Stevens, Thaddeus

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Stevens, Thaddeus

Thaddeus Stevens, 1792–1868, U.S. Representative from Pennsylvania (1849–53, 1859–68), b. Danville, Vt. He taught in an academy at York, Pa., studied law, and was admitted to the bar in Maryland. He practiced law in Gettysburg (1816–42) and then in Lancaster, Pa. He also entered the iron business. Stevens first achieved political prominence as an Anti-Mason, and from 1833 to 1841 he served in the Pennsylvania legislature. An aggressive, uncompromising man possessing a formidable, sardonic wit, he helped defeat a bill abolishing the state's public-school system and was a vigorous proponent of a protective tariff. In his first two terms in Congress, Stevens was a Whig but also a forthright abolitionist, and he quit in disgust at his party's moderate stand on the slavery issue. A leading organizer of the Republican party in Pennsylvania, he returned to Congress in 1859. As chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, he was a powerful figure throughout the Civil War. Stevens secured huge appropriations for the Union forces and succeeded in having paper money authorized as legal tender. His hatred of the South seems to have been based on principle. After Henry W. Davis was defeated for reelection in 1864, Stevens in the House and Charles Sumner in the Senate were the leaders of the radical Republicans in Congress who opposed President Lincoln's moderate plan of Reconstruction. In Stevens's view, the Southern states defeated in the Civil War were "conquered provinces" and as chairman of the joint committee on Reconstruction he intended that they be treated as such. Victorious in the congressional elections of 1866, the radicals nullified the Reconstruction program of President Andrew Johnson, placed the South under military occupation, proscribed most ex-Confederates, and enfranchised African Americans. Stevens himself proposed the Fourteenth Amendment. Sincere in his devotion to the betterment of African Americans, Stevens nevertheless frankly admitted that the legislation guaranteeing them suffrage was designed to keep the Republican party in power. He dominated the committee that drew up the impeachment charges against Johnson and was one of the House managers in the subsequent trial before the Senate. Stevens requested that he be interred in a cemetery with African Americans rather than in a burial ground closed to them.

See biographies by S. W. McCall (1899, repr. 1972), J. A. Woodburn (1913), T. F. Woodley (rev. ed. 1937, repr. 1969), A. B. Miller (1939), R. N. Current (1941), R. Korngold (1955), F. M. Brodie (1959, repr. 1966), and H. L. Trefousse (1997, repr. 2005); T. H. Williams, Lincoln and the Radicals (1942, repr. 1960).

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