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Thaddeus Stevens

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Subject: William H. Seward, Impeachment of Andrew Johnson, Pennsylvania in the American Civil War, 37th United States Congress, Abraham Lincoln
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Thaddeus Stevens

Thaddeus Stevens
Stevens in the 1860s
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 9th district
In office
March 4, 1859 – August 11, 1868
Preceded by Anthony Roberts
Succeeded by Oliver Dickey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1853
Preceded by John Strohm
Succeeded by Henry A. Muhlenberg
Personal details
Born (1792-04-04)April 4, 1792
Danville, Vermont, U.S.
Died August 11, 1868(1868-08-11) (aged 76)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting place Shreiner-Concord Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Political party
Alma mater Dartmouth College, University of Vermont
Profession Lawyer
  • Thad
  • "The Old Commoner"
  • "The Great Commoner"

Thaddeus Stevens (April 4, 1792 – August 11, 1868) was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Pennsylvania and one of the leaders of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican Party during the 1860s. A fierce opponent of slavery and discrimination against African-Americans, Stevens sought to secure their rights during Reconstruction, in opposition to President Andrew Johnson. As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee during the American Civil War, he played a major part in the war's financing.

Stevens was born in rural Vermont, in poverty, and with a club foot, giving him a limp he kept his entire life. He moved to Pennsylvania as a young man, and quickly became a successful lawyer in Gettysburg. He interested himself in municipal affairs, and then in politics. He was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where he became a strong advocate of free public education. Financial setbacks in 1842 caused him to move his home and practice to the larger city of Lancaster. There, he joined the Whig Party, and was elected to Congress in 1848. His activities as a lawyer and politician in opposition to slavery cost him votes and he did not seek reelection in 1852. After a brief flirtation with the Know-Nothing Party, Stevens joined the newly formed Republican Party, and was elected to Congress again in 1858. There, with fellow radicals such as Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, he opposed the expansion of slavery and concessions to the South as war came.

Stevens argued that slavery should not survive the war; he was frustrated by the slowness of President Abraham Lincoln to support his position. He guided the government's financial legislation through the House as Ways and Means chairman. As the war progressed towards a northern victory, Stevens came to believe that not only should slavery be abolished, but that African-Americans should be given a stake in the South's future through the confiscation of land from planters to be distributed to the freedmen. His plans went too far for the Moderate Republicans, and were not enacted.

After Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Stevens came into conflict with the new president, Johnson, who sought rapid restoration of the seceded states without guarantees for freedmen. The difference in views caused an ongoing battle between Johnson and Congress, with Stevens leading the Radical Republicans. After gains in the 1866 election the radicals took control of Reconstruction away from Johnson. Stevens's last great battle was to secure articles of impeachment in the House against Johnson, though the Senate did not convict the President. Historiographical views of Stevens have dramatically shifted over the years, from the early 20th-century view of Stevens as reckless and motivated by hatred of the white South, to the perspective of the neoabolitionists of the 1950s and afterwards, who applauded him for his egalitarian views.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Pennsylvania attorney and politician 2
    • Early years 2.1
    • Anti-Masonry 2.2
    • Crusader for education 2.3
    • Political change; move to Lancaster 2.4
  • Abolitionist and prewar congressman 3
    • Evolution of views 3.1
    • First tenure in Congress 3.2
    • Know-Nothing and Republican 3.3
    • 1860 election; secession crisis 3.4
  • American Civil War 4
    • Slavery 4.1
    • Financing the war 4.2
  • Reconstruction 5
    • Problem of reconstructing the South 5.1
    • Presidential Reconstruction 5.2
    • Congressional Reconstruction 5.3
    • Radical Reconstruction 5.4
  • Impeaching the President 6
  • Final months and death 7
  • Personal life and sites 8
    • Personal life 8.1
    • Related sites 8.2
  • Historical and popular view 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • Bibliography 12
  • Further reading 13
    • Historiography 13.1
    • Primary sources 13.2
  • External links 14

