Lincoln movie brings public awareness to Thaddeus Stevens’ important role

By Patty Conly, Pres­i­dent of the Danville His­tor­i­cal Society

For a video of the event, pro­duced by King­dom Access, click here.

screening at Fuller Hall, St. Johnsbury, VT, on May 4, 2013.

A full house at  Fuller Hall, St. Johns­bury, VT, on May 4, 2013, for the screen­ing on Lin­coln and dis­cus­sion on Thad­deus Stevens’ role in the film and Con­sti­tu­tional history.

Two students from the Thaddeus Stevens School introduced the evening's program with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, host of the event.

Two stu­dents from the Thad­deus Stevens School intro­duced the evening’s pro­gram with U.S. Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders, host of the event.

Despite a spec­tac­u­lar spring day in the North­east King­dom and a vast array of events in com­pe­ti­tion, a large crowd was on hand at St. Johns­bury Academy’s Fuller Hall Sat­ur­day evening May 4, for a screen­ing of the recent film Lin­coln.  This free pub­lic event was hosted by U.S. Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders, who began the evening by intro­duc­ing three stu­dents from the Thad­deus Stevens School in Lyn­donville. The stu­dents spoke elo­quently, giv­ing a brief sum­mary of the life and times of Lin­coln, Thad­deus Stevens and the period dur­ing the Civil War.

Senator Sanders

Sen­a­tor Sanders

Sen­a­tor Sanders told the audi­ence how he became intrigued with the life and career of Thad­deus Stevens, par­tic­u­larly after his first view­ing of the movie. It became appar­ent to him that Stevens was a much more mon­u­men­tal fig­ure in the polit­i­cal issues of the period dur­ing the Civil War, of which he was pre­vi­ously unaware.  He found it amaz­ing that a con­stituent who was born, raised and edu­cated in two very small towns in the North­east King­dom of Ver­mont, as well as being from a poor fam­ily, could rise to become one of the most influ­en­tial and instru­men­tal con­gres­sional rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment. Stevens was pas­sion­ate about his cause and deeply ded­i­cated to ensur­ing the pas­sage of the 13th amend­ment to the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion to abol­ish slavery.

A panel discussed Thaddeus Stevens' role in the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendment to the Constitution: (l to r) Paul Chouinard, Noah Manning, Howard Coffin and Senator Sanders.

A panel dis­cussed Thad­deus Stevens’ role in the pas­sage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion: (l to r) Paul Chouinard, Noah Man­ning, Howard Cof­fin and Sen­a­tor Sanders.

Fol­low­ing the film, Sen­a­tor Sanders led a some­times spir­ited dis­cus­sion as ques­tions from the audi­ence were asked of a three-member panel: Paul Chouinard, past pres­i­dent of the Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety and local his­to­rian; Howard Cof­fin, area writer and author of sev­eral books on the Civil War; and Noah Man­ning, an AP honor stu­dent and salu­ta­to­rian of the senior class at Lyn­don Insti­tute, who will attend Dart­mouth Col­lege in the fall.  Each con­tributed to the dis­cus­sion by adding their per­sonal points of view based on their own research and knowl­edge of the subject.

Sen­a­tor Sander’s began the dis­cus­sion by ask­ing the panel to com­ment on their opin­ion of the his­tor­i­cal accu­racy of the movie in the por­trayal of Lin­coln as well as that of Thad­deus Stevens.  Cof­fin com­mented that in his opin­ion it is the most accu­rate movie that he has seen to date in the por­trayal of the char­ac­ter of Pres­i­dent Lin­coln.  Paul Chouinard ques­tioned the accu­racy of the final scene in the movie, which would sug­gest that Thad­deus Stevens had an inti­mate rela­tion­ship with his house­keeper.  He stated that he has found no his­tor­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion so far that would indi­cate this to be true. Cof­fin added that it was rumored that neigh­bors of Stevens would often refer to the house­keeper as “Mrs. Stevens.” Stevens him­self referred to her as “Mrs. Smith.”

When asked by Sen­a­tor Sanders to com­ment on how Stevens early life grow­ing up in North­ern Ver­mont influ­enced his future includ­ing his polit­i­cal career, Chouinard responded that he felt his early expe­ri­ences and edu­ca­tion here as well as grow­ing up in a poor fam­ily and being raised by only his mother had an enor­mous impact on his views on how all peo­ple should be treated with respect and equal­ity.  Stevens adored his mother and while grow­ing up helped her care for sick and less for­tu­nate peo­ple, and he wanted to carry on her work. Chouinard also stated that dur­ing Stevens’ impres­sion­able teenage years, Danville was the county seat, and it is quite likely that he was exposed to the polit­i­cal process and issues of the time as his uncle owned the inn where the leg­is­la­ture met.

4-photoDur­ing the event, the Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety made avail­able infor­ma­tion on the “Stamp for Stevens” cam­paign in sup­port of advo­cat­ing for a com­mem­o­ra­tive U.S. first-class postage stamp to be issued in honor of Thad­deus Stevens.  Post­cards with per­sonal mes­sages of sup­port for the stamp were handed out to be mailed to the U.S. Stamp Advi­sory Com­mit­tee to aid in effort.  Any­one inter­ested in offer­ing sup­port can con­tact the Danville His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety or stop by for more information.



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