son in the United States! …War taxes, tar­iffs, green­backs, transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­roads, ‘forty acres and a mule,’ the Thir­teenth, Four­teenth, and Fif­teenth Amend­ments, the recon­struc­tion acts, the impeach­ment pro­ceed­ings – these things and many more were largely his handiwork.”

In the Memo­r­ial Addresses On The Life And Char­ac­ter Of Thad­deus Stevens deliv­ered in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Decem­ber 17, 1868 , Ver­mont Rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Luke Poland, stated:

Mr. Speaker: I rise to sec­ond the res­o­lu­tions offered by the gen­tle­man from Pennsylvania…The peo­ple of Ver­mont always loved to believe that the strong love of free­dom and inde­pen­dence for all men exhib­ited by him (Thad­deus Stevens) – his hatred of all forms of oppres­sion, and his efforts to ele­vate and ben­e­fit the masses, were, to some extent, due to his being born in Ver­mont. The early his­tory of Ver­mont was that of a con­tin­ual strug­gle against what they deemed to be unlaw­ful and unjust attempts of other states to obtain juris­dic­tion and exer­cise gov­ern­men­tal power over them. These strug­gles had ceased, to be sure, prior to the birth of Mr. Stevens; but the heroes and states­men who were her lead­ers in those try­ing days were still alive and gave tone and tem­per to pub­lic sen­ti­ment and opin­ion for many years after. We have loved to believe in Ver­mont that the free and inde­pen­dent opin­ions inhaled by him in his youth with the free air of our grand moun­tains in some degree con­tributed to make him what he was so emphat­i­cally, the friend of the oppressed and the foe of the oppres­sor. Like other men, he had his faults; but he has done so much for the great cause of human­ity that his and all future gen­er­a­tions in this land have ample cause to bless and revere his mem­ory. To show the esti­mate in which Mr. Stevens was held by the peo­ple of Ver­mont, I ask to have the Clerk read the fol­low­ing res­o­lu­tions, which were unan­i­mously adopted by the Ver­mont leg­is­la­ture at their recent session.

The Clerk read as follows:

Mr. Var­num, of Peacham, offered the fol­low­ing joint resolution:

Resolved by the Sen­ate and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, that so great a loss to the nation as the death of Hon. THADDEUS STEVENS deserves, and should receive, of the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple of his native State in gen­eral assem­bly con­vened, a befit­ting and appro­pri­ate recognition.

Resolved, That we mourn and deeply sym­pa­thize with those of his adopted State, whom he so faith­fully rep­re­sented in the coun­cils of our nation, and by whom he was so nobly sus­tained, in this their great bereave­ment and irrepara­ble loss, of one so firm, so devoted to the inter­ests, the wel­fare, and the honor of the people.

Resolved, that his patri­o­tism, his devo­tion to the prin­ci­ples of lib­erty, jus­tice and equal­ity, his unswerv­ing fidelity to the trusts of his State and the trusts of the Union, have left an hon­or­able and inef­face­able impres­sion on the pages of his­tory and on the records of a great Republic.

Resolved, That we will remem­ber him as a son of Ver­mont, and will cher­ish his mem­ory, and point with pride to his life as an exam­ple of patri­o­tism for our­selves and our posterity.

Resolved, That the gov­er­nor be requested to trans­mit a copy of these res­o­lu­tions to the gov­er­nor of Pennsylvania.”

The Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety believes that Thad­deus Stevens’ point of view and his egal­i­tar­ian val­ues were clearly devel­oped as a result of his per­sonal expe­ri­ence in cop­ing with a dis­abil­ity and in hav­ing been raised in poverty in a state which val­ued and pro­tected indi­vid­ual rights and per­sonal lib­er­ties. His for­ma­tive years in Danville and as a stu­dent in Peacham, at Cale­do­nia County Gram­mar School, clearly influ­enced his phi­los­o­phy and val­ues, which were reflected in his pub­lic life.

We respect­fully request that The Leg­isla­tive Com­mit­tee On The State House con­sider the infor­ma­tion we have sub­mit­ted in mak­ing their deter­mi­na­tion regard­ing the accep­tance of Thad­deus Stevens’ por­trait for dis­play in the State House.

Thank you for giv­ing this mat­ter your care­ful consideration.

Sin­cerely,

Paul A. Chouinard, Pres­i­dent, Danville His­tor­i­cal Society

Paul Chouinard spoke about the life of Thad­deus Stevens.

After Paul spoke, Howard Cof­fin was wel­comed to the lectern to say a few words. Those present were invited to look in a glass case at the back of the room, which included a hand­writ­ten let­ter by Stevens owned by Mr. Cof­fin. Then it was time to chat, admire and enjoy the lovely refresh­ments pre­pared and placed by the State House team.

The Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety wishes to thank:

  • Danville Cham­ber of Com­merce for sup­port­ing the effort financially
  • Ross Het­rick, Pres­i­dent of the Thad­deus Stevens Soci­ety, who was sup­port­ive in all aspects of the effort, includ­ing speak­ing in Danville and con­nect­ing the Soci­ety with the His­toric Preser­va­tion Soci­ety, who man­ages the orig­i­nal plate from which the por­trait was struck
  • The Ver­mont Civil War Hem­locks, who lend authen­tic­ity and dig­nity to the remem­brance of the Civil War and its value to us as a nation
  • and all the local cit­i­zenry who attended and con­tributed to the cel­e­bra­tions, both in Danville and Montpelier

 

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One Response to Thaddeus Stevens portrait unveiled at the Vermont State House

  1. Amy C says:

    Great arti­cle! Ever since see­ing Lin­coln with Tommy Lee Jones and Thad­deus Stevens, I have become a huge fan! Truly a great politi­cian, and he’s from Vermont!

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