August 11, 2010

The Prince of Glory for sinners bled

The "Radical Republican" Thaddeus Stevens died on August 11, 1868. A major member of the House of Representatives (on behalf of Pennsylvania, though he was born in Vermont) during the Civil War years, Stevens endorsed the end of slavery and set the course for Reconstruction in the South, knowing that the South needed to be guided through those years. He met with resistance from President Andrew Johnson and called for his impeachment (he was the first President to be impeached but was acquitted).

The Ohio-born poet Phoebe Cary paid poetic tribute to Stevens shortly after his death. Cary (along with her sister Alice) was a published poet with the help of Rufus Griswold. Later, she was an advocate for women's rights and an occasional salon hostess in New York City. Her poem elevates Stevens as a major heroic figure.

An eye with the piercing eagle's fire.
Not the look of the gentle dove;
Not his the form that men admire.
Nor the face that tender women love.

Working first for his daily bread
With the humblest toilers of the earth;
Never walking with free, proud tread —
Crippled and halting from his birth,

Wearing outside a thorny suit
Of sharp, sarcastic, stinging power;
Sweet at the core as sweetest fruit,
Or inmost heart of fragrant flower.

Fierce and trenchant, the haughty foe
Felt his words like a sword of flame;
Rut to the humble, poor, and low
Soft as a woman's his accents came.

Not his the closest, tenderest friend —
No children blessed his lonely way;
But down in his heart until the end
The tender dream of his boyhood lay.

His mother's faith he held not fast;
But he loved her living, mourned her dead.
And he kept her memory to the last
As green as the sod above her bed.

He held as sacred in his home
Whatever things she wrought or planned,
And never suffered change to come
To the work of her "industrious hand."

For her who pillowed first his head
He heaped with a wealth of flowers the grave.
While he chose to sleep in an unmarked bed,
By his Master's humblest poor — the slave!

Suppose he swerved from the straightest course —
That the things he should not do he did —
That he hid from the eyes of mortals, close.
Such sins as you and I have hid?

Or suppose him worse than you; what then?
Judge not, lest you be judged for sin!
One said who knew the hearts of men:
Who loveth much shall a pardon win.

The Prince of Glory for sinners bled;
His soul was bought with a royal price;
And his beautified feet on flowers may tread
To-day with his Lord in Paradise.

*The images of Thaddeus Stevens and Phoebe Cary both come from, an amazing educational resource which compiles hundreds of 19th-century photos.


  1. Hello Rob,

    ...and thanks for the deserved tribute to Thaddeus Stevens (whose name is misspelled in the opening line of your entry). I am an alumna of Gettysburg College, and he is much beloved there (including Stevens Hall, a women's dormitory building on land that he formerly owned, and his ironworks in nearby Caledonia). He is actually quite an interesting man all-around, as Phoebe Cary touches-on in her poetic elegy.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this - and thanks for noting the typo! All fixed now!