John Bingham and Thaddeus Stevens
I’ve put the Bingham biography though the first of what promises to be many revisions. In thinking about the project from 30,000 feet , I think the most revisionist part of the book involves Thaddeus Stevens’ role in Reconstruction.
Stevens was (and still is) a lightning rod for that period. To critics, he was a fanatic who wanted vengeance (in contrast to Lincoln’s conciliatory approach) and was willing to keep the South under military occupation for decades, if necessary, to achieve his aims. To admirers, he was the most egalitarian Republican leader and the only one who understood that, without wealth redistribution and an extended federal presence, the South would revert to its racist ways and deny equality to the former slaves. What everyone seems to agree on, though, is that he was the leader of the House Republicans and the most dominant figure on Capitol Hill until his death in 1868.
My research calls his power into question. It would be more accurate to say that he and Bingham were the two leaders of the House Republicans, and when they disagreed Bingham usually prevailed. This means that more of the credit and the blame for Reconstruction falls on Bingham’s shoulders, and the debate between Stevens and Bingham turns out to be far more complex than most think.
Blogging from me will be light or nonexistent in the next few weeks. Other projects need attention.