Early life and education

Stevens was born in Danville, Vermont, on April 4, 1792. He was the second of four children, all boys, and was named to honor the Polish general who served in the American Revolution, Thaddeus Kościuszko. His parents were Baptists who had emigrated from Massachusetts around 1786. Thaddeus was born with a club foot, at the time seen as a judgment from God for secret parental sin—and his older brother was born with the condition in both feet. The boys' father, Joshua Stevens, was a farmer and cobbler who struggled to make a living in Vermont. After fathering two more sons (born without disability) Joshua abandoned the children and his wife Sarah (née Morrill). The circumstances of his departure and his subsequent fate are uncertain; he may have died at the Battle of Oswego during the War of 1812.[1]

Sarah Stevens struggled to make a living from the farm, with the increasing aid of her sons.[2] She was determined that her sons improve themselves, and in 1807 moved the family to the neighboring town of Peacham, where she enrolled young Thaddeus in the Caledonia Grammar School (often called the Peacham Academy). He suffered much from the taunts of his classmates for his disability. Later accounts describe him there as "wilful, headstrong" with "an overwhelming burning desire to secure an education".[3]

After graduation, he enrolled at Burlington College of the University of Vermont, but suspended his studies due to the federal government's appropriation of campus buildings during the War of 1812.[4] Stevens then enrolled in the sophomore class at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. At Dartmouth, despite a stellar academic career, he was not elected to Phi Beta Kappa; this was reportedly a scarring experience for him.[5][6]

Stevens graduated from Dartmouth in 1814, and was chosen as a commencement speaker. Afterwards, he returned to Peacham and briefly taught there. Stevens also began to study law with Judge John Mattocks in Danville. In early 1815, after writing to friends in York, Pennsylvania, he moved there.[7]

Pennsylvania attorney and politician

Early years

In Pennsylvania, Stevens taught school at the York Academy and continued his studies for the bar.[8] Local lawyers passed a resolution barring from membership anyone who had "followed any other profession while preparing for admission.",[9] a restriction likely aimed at Stevens. Undaunted, he reportedly (according to a story he often retold) presented himself and four bottles of Madeira wine to the examining board in nearby Harford County, Maryland, and few questions were asked but much wine drunk. He left Bel Air the next morning with a certificate allowing him, through reciprocity, to practice law anywhere. Stevens then went to Gettysburg, the seat of Adams County,[8][10] where he opened an office in September 1816.[11]

Stevens knew no one in Gettysburg, and initially had little success as a lawyer. His breakthrough, in mid-1817, was a case in which a farmer who had been jailed for debt later killed one of the constables who had arrested him. His defense, although unsuccessful, impressed the local people, and he never lacked for business thereafter.[11] In his legal career, he demonstrated the propensity for sarcasm that would later mark him as a politician, once telling a judge who accused him of manifesting contempt, "Sir, I am doing my best to conceal it."[12]

Many who memorialized Stevens after his death in 1868 agreed on his talent as a lawyer. He was involved in the first ten cases to reach the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from Adams County after he began practice, and won nine. One case he later wished he had not won was Butler v. Delaplaine, in which he successfully reclaimed a slave on behalf of her owner.[13]

In Gettysburg, Stevens also began his involvement in politics, serving six one-year terms on the borough council between 1822 and 1831 and becoming its president.[14] He took the profits from his practice and invested them in Gettysburg real estate, becoming the largest landowner in the community by 1825, and had an interest in several iron furnaces outside town.[13] In addition to assets, he acquired enemies; after the death of a pregnant black woman in Gettysburg, there were anonymous letter-writers to newspapers, hinting that Stevens was culpable. The rumors dogged him for years;[15] when one newspaper opposed to Stevens printed a letter in 1831 naming him as the killer, he successfully sued for libel.[16]


