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Welcome Remarks for Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice

Greetings from the National Archives. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s virtual book talk with Bruce Levine, author of a new biography of Thaddeus Stevens.

Before we begin, though, I’d like to tell you about two upcoming programs you can view on our YouTube channel.

On Tuesday, March 16, at 1 p.m., Heather Cox Richardson will tell us about her new book, How the South Won the Civil War. While the North prevailed in the Civil War, ending slavery and giving the country a “new birth of freedom,” Richardson argues that democracy's victory was ephemera, as the system that had sustained the defeated South moved westward and established a foothold there.

And on March 30, at noon, author Dorothy Wickenden will discuss The Agitators, which uses the intertwined lives of Harriet Tubman, Martha Wright, and Frances Seward to tell the stories of abolition, the Underground Railroad, and the early women's rights movement.

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At the outbreak of the Civil War, the United States Capitol—the home of the House of Representative and the Senate—was in the midst of an extensive renovation. An open circle of columns arose from the building, awaiting the iconic dome we know today. President Abraham Lincoln famously remarked that construction would continue even in wartime, because “If people see the Capitol going on, it is a sign we intend the Union shall go on.”

Inside the Capitol, the work of Congress went on as well. We may think first of Lincoln and famous generals when we consider the Civil War, but the wheels of government continued, and members of the House and Senate crafted legislation that would shape our nation for decades to come.

Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania was long vilified as a leader of the “Radicals,” but in Bruce Levine’s new biography, we learn of Stevens’s dedication to freedom for the enslaved and his vision of equal civil and political rights for Black Americans. His drive helped push through the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

Historian Eric Foner has praised this book, saying “At last, Thaddeus Stevens, one of the nineteenth century’s greatest proponents of racial justice, gets the biography he deserves.

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Bruce Levine is the bestselling author of four books on the Civil War era, including The Fall of the House of Dixie and Confederate Emancipation, which received the Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship and was named one of the top 10 works of nonfiction of its year by the Washington Post. He is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois.

Joining Bruce Levine in conversation today is historian and author Manish Sinha. Dr. Sinha is the Draper Chair in American History at the University of Connecticut and the Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society for the current academic year. She is the author of The Counterrevolution of Slavery and The Slave's Cause: A History of Abolition.

Now let’s hear from Bruce Levine and Manish Sinha. Thank you for joining us today.