On this day in 1792, Thaddeus Stevens was born. When I wrote about him a year and a half ago, I quoted Wikipedia of that time saying, “Stevens dreamed of a socially just world, where unearned privilege did not exist. He believed from his personal experience that being different or having a different perspective can enrich society. He believed that differences among people should not be feared or oppressed but celebrated.” Of course, Wikipedia being what it is, no longer says anything about that but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make the sentiment any less true, even though we don’t exactly know what Stevens dreamed about.
Stevens was a very important Pennsylvania Representative during the Civil War. He became interested in the cause of abolishing slavery in the 1830s. Had he not have committed to that cause, he would likely have gone much further as a politician. But he was a true believer, not just of the cause of slavery but of the cause of the powerless generally. Even though that kind of belief (then and now) tends to go along with a lot of paternalism, it is hard to think of him as anything but a good guy. And racism was not just a theoretical issue with him.
In the 1840s, Stevens hired the one-quarter African American (then as now just “black”) housekeeper Lydia Hamilton Smith. She became what neighbors considered Stevens common law wife. So his interests couldn’t have been too paternal. She was, however, 23 years younger, and by her photograph as an older women, quite attractive. Idealistic though he might have been, he was still a man.
Happy birthday Thaddeus Stevens!