Stevens's first political cause was John Quincy Adams was General Andrew Jackson, a Mason who mocked opponents of the order, Anti-Masonry became closely associated with opposition to Jackson, and to his policies once he was elected president in 1828.[17]

Jackson's adherents were from the old Democratic-Republican Party and eventually became known as the Democrats. Stevens had been told by fellow attorney (and future president) James Buchanan that he could advance politically if he joined them, but Stevens could not support Jackson, out of principle.[18] For Stevens, Anti-Masonry became one means of opposing Jackson; he may also have had personal reasons as the Masons barred "cripples" from joining. Stevens took to Anti-Masonry with enthusiasm, and remained loyal to it after most Pennsylvanians had dropped the cause. His biographer, Hans Trefousse, suggested that another reason for Stevens's virulence was an attack of disease in the late 1820s that cost him his hair (he thereafter wore wigs, often ill-fitting), and "the unwelcome illness may well have contributed to his unreasonable fanaticism concerning the Masons".[19]

By 1829, Anti-Masonry had evolved into a political party that proved popular in rural central Pennsylvania. Stevens quickly became prominent in the movement, attending the party's first two national conventions in 1830 and 1831. At the latter, he pressed the candidacy of Supreme Court Justice John McLean as the party's presidential candidate, but in vain as the nomination fell to former Attorney General William Wirt. Jackson was easily reelected; the crushing defeat (Wirt won only Vermont) caused the party to disappear in most places, though it remained powerful in Pennsylvania for several years.[20][21]

In September 1833, Stevens was elected to a one-year term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as an Anti-Mason, and once in invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and when Stevens verbally abused one of them, it created a backlash that caused his own party to end the investigation. The fracas cost Stevens reelection in 1836, and the issue of Anti-Masonry died in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Stevens remained an opponent of the order for the rest of his life.[22][23]

Crusader for education

Beginning with his early years in Gettysburg, Stevens advanced the cause of universal education. At the time, no state outside New England had free public education for all. In Pennsylvania, there was free education in Philadelphia, but elsewhere in the state, those wishing to have their children educated without paying tuition had to swear a pauper's oath. Stevens opened his extensive private library to the public and gave up his presidency of the borough council, believing his service on the school board more important.[24] In 1825, he was elected by the voters of Adams County as a trustee of Gettysburg Academy. As the school was failing, Stevens got county voters to agree to pay its debt, allowing it to be sold as a Lutheran seminary. It was granted the right to award college degrees in 1831 as Pennsylvania College, and in 1921 became Gettysburg College. Stevens gave the school land upon which a building could be raised and for many years served as a trustee.[25][26][27]

Portrait of Stevens by Jacob Eichholtz now owned by Gettysburg College

In April 1834, Stevens, working with Governor Wolf, guided through the legislature an act to allow districts across the state to vote on whether to have public schools and the taxes to pay for them. Gettysburg's district voted in favor, and also elected Stevens as a school director, where he served until 1839. Tens of thousands of voters signed petitions urging a reversal. The result was a repeal bill that easily passed the Senate. It was widely believed the bill would also pass the House, and be enacted despite opposition by Stevens. When he rose to speak on April 11, 1835, he defended the new educational system, stating that it would actually save money, and demonstrated how. He stated opponents were seeking to separate the poor into a lower caste than themselves, and accused the rich of greed and failure to empathize with the poor. Stevens argued, "Build not your monuments of brass or marble, but make them of everliving mind!"[28][29] The repeal bill was defeated; Stevens was given wide credit. Trefousse suggested that the victory was not due to Stevens's eloquence, but due to his influence, combined with that of Governor Wolf.[30]

