By Patty Conly, President of the Danville Historical Society
For a video of the event, produced by Kingdom Access, click here.
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 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.
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.
During 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.