The many faces of Mr. Smith

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Author: Bill Kauffman
Date: October-November 2004
From: The American Enterprise(Vol. 15, Issue 7)
Publisher: The American Enterprise Institute
Document Type: Obituary
Length: 682 words

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Gerrit Smith has come down to us through history as the hypochondriacal abolitionist sugar daddy who bought John Brown his guns in 1859 and then avoided prosecution for treason with a well-timed stint in the nuthouse. Smith's posthumous reputation has, of late, taken on a glow: Long disparaged as a fanatic with more money than sense, in recent years he has benefited from the near-canonization of the abolitionists.

A Central New York land speculator whose zeal for human betterment led him to embrace every cause from dress reform to dietary fads, Smith makes easy prey for caricaturists. But he was also a generous man with a genuine sense of civic responsibility.

Smith was so esteemed by his neighbors that he was elected to Congress in 1852 as an independent. He served but one truncated term, quitting partway through for no apparent reason other than that he felt like it. Yet in his brief career, Representative Gerrit Smith compiled a libertarian voting record that might be the envy of such legendary...

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