Political change; move to Lancaster

In 1838, Stevens ran again for the legislature. He hoped that if the remaining Anti-Masons and the emerging Whig Party gained a majority, he could be elected to the United States Senate, whose members until 1913 were chosen by state legislatures. A campaign dirty even by the standards of the times followed. The result was a Democrat elected as governor, Whig control of the state Senate, and the state House in dispute, with a number of seats from Philadelphia in question, though Stevens won his seat in Adams County. Stevens sought to have those Philadelphia Democrats excluded, which would create a Whig majority that could elect a Speaker and himself as senator. Amid rioting in Harrisburg—later known as the "Buckshot War"—Stevens's ploy backfired, with the Democrats taking control of the House. Stevens remained in the legislature most years through 1842, but the episode cost him much of his political influence, as the Whigs blamed him for the debacle and were increasingly unwilling to give leadership to someone who had not yet joined their party. Nevertheless, he supported the pro-business and pro-development Whig stances.[31] He campaigned for the Whig candidate in the 1840 presidential election, former general William Henry Harrison. Though Stevens later alleged that Harrison had promised him a Cabinet position if elected, he received none, and any influence ended when Harrison died after a month in office, to be succeeded by John Tyler, a southerner hostile to Stevens's stances on slavery.[31][32]

Although Stevens was the most successful lawyer in Gettysburg, he had accrued debt due to his business interests. Refusing to take advantage of the bankruptcy laws, he felt he needed to move to a larger municipality in order to gain the money to pay his obligations. In 1842, Stevens moved his home and practice to the city of Lancaster. He knew Lancaster County was an Anti-Mason and Whig stronghold, which ensured that he retained a political base. Within a short period, he was earning more than any other Lancaster attorney; by 1848 he had reduced his debts to $30,000, and paid them off soon after. It was in Lancaster that he engaged the services of Lydia Hamilton Smith, a mulatto housekeeper who remained with him the rest of his life.[33]

Abolitionist and prewar congressman

Evolution of views

In the 1830s, few sought the immediate eradication of slavery. The abolitionist movement was young and only recently had figures such as William Lloyd Garrison taken on the fight.[34] Stevens's reason for adopting slavery as a cause has been disputed among his recent biographers. Richard Current in 1942, suggested it was out of ambition; Fawn Brodie, in her controversial 1959 psychobiography of Stevens, suggested it was out of identification with the downtrodden, based on his handicap.[35] Trefousse, in his 1997 work, also suggested that Stevens's feelings towards the downtrodden were a factor, combined with remorse over the Butler case, but that ambition was unlikely to have been a major motivator, as Stevens's fervor in the anti-slavery cause inhibited his career.[36]

Stevens's home on Queen Street, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

At the Pennsylvania constitutional convention in 1837, Stevens, who was a delegate, fought against the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, though he was willing to support a minimum property requirement for all voters.[37] According to historian Eric Foner, "When Stevens refused to sign the 1837 constitution because of its voting provision, he announced his commitment to a non-racial definition of American citizenship to which he would adhere for the remainder of his life".[38] After he moved to Lancaster, a city not far from the Mason–Dixon line, he became active in the Underground Railroad, not only defending people believed to be fugitive slaves, but coordinating the movements of those seeking freedom.[39] A 2003 renovation at his former home in Lancaster disclosed that there was a hidden cistern, attached to the main building by a concealed tunnel, in which escaped slaves hid.[40][41]

Stevens, until the outbreak of the Civil War, took the public position that he supported slavery's end and opposed its expansion. Nevertheless, he would not seek to disturb it in the states where it existed as the Constitution protected their internal affairs from outside interference.[34] He also supported slaveowning Whig candidates for president: Henry Clay in 1844[42] and Zachary Taylor in 1848.[43]

First tenure in Congress

In 1848, Stevens ran for election to Congress from Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district. There was opposition to him at the Whig convention. Some delegates felt that because Stevens had been late to join the party, he should not receive the nomination; others disliked his stance on slavery. He narrowly won the nomination. In a strong year for Whigs nationally, Taylor was chosen as president and Stevens was elected to Congress.[44]

It is my purpose nowhere 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 [Democratic] skunk across the way to which I referred. Least of all would I reproach the South. I honor her courage and fidelity. Even in a bad, a wicked cause, she shows a united front. All her sons are faithful to the cause of human bondage, because it is their cause. But the North—the poor, timid, mercenary, driveling North—has no such united defenders of her cause, although it is the cause of human liberty ... She is offered up a sacrifice to propitiate southern tyranny—to conciliate southern treason.

