Thaddeus Stevens to get the Gettysburg statue; what about the designation “Stevens Square” here? [The Scribbler] | Opinion

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James Buchanan and Thaddeus Stevens – Lancaster’s best-known politicians of the 19th century – were never treated the same in their adopted country.

President Buchanan’s home, Wheatland, has been restored as a magnificent example of how a wealthy Pennsylvanian lived in the mid-1800s. Wheatland is one of the top local tourist attractions.

On the other hand, builders at the Lancaster County Convention Center destroyed the back half of US Representative Thaddeus Stevens’ home and office years ago. LancasterHistory.org is finally preparing to restore what remains.

Buchanan has two statues – one in Buchanan Park here and one in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C., as well as a large stone pyramid-shaped monument in Buchanan’s birthplace state park in the county of Franklin.

Stevens has only one statue – at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster – and it was not erected until 2008. Three other initiatives to erect statues of Stevens over the years have failed.

A bust of Stevens from the 19th century has been lost. A group failed to erect a statue of Stevens, Pennsylvania’s leading advocate of public education, in Harrisburg in the early 20th century. A plan to erect a statue at the historic Thaddeus Stevens School in Washington, DC, also died a few years ago.

But the Thaddeus Stevens Society, headquartered in Gettysburg, will soon unveil the second statue of Stevens. It will be dedicated outside the Gettysburg Courthouse on April 2 as part of a three-day celebration of Stevens’ 230th birthday.

Why is one of the worst presidents in US history, a man who pampered the slave-owning South before and during his pre-Civil War presidency, more remarkably commemorated than the man who did so much than anyone else to promote racial equality before, during and after the Civil War?

Ross Hetrick, president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, provides insightful comments on the relatively poor treatment Stevens has received over the years in the January issue of the society’s online newsletter, Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles.

Stevens was not properly memorialized, writes Hetrick, because his admirers did not act on elaborate proposals to honor him after his death in 1868.

“But a more important reason,” notes Hetrick, “is that enemies[de Stevens]- people who wanted to destroy the country and preserve slavery – were more determined to demonize Stevens as part of the ‘Lost Cause’ propaganda effort to distort the historical record of the Civil War and Reconstruction.[Stevens’)enemies—thepeoplewhowantedtodestroythecountryandpreserveslavery—weremoredeterminedtodemonizeStevensasapartofthe’LostCause’propagandaefforttodistortthehistoricrecordoftheCivilWarandReconstruction”[Stevens’)enemies—thepeoplewhowantedtodestroythecountryandpreserveslavery—weremoredeterminedtodemonizeStevensasapartofthe‘LostCause’propagandaefforttodistortthehistoricrecordoftheCivilWarandReconstruction”

In recent years, efforts to promote the discredited “lost cause” have failed as the bitter truth of the terrible toll of slavery and racism has become increasingly clear. At the same time, Stevens’ star is slowly rising as his passionate dedication to equality is increasingly recognized.

Buchanan’s reputation was ruined before he left the presidency. He never recovered. But Lancaster is stuck with his mansion, his statue, and his grave in Green Hill Cemetery. Presidents, even weak ones, are forever commemorated.

Stevens deserves at least equal public recognition. Following the unveiling of his new statue in Gettysburg and the restoration of his home/office in the first block of South Queen Street in Lancaster, the Scribbler hopes that an old idea – naming the intersection of South Queen and Vine streets as “Stevens Square” – will be revived.

As major building and rebuilding (and gentrification) around this intersection unfolds over the next few years, pressure to create “Stevens Square” to add to Penn Square and the recently renamed Ewell Plaza should increase.

Retired LNP staff Jack Brubaker writes “The Scribbler” column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at [email protected]

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