The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Fugitive Slave Act and Thaddeus Stevens

Continuing my thoughts on the FSA (August 14)...

Stevens, of course, was, way down, one of most hated of the authors of Radical Reconstruction - and guyed gleefully in DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation, of course, mulatto housekeeper-cum-lover and all.

He only arrived in the US House in the 31st Congress (the one that voted the 1850 Compromise, including the FSA) - though born in 1792.

The Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association has a 2004 review article on Stevens (a bio by Hans Trefousse), which says that Trefousse
reiterates that Stevens's controversial positions clearly did not enhance his political career. His opposition to the Compromise of 1850 on the basis of his antislavery principles, for example, cost him his seat in Congress for much of that turbulent decade...

Now, Stevens voted against the FSA on passage, and I'd be fairly certain (I'm not inclined to check) that he voted the straight freesoil ticket on the other elements of the Compromise.

Stevens' was the Eight District of Pennsylvania [1], which, to judge from the (rather inadequate) Voteview map, looks as if it covered somewhere around Lancaster County (trying to compare with Mapquest!) - west of Philadelphia, at least.

I've no idea to what extent freesoil notions formed part of Stevens' platform (as a Whig) in the 1848 election. We have a little information as to PA ideology on slavery in the shape of the DW-NOMINATE 2nd dimension scores [2] for PA Congressmen (no fewer than 24 of them in the 31st!):

Scores range from +0.456 (Casey W-13) to -0.787 (Howe FS-22); Stevens' score was -0.610, the third most 'liberal' of the 24 on the 2nd dimension.

Interestingly, though Stevens was indeed defeated, or decided not to run, this was not until the elections for the 33rd Congress. In other words, in 1852, the electors of the 8th District took Stevens' anti-Compromise votes in the 31st Congress under advisement - and voted for him anyway!

  1. He later switched to the Ninth.

  2. DW-NOMINATE scores range from +1 (most conservative) to -1 (most liberal); the 1st dimension measures a general liberal-conservative spectrum; the 2nd dimension is more troubling. Supposedly, it measures ideology on race matters (slavery before 1861, Jim Crow after 1890), but this is questioned by some of those (everyone!) more expert than I am.


The Lewis Tappan pamphlet I mentioned before namechecks Stevens (p13):

He says that the previous question was moved by James Thompson [1] but Stevens moved to table the PQ motion [2].

Since there was a clear majority for the bill, dilatory tactics were doomed.

After the votes, Stevens utter his famous quotation (Nevins Vol 1 p341):
I suggest that the Speaker should send a page to notify the members on our side of the House that the Fugitive Slave Bill has been disposed of, and that they may now come back into the hall.

Though the question of abstentions in Compromise RCVs is, as previously discussed, controversial [3].

  1. Thompson's 2nd dimension score of -0.426 makes him 7th most liberal. Thompson (PA-23) was a Democrat; I've previously mentioned that the largest swing block in the House on fugitive slave legislation was the Northern Democrats, but Thompson was not among the switchers, having voted for the pro-FSA motion in the 30th Congress.

    How can someone in favour of making it easier for slave-holders to reclaim their human chattels rate -0.426 on the DW-N scale? An example, perhaps, of what brings the 2nd dimension into disrepute?

  2. Voteview calls the Thompson motion one for third reading. Perhaps it was a proxy PQ motion.

  3. I note that the House vote (97-85) on passage of the Utah admission bill (RC 364 September 7 on S 225) was even more afflicted by abstentions than the vote on passage of the FSA!

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