Stevens in the House debate over the Fugitive Slave Act, June 10, 1850[45]

When Congress convened in December 1849, Stevens took his seat, joining other newly elected slavery opponents such as Salmon P. Chase. Stevens spoke out against the Compromise of 1850, crafted by Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, that gave victories to both North and South, but would allow for some of the territories recently gained from Mexico to become slave states.[46] In June, as the debates continued, he stated, "This word 'compromise' when applied to human rights and constitutional rights I abhor".[47] Nevertheless, the pieces of legislation that made up the Compromise passed, including the Fugitive Slave Act, which Stevens found particularly offensive.[48] Although many Americans hoped that the Compromise would bring sectional peace, Stevens warned that it would be "the fruitful mother of future rebellion, disunion, and civil war".[49]

Stevens was easily renominated and reelected in 1850, even though his stance caused him problems among pro-Compromise Whigs.[50] In 1851, Stevens was one of the defense lawyers in the trial of 38 African-Americans and three others in federal court in Philadelphia on treason charges. The defendants had been implicated in the so-called Christiana Riot, in which an attempt to enforce a Fugitive Slave Act warrant had resulted in the killing of the slaveowner. Justice Robert Grier of the U.S. Supreme Court, as circuit justice, tried the case, and instructed the jury to acquit on the grounds that though the defendants might be guilty of murder or riot, they were not charged with that, and were not guilty of treason. The well-publicized incident (and others like it) increased polarization over the issue of slavery and made Stevens a prominent face of Northern abolitionism.[50][51]

Despite this trend, Stevens suffered political problems. He left the Whig caucus in December 1851, when his colleagues would not join him in seeking the repeal of the offensive elements of the Compromise, though he supported its unsuccessful 1852 candidate for president, General Winfield Scott. His political opposition, and local dislike of his stance on slavery and participation in the treason trial, made him unlikely to win renomination, and he sought only to pick his successor. His choice was defeated for the Whig nomination.[52]

Know-Nothing and Republican

Out of office, Stevens concentrated on the practice of law in Lancaster, remaining one of the leading attorneys in the state. He stayed active in politics, and in 1854, to gain more votes for the anti-slavery movement, he joined the nativist Know Nothing Party. The members were pledged not to speak of party deliberations (thus, they knew nothing), and Stevens was attacked for his membership in a group with similar rules of secrecy as the Masons. In 1855, Stevens joined the new Republican Party. Other former Whigs who were anti-slavery joined as well, including William H. Seward of New York, Charles E. Sumner of Massachusetts, and Abraham Lincoln of Illinois.[53]

Stevens was a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention, where he supported Justice McLean, as he had in 1832. The convention, however, nominated John C. Frémont, whom Stevens actively supported in the race against his fellow Lancastrian, the Democratic candidate James Buchanan. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania helped elect Buchanan.[54] Stevens returned to the practice of law, but by 1858, with the President and his party unpopular and the nation torn by such controversies as the Dred Scott decision, Stevens saw an opportunity to return to Congress. As the Republican nominee, he was easily elected. Democratic papers were appalled. One banner headline read, "Niggerism Triumphant".[55]

1860 election; secession crisis

Stevens took his seat in Congress in December 1859, only days after the hanging of John Brown, who had attacked the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry hoping to cause a slave insurrection. Stevens opposed Brown's violent actions at the time, though later, he was more approving. Sectional tensions spilled over into the House, which proved unable to elect a Speaker for eight weeks. Stevens was active in the bitter flow of invective from both sides; at one point, Mississippi Congressman William Barksdale drew a knife on him, though no blood was spilled.[56]

Southern view of the proposed compromises of 1860 and 1861, with "Dr. North" (Stevens) proposing to cut the South's legs off by means of constitutional amendment. Stevens actually opposed such measures.

