Elsie Singmaster’s I SPEAK FOR THADDEUS STEVENS is less a work of fiction than a work in which fiction and history compete as standard-bearers for the story of humanity’s triumphs and failures. It is the historical novel of the Age of Emancipation and the fictional biography of Thaddeus Stevens, uncompromising champion of the underprivileged and disadvantaged.
In overcoming his own personal weakness, the deformity with which he was born, Thaddeus Stevens found symbolic strength in defending the weak and poor. He championed the rights of Pennsylvanians to have free education, risking his own career in the process; he stood for the rights of black people, and attacked the Fugitive Slave Law when it was politically damaging to do so. Singmaster’s portrait of the man, whose uncompromising opinions were “imbibed with his mother’s milk,” creates a convincing psychological gestalt of Thaddeus Stevens, who became a superior man by overcoming his innate feelings of inferiority.
As a historical novel, I SPEAK FOR THADDEUS STEVENS recreates an earlier age by infusing it with life. The Free-Soil Whigs, Masons, and Jackson Democrats come to life as men in a political drama unfolding before Thaddeus Stevens. Singmaster’s scrupulous use of historical data sheds new light on the Civil War Congress and the struggle for the Thirteenth Amendment. The novel’s climax, the attempted impeachment of Andrew Johnson which failed in the Senate, underscores the tragic theme of Thaddeus Stevens, advocate for the sovereign rights of the people.
Singmaster’s style is unobtrusive and sparse, devoid of rhetorical flourish and pretense. She writes in clear, unelaborate language whose intention is to present, close to reality, the struggle of Thaddeus Stevens against the forces of ignorance and oppression. I SPEAK FOR THADDEUS STEVENS is the very personal statement of Elsie Singmaster about man’s inhumanity to man, and humane forces which can rise to the challenge.