The crusty mid-nineteenth century Congressman, a leader in Congressional reconstruction, receives solid treatment in this biography. His private life is quickly summarized: the background data — bleak boyhood in Vermont, spartan school years at Dartmouth, residency in Gettysburg and Lancaster; his personal qualities — generosity to the "old, the poor, the handicapped", refusal to flatter the powerful, talent for making enemies, caustic wit; his peculiarities — club-foot, red-haired wig, and his Negro housekeeper who may or may not have been his mistress. The book focuses on the public and political man, the issues rather than the individual. From his entrance into politics in 1822 to his death in 1868, he participated in the major elections and political movements of the era: the Anti-Masonic League, the Whigs, the Know Nothings, the Free Soilers, and the Republicans. As a lawyer, he defended runaway slaves and the defendants in the Christiana battle. The Dred Scott decision, he said, "'damned Chief Justice Taney to everlasting fame, and, I think, to everlasting fire.'" As a legislator, he was instrumental in the passage of universal free schooling and college appropriations through the Pennsylvania legislature, and the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments and the reconstruction acts through Congress. He emerges as a man of principles, neither a saint nor a fanatic, capable participant in the dirty and violent politics of the time. He himself said of the Thirteenth Amendment "'the greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America (Lincoln).'" The analysis of people and events is illuminating, but occasionally dull and drawn-out. A useful supplement to Civil War study.
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