The Study of Man:
Thaddeus Stevens: An American Radical
Americans like to classify their politicians under simple labels that seem to explain completely their motivation and their philosophy. A man is put down in the books as a liberal, a conservative, or a radical: he represented the people or the interests; he was on the side of the angels or of the forces of evil. Just get the label affixed, the idea seems to be, and you understand the individual. Actually, the nature of our political system is so complex that no facile polarism can be imposed on either American political life or American history—especially when, as is often the case, the polarism is really drawn from European political life. For example, it is widely assumed (one encounters the statement constantly) that since Reconstruction the planters of the South, more than any other class in the region, have opposed enlarged rights for Negroes. The apparent basis for this assumption is that the planters, being members of a propertied minority, were conservatives and hence must have been against measures to benefit a laboring group of another color. But the truth is that the planters were more disposed—for economic and political reasons—to grant concessions to the Negroes than were the white masses. The strongest and bitterest opposition to the Negro came from the “common whites.” Almost every upsurge of white democracy in the South, from Tillman to Talmadge, has been accompanied by race-baiting and some attempted repression of the colored minority.
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