Civil War Sesquicentennial fever is sweeping the country, with the most noticeable of its homages being Steven Spielberg's film, Lincoln.
While the Best Actor Oscar went to Daniel Day-Lewis, who portrayed President Lincoln, to many people it was Tommy Lee Jones, in the role of Pennsylvania Representative and radical Republican abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens who stole the film.
His mercurial portrayal of the power behind the Emancipation Proclamation served as a reminder that, as Otto von Bismarck once said, "Laws and sausages are two things you do not want to see being made."
As life follows art follows life, Pennsylvania U.S. Senators - Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, and Vermont U.S. Senators - Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy have found something to agree upon; They have joined forces to work to establish a commemorative stamp honoring Thaddeus Stevens.
According to a joint press release, "The Senators have asked the Postal Service committee that evaluates the merits of all stamp proposals to establish a commemorative postage stamp honoring Congressman Thaddeus Stevens."
They noted, "Stevens served the people of Pennsylvania as a Member of the United States House of Representatives from 1849 to 1868 and played a key role in the abolition movement and the subsequent passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution. Additionally, Stevens was a staunch supporter of policy which stressed fiscal responsibility and debt limitation."
They wrote to the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, "We write to request that a commemorative stamp be issued to recognize the contributions of United States Representative Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868), who was a prolific legislator and played a key role in ending slavery. Stevens relentlessly pursued equal rights and freedom for the disadvantaged as a member of the House of Representatives during a tumultuous period in our nation's history. A commemorative stamp issued to honor Stevens would help people throughout the country understand the important legislative battles won in the halls of Congress in the Civil War-era."
"The release of the movie 'Lincoln' has brought newfound attention to Stevens, the Vermont-born congressman who fought for the passage of the 13th Amendment to end slavery. Stevens, a Republican who represented Pennsylvania in Congress, is also credited with shepherding the 14th and 15th Amendments through Congress. There is strong interest in Stevens' heritage by Pennsylvanians, Vermonters and people throughout the United States. Stevens, who has become known as the 'Great Commoner', arguably had more impact on government and social change in the 19th century than any other person.
Clearly, Stevens was a man who fought for his beliefs with considerable political skill." "Stevens served in the Pennsylvania legislature where he fought for a public education system.
Stevens' dedication to free public education can be traced back to his childhood in Vermont where his mother emphasized the importance of education as a way to rise from poverty. Additionally, he was dedicated to sound fiscal policy, advocating and passing a constitutional limit on state debt."
Since most people's knowledge of Thaddeus Stevens is based upon the Lincoln film, it should be noted that the film is a historical drama, not a documentary. Material has been changed, omitted and added for entertainment value. For example, the most revealing scene in the film (spoiler alert) is at the end when Jones' Stevens comes home and retires with an unidentified mixed-race woman.
Thaddeus Stevens did employ Lydia Hamilton Smith as a housekeeper. Her mother was a free black and her father was Irish. Smith married a free black man, Jacob Smith, with whom she had two sons.
He died in 1852, after which she worked as a housekeeper to lawyer, later congressman, Thaddeus Stevens. She worked for him until his death in 1868. Although people talked about their relationship, it can neither be confirmed or denied that they had a common law marriage.
During his lifetime, Stevens practiced philanthropy, lending over $100,000 to the poor and needy without any intention for repayment. In his will, he left $50,000 to establish a school for the relief and refuge of homeless, indigent orphans. This original bequest has evolved into Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.
To support issuance of a commemorative stamp honoring Thaddeus Stevens, write to: Thaddeus Stevens Stamp, Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee, c/o Stamp Development, U.S. Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Room 3300, Washington, DC 20260-3501.