With the Democrats unable to agree on a single presidential candidate, the 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago became crucial, as the nominee would be in a favorable position to become president. Prominent figures in the party such as Seward and Lincoln sought the nomination. Stevens continued to support the 75-year-old Justice McLean. Beginning on the second ballot, most Pennsylvania delegates supported Lincoln, helping to win the Illinoisan the nomination. As the Democrats put up no candidate in his district, Stevens was assured of reelection to the House, and campaigned for Lincoln in Pennsylvania. Lincoln won a majority in the Electoral College. The President-elect's known opposition to the expansion of slavery caused immediate talk of secession in the southern states, a threat that Stevens had downplayed during the campaign.[57][58]

Congress convened in December 1860, with several of the southern states already pledging to secede. Stevens was unyielding in opposing efforts to appease the southerners, such as the Crittenden Compromise, which would have enshrined slavery as beyond constitutional amendment.[59] He stated, in a remark widely quoted both North and South, that rather than offer concessions because of Lincoln's election, he would see "this Government crumble into a thousand atoms", and that the forces of the United States would crush any rebellion.[60] Despite Stevens's protests, the lame-duck Buchanan administration did little in response to the secession votes, allowing most federal resources in the South to fall into rebel hands. Many, even in the abolition movement, were content to let it be so, and to let the South go its own way. Stevens did not agree, and the congressman was "undoubtedly pleased" by Lincoln's statement in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861, that he would "hold, occupy and possess the property and places belonging to the Government".[61][62]

American Civil War


When war began in April 1861, Stevens argued that the Confederates were revolutionaries, to be crushed by force. He also believed that the Confederacy had placed itself beyond the protection of the U.S. Constitution by making war, and in a reconstituted United States, slavery would have no place. Speaker Galusha Grow, whose views placed him with Stevens among the members becoming known as the Radical Republican (for their position on slavery, as opposed to the Conservative or Moderate Republicans), appointed him as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. This position gave him power over the House's agenda.[63]

Abolition—Yes! abolish everything on the face of the earth but this Union; free every slave—slay every traitor—burn every rebel mansion, if these things be necessary to preserve this temple of freedom to the world and to our posterity.

Stevens accepting renomination for his congressional seat, September 1, 1862[64]

In July 1861, Stevens secured the passage of an act to confiscate the property, including slaves, of certain rebels. In November 1861, Stevens introduced a resolution to emancipate all slaves; it was defeated.[40] However, legislation did pass that abolished slavery in the District of Columbia and in the territories. By March 1862, to Stevens's exasperation, the most Lincoln had publicly supported was gradual emancipation in the Border states, with the masters compensated by the federal government.[65]

Stevens and other radicals were frustrated at how slow Lincoln was to adopt their policies for emancipation; according to Brodie, "Lincoln seldom succeeded in matching Stevens's pace, though both were marching towards the same bright horizon".[66] In April 1862, Stevens wrote to a friend, "As for future hopes, they are poor as Lincoln is nobody."[67] The radicals aggressively pushed the issue, provoking Lincoln to comment: "Stevens, Sumner and [Massachusetts Senator Henry] Wilson simply haunt me with their importunities for a Proclamation of Emancipation. Wherever I go and whatever way I turn, they are on my tail, and still in my heart, I have the deep conviction that the hour [to issue one] has not yet come."[68] The President stated that if it came to a showdown between the radicals and their enemies, he would have to side with Stevens and his fellows, and deemed them "the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with" but "with their faces ... set Zionwards".[69] Although Lincoln composed his proclamation in June and July 1862, the secret was held within his Cabinet, and the President turned aside radical pleadings to issue one until after the Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in September. Stevens quickly adopted the Emancipation Proclamation for use in his successful reelection campaign.[70] When Congress returned in December, Stevens maintained his criticism of Lincoln's policies, calling them "flagrant usurpations, deserving the condemnation of the community".[71] Stevens generally opposed Lincoln's plans to colonize freed slaves abroad, though sometimes he supported emigration proposals for political reasons.[72]

