The 14th Amendment and Vermont’s Thaddeus Stevens

Now is the time to bring forward Vermont-reared Thaddeus Stevens — Lincoln’s sidebar Civil War strategist who stridently pressed the president to first: emancipate the slaves; and once freed: to arm them. 

Known, feared, revered for his wit and wisdom, it was Congressman Stevens who scripted the phrase “40 acres and a mule.” W.E.B. DuBois wrote in his tome, “Black Reconstruction,” that Stevens was the sole member of both the House and Senate to understand the imperative economic need of the freed slaves to reproduce themselves — and the imperative political need to provision those resources and tools. 

For Reconstruction, it was Thaddeus Stevens who drafted the now-in-the-news 14th Amendment. This as he also drafted the 13th and 15th amendments — the Constitution’s slave amendments. This he put forth, not as an attempt to institutionalize democracy with opaque strokes, but rather to succinctly articulate the foundational purpose of the U.S. Constitution by legally equipping its content against impostors.

In sum, Thaddeus Stevens — as the most powerful congressional leader in the history of the U.S. by what he organized and implemented during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras — leaves no room for debate about the exacting purpose of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. 

The 14th Amendment was Thaddeus Stevens’ legal sword, aimed to slay the systemic injustice of slavery as it signaled the wants of whip-lashing political impostors on the nation’s law-making body as the Civil War ended. Thaddeus Stevens’ backstory — with its not-well-enough-known, formative Vermont-rearing — substantiates and reinforces the ruling of the Colorado Supreme Court Trump decision.  

A standalone figure of stunning, seminal congressional feats (ferociously opposed by many), Thaddeus Stevens minced no words, ever, relative to the workings of justice. This was his practice in a system that he early discerned as prone to economic corruption via insurrection — as the Civil War represented. 

The upshot: What Thaddeus Stevens masterminded for the 14th Amendment requires our full awareness of his strategic tactics as these validate, by the content of his political example, Colorado’s court decision.

Born with a club foot on a Danville farm, and brought to Peacham Academy by his mother after his father abandoned the family of four sons, Thaddeus Stevens early aroused public introspection about the root causes of systemic injustice — as politics and economics intertwine. In Peacham Academy’s weekly public debates he presented such topics as Toussaint L’Overture’s purpose in leading Haiti’s successful slave rebellion — as it implicated Napoleon’s France. Outspoken at both UVM and at Dartmouth where he matriculated, Thaddeus Stevens set out immediately to a border state — Pennsylvania — to read himself onto the bar. This to make laws to eliminate slavery as exampled by his home state’s 1791 founding Constitution. 

His raucous tenure in Pennsylvania’s state legislature leaves the legacy of establishing state-funded education for all students — a first policy inclusive of all those in poverty of all races. Once in Washington D.C. he organized the Joint Committee of Congress that coordinated both the Senate and the House under his direction during the Civil War. This is where Lincoln accessed his insights and how the funding for the war was appropriated.

Thaddeus Stevens masterminded the Civil War era legislation with the reins of the Radical Republicans whose commitment was to save the Union — by extricating slavery, and the constitutional infrastructure that supported it. Thaddeus Stevens is the key figure who re-adjusted the U.S. mobile at its center-pole.

More than any other figure in U.S. political history, Thaddeus Stevens stands alone for the regulations written into the Constitution to safeguard democracy against insurrectionists. What he put in place was a straightforward legal treatise to build back the U.S. Constitution to a rule-of-law document that would prohibit, forever, the return to political leadership, via ballot-box selection, those insurrections of the then South who seized the reins to regain influence on the hill as the Civil War turned back on them.

What makes Section 3 of the 14th Amendment incontestable in its intent is Thaddeus Stevens.

(This commentary by Patryc Wiggins of Guild, N.H., first ran in VTDigger.)