A portrait of the nineteenth-century statesman includes discussions of Stevens's decades-long fight against slavery, key role in the Union war effort, and postwar legislation for American racial justice.
... provides an anticipated and most welcome update of this anti-racist champion in the age of Black Lives Matter, falling Confederate monuments, and rising calls for transformational policy ... Stevens’s path to wartime racial and economic justice pioneer was a lifetime in the making, and Levine diligently tracks his subject’s decades-long evolution, exploring key developments that other biographers have neglected ... Unlike Abraham Lincoln and others, Stevens was adamant that the Confederate states had in fact left the Union. That secession was illegal, he maintained, did not mean that it had not occurred. Levine masterfully illustrates how Stevens used that fact to justify more sweeping war measures and, eventually, a transformation of Southern society ... Transformed by the interracial demands of working people on the ground, the popular image of Stevens has done a volte-face since the nadir of Jim Crow. Levine’s excellent biography is both the product and culmination of that labor ... exquisite.
Bruce Levine [...] restores [Stevens] fully to his place in the American pantheon with [...] a concise and powerful biography. With a firm grasp on the era’s political history, Mr. Levine pilots us deftly through Stevens’s rise in the Whig Party, his early participation in the antislavery movement, and his part in the founding of the Republican Party, with its opposition to the spread of slavery. He tracks as well the nuances of wartime rivalries and alliances and the fierce battle to enact revolutionary legislation after the war ... Mr. Levine is an unabashed but not uncritical admirer of his subject ... Mr. Levine is a fine guide to Stevens’s political career ... a work that stands as a fitting monument to one of the most formidable gladiators ever to stride the halls of Congress.
Levine has produced a work of popular history. It takes pains to put Stevens’s actions in context and provides background on his early life and the road to civil war. The writing is occasionally clunky but the history is vital. In the end, Reconstruction remained a road not taken, even as Stevens drove the train as fast as he could.