Home > Uncategorized > Thaddeus Stevens: A Being Darkly Wise and Rudely Great

Thaddeus Stevens: A Being Darkly Wise and Rudely Great

Source:  Ralph Korngold, Thaddeus Stevens: A Being Darkly Wise and Rudely Great (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955).

[page 9]

[Thaddeus] Stevens graduated from Dartmouth in August, 1814. In his commencement address he argued that the unequal distribution of wealth was necessary to progress. He may have drawn on his recollections of what he had seen and heard when aiding his mother in nursing the sick, poor as well as rich, when he said that “if the lofty mansion sometimes becomes the habitation of costly excess, the hovel and the cabin are as frequently polluted by the gratification of baser passions.”

When he returned to Peacham he was offered and accepted the post of teacher at the academy. He was a born teacher. When he was a famous lawyer at Lancaster he conducted a veritable law school, mainly for his own entertainment. His attitude toward his colleagues in Congress was often pedagogic, sometimes amusingly so. During the year he taught at the academy he founded the juvenile Library Association, to which more than half a century later he was to be-

[page 10]

queath a thousand dollars. But he had no intention of remaining in a profession where a respectable kind of poverty is the rule rather than the exception. He had no hankering for luxury, but hated poverty with its restrictions and humiliations. The richest man in Peacham was “Judge” John Mattock — lawyer, banker, and influential politician. Stevens knew that Mattock had become the last two by virtue of his success at the law. He paid a visit to the “Judge” and obtained permission to “read” law in his oflice. Henceforth, when not at the academy, he could be found in Mattock’s office, poring over law books or discussing politics with the lawyer, who was a confirmed Federalist.

He and [Samuel] Merrill continued to correspond. In one of his letters Stevens wrote: “Friend Sam, I assure you, you can hardly conceive the anxiety your friends feel for you, in that distant country [York, Pennsylvania]. Considering you exposed to the invincible charms of those fair Dutch wenches, with their dozen pair of petticoats they are really afraid that you will lose your heart and get lost, with Goodie Twiller’s ladle, in one corner of their pockets; that filthy lucre will induce you to become the son-in-law of some Ten Breeches; and then we shall despair of seeing you again.” The letter contained this hint: “lf you know of any vacancies and should assist me without trouble to yourself, you would do me a favor.”

It appears unlikely that a mental image of the “fair Dutch wenches” was responsible for his desire to migrate to York in Pennsylvania. Peacham with its five hundred inhabitants and the sparsely settled country roundabout were not a promising field for the practice of law, notwithstanding Mattock’s success.

[page 25]

Stevens, aggressive by nature, was well suited for the arena of politics. He was a Federalist by conviction, having been schooled in the principles of that party by the jovial John Mattock, in whose office at Peacham he had commenced the study of law.

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