In a Vermont cabin, on April 4, 1792, neighbor women had looked pityingly at a sleeping young mother while they wrapped the deformed foot of her newborn child. There was no need, however, to pity Sally Morrill Stevens, whose brave spirit was greater than her frail body. She would care for her second son as tenderly as she had looked after little Joshua, his father’s namesake and a cripple at birth. She called the baby Thaddeus, after Thaddeus Kosciusko—a hero’s name.
When Joshua Stevens, shiftless cobbler and surveyor, disappeared at last into the wilderness, there were two more children in the cabin. Morrill and Alanson stood up straight and were quick on their feet, but lame Thaddeus was Sally’s favorite. Ambitious for her sons, she never complained as she worked and planned for their future.
Thaddeus struggled to excel. One day he limped through deep snow, his legs cut and bleeding on the icy crust, to speak before patrons and students of the grammar school in Peacham. His subject was free and universal education. Sensitive because of his own deformity, he learned to hate suffering and to sympathize with the weak. Swimming and riding gave him an athlete’s body. His teachers and books borrowed from John Mattocks, Peacham lawyer, had trained him well by the time he was ready for Dartmouth College. Sally had hoped he would preach. He thought of Webster, already famous, and told her that he wanted to be a lawyer.
Vermont seemed a sparse land to her ambitious sons. Crippled Joshua traveled west with his bride. Thaddeus went to York, Pennsylvania, to teach and read for the law. Too impatient and poor to complete another year’s residence before he could practice in York County, he rode south across the state line and became a member of the Maryland bar.
Returning, he settled in Gettysburg. At first no clients found their way to his office and few Gettysburgians wanted to hear his frank opinions on slavery and education, but children flocked around him to hear his stories of the Vermont woods. Blacks watched him on the street and whispered that he was their friend as well.
Defense lawyer in a murder trial, he lost his first case in court, but his townsmen praised him after he made his plea for justice and mercy. As his reputation grew men could measure his success by his fine house in Gettysburg and the great tract of mountain land providing ore and charcoal for Caledonia Forge, of which he was a partner. Sally Stevens now owned a fine farm in Peacham; he gave openhandedly to his brothers—Joshua in Indiana; Morrill, a doctor in Vermont; Alanson, with Sally on the farm. He fought Masons and Jackson Democrats and men cheered all night under his windows when he was elected to the Legislature. He was forty-one. There was still time for...
(The entire section is 1144 words.)