During the Confederate incursion into the North in mid-1863 that culminated in the

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Strohm
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district

Succeeded by
Henry A. Muhlenberg
Preceded by
Anthony Roberts
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 9th congressional district

Succeeded by
Oliver Dickey
Political offices
Preceded by
John Sherman
Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee
Succeeded by
Justin Morrill
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Abraham Lincoln
Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda

August 13 – August 14, 1868
Succeeded by
Charles Sumner
  • Stevens and Smith Historic Site
  • Thaddeus Stevens Society
  • Thaddeus Stevens at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Includes Guide to Research Collections where his papers are located.
  • Mr. Lincoln and Freedom: Thaddeus Stevens
  • Mr. Lincoln's White House: Thaddeus Stevens

External links

  • Kendrick, Benjamin B. The Journal of the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction. New York: Columbia University, 1914.
  • Palmer, Beverly Wilson and Holly Byers Ochoa, eds. The Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens 2 vol (1998), 900pp; his speeches plus letters to and from Stevens
  • Stevens, Thaddeus, et al. Report of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, at the First Session ... by United States Congress. Joint Committee on Reconstruction, (1866) 791 pages; online edition
  • Memorial Addresses on the Life and Character of Thaddeus Stevens: Delivered ... by United States 40th Cong., 3d sess., 1868–1869. (1869) 84 pages; online edition

Primary sources

  • Jolly, James A. "The Historical Reputation of Thaddeus Stevens," Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society (1970) 74:33–71
  • Pickens, Donald K. "The Republican Synthesis and Thaddeus Stevens," Civil War History (1985) 31:57–73; argues that Stevens was totally committed to Republicanism and capitalism in terms of self-improvement, the advance of society, equal distribution of land, and economic liberty for all; to achieve that he had to destroy slavery and the aristocracy.


  • Beale, Howard K. The Critical Year: A Study of Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction. (1930)
  • Belz, Herman. Reconstructing the Union: Theory and Practice During the Civil War. (1969)
  • Benedict, Michael Les. A Compromise of Principle: Congressional Republicans and Reconstruction 1863–1869. (1974)
  • Bowers, Claude G. The Tragic Era - The Revolution After Lincoln. 1929
  • Callender, Edward Beecher. Thaddeus Stevens: Commoner. Boston: A. Williams and Company, 1882.
  • Current, Richard Nelson. Old Thad Stevens: A Story of Ambition (1942) a scholarly biography that argues Stevens was primarily concerned with enhancing his own power, the power of the Republican Party, and the needs of big business, especially iron-making and railroads.
  • Foner, Eric. "Thaddeus Stevens, Confiscation, and Reconstruction," in Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, eds. The Hofstadter Aegis (1974).
  • Gans, David H. Perfecting the Declaration: The Text and History of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Constitutional Accountability Center, 16 November 2011.
  • Goldenberg, Barry M. The Unknown Architects of Civil Rights: Thaddeus Stevens, Ulysses S. Grant, and Charles Sumner. Los Angeles, CA: Critical Minds Press. (2011).
  • Graber, Mark A. "Subtraction by Addition? The Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments". Columbia Law Review 112(7), November 2012; pp. 1501–1549.
  • Halbrook, Stephen P. Freedmen, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Right to Bear Arms, 1866–1876. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1998. ISBN 0-275-96331-4 (See excerpts from Jon Roland, 24 September 2000)
  • McCall, Samuel Walker. Thaddeus Stevens (1899) 369 pages; outdated biography online edition
  • Shepard, Christopher, "Making No Distinctions between Rich and Poor: Thaddeus Stevens and Class Equality," Pennsylvania History, 80 (Winter 2013), 37–50.
  • Stryker, Lloyd Paul; Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage (1929), hostile to Stevens online version
  • Woodburn, James Albert. The Life of Thaddeus Stevens: A Study in American Political History, Especially in the Period of the Civil War and Reconstruction. (1913) online version
  • Woodburn, James Albert. "The Attitude of Thaddeus Stevens Toward the Conduct of the Civil War," The American Historical Review, Vol. 12, No. 3 (April 1907), pp. 567–583 in JSTOR
  • Zeitz, Josh. "Stevens, Thaddeus", American National Biography Online February 2000.

