Slimmy Creatures, Skunks, Asses,
In a speech attacking the Compromise of 1850, Stevens accused his critics of attacking
him personally, rather than showing the errors of his argument. "To such remarks, there
can be no reply by him who is not willing to place himself on a level with blackguards. I
cannot enter that arena. I will leave the filth and the slime of Billingsgate to the
fish-women, and to their worthy coadjutors, the gentlemen from Virginia [Mr. Millson]
from North Carolina [Mr. Williams] and all that tribe. With them, I can have no
controversy. When I want to combat with such opponents and such weapons, I can find
them any day by entering the fish market, without defiling this Hall.
"I beg those respectable fish-ladies, however, to understand that I do not include my
colleagues from Bucks county [Pennsylvania] among those whom I deem fit to be their
associates. I would not so degrade them.
"There is, in the natural world, a little, spotted contemptible animal, which is armed by
nature with a fetid, volatile, penetrating virus, which so pollutes whoever attacks it, as to
make him offensive to himself and all around him for a long time. Indeed, he is almost
incapable of purification. Nothing, sir, no insult shall provoke me to crush so filthy a
beast." Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens, Vol. I, by Beverly Wilson Palmer and
Holly Byers Ochoa, page 117.
Later in the same speech, he clarified his comments. "It is my purpose no where in these
remarks to make personal reproaches; I entertain no ill-will toward any human being,
nor any brute, that I know of, not even the skunk across the way to which I referred."
Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens, Vol. 1, by Beverly Wilson Palmer and Holly
Byers Ochoa, page 123.
Stevens often used Biblical references, such as the following incident where he referred
to the story of Balaam, whose donkey warned him of impending danger.
A young politician in the Pennsylvania legislature seized the first opportunity to challenge
Stevens, interrupting him to say, "Mr. Speaker, the gentleman from Adams neither sees
nor understands the consequences of this bill." Stevens turned toward him and slowly
answered, "Oh, very likely, very likely. Balaam's ass saw the angel when his master did
not." Great Leveler, by Thomas Frederick Woodley, page 136.
When a politician in the Pennsylvania legislature betrayed a promise to support Stevens
for Senator, Stevens protested acidly: "You must be a bastard for I knew your mother's
husband and he was a gentleman and honest man." Thaddeus Stevens, Scourge of the
South, by Fawn Brodie, page 26.
A member of Congress would often affect great humility and a low estimate of his
comments, even though he continued to inflict them on the House. On one occasion, he
was anxious for Stevens to yield to him so that he could brandish his false modesty
again. Anticipating this, Stevens said: "I now yield to my colleague who will make a few
feeble remarks." Thaddeus Stevens, by Samuel W. McCall, page 314.
Stumping in one day just as the vote was about to be taken on a contested seat, Stevens
inquired what was under consideration. "Oh," said a colleague, "we are just about to
vote on the question of two damn rascals fighting for a seat." "Well," responded Stevens
reaching for a ballot, "which is our damn rascal?" Great Leveler, by Thomas Frederick
Woodley, page 201.