Further reading

  • Andreasen, Bryon C. (Summer 2000). "Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian by Hans L. Trefousse: Review". Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press) 21 (2): 75–81.  
  • Berlin, Jean V. (April 1993). "Thaddeus Stevens and his biographers". Pennsylvania History (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press) 60 (2): 153–162.  
  • Bond, Horace Mann. "Social and Economic Forces in Alabama Reconstruction". Journal of Negro History 23(3), July 1938. Accessed via JStor, 7 July 2013.
  • Bryant-Jones, Mildred. "The political program of Thaddeus Stevens, 1865". Phylon (Atlanta: Clark Atlanta University) 2 (2, 2nd Qtr. 1941): 147–154.  
  • Castel, Albert E. (1979). The Presidency of Andrew Johnson. American Presidency. Lawrence, Kan.: The Regents Press of Kansas.  
  • Hamilton, Howard Devon. The Legislative and Judicial History of the Thirteenth Amendment. Political Science dissertation at University of Illinois; accepted 15 May 1950. Accessed via ProQuest, 4 July 2013.
  • Cox, LaWanda and John H. Cox. Politics, Principle, and Prejudice 1865–1866: Dilemma of Reconstruction America. London: Collier-Macmillan, 1963.
  • Foner, Eric. Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. Oxford University Press, 1980. ISBN 978-0-19-972708-7
  • Foner, Eric (2002) [1988]. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. New York: HarperCollins.  
  • Glatfelter, Charles H. (April 1993). "Thaddeus Stevens in the cause of education: The Gettysburg years". Pennsylvania History (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press) 60 (2): 163–175.  
  • Columbia Law Review 112(7), November 2012; pp. 1607–1640.
  • Tsesis, Alexander. The Thirteenth Amendment and American Freedom: A Legal History. New York University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8147-8276-0
  • Vorenberg, Michael .Final Freedom: The Civil War, the Abolition of Slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment. Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 978-1-139-42800-2


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  2. ^ Meltzer, pp. 3–4
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  4. ^ History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men; Chapter XXI. The Bench and Bar of Lancaster County
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  7. ^ Trefousse, pp. 5–7
  8. ^ a b Trefousse, p. 11
  9. ^ History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men: Chapter XXI. The Bench and Bar of Lancaster County
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  69. ^ David Herbert Donald (2004). We Are Lincoln Men: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 205.  
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  98. ^ William C. Harris, "The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln's Presidential Leadership", Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 21(1), Winter 2000. Retrieved on June 30, 2013.
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  109. ^ a b Soifer, p. 1616
  110. ^ Soifer, p. 1613
  111. ^ Gans, p. 10
  112. ^ Halbrook, pp. 6–8
  113. ^ Halbrook, p. 34
  114. ^ Stewart, p. 55–57
  115. ^ Du Bois, pp. 300–307.
  116. ^ Trefousse, pp. 178–179
  117. ^ Bond, p. 300
  118. ^ a b Foner (1980), pp. 139–140
  119. ^ Foner, pp. 242–247
  120. ^ Trefousse, pp. 180–181
  121. ^ Trefousse, pp. 181–186
  122. ^ Brodie, pp. 277–289
  123. ^ Foner, pp. 273–277
  124. ^ Foner, pp. 282–283, 296–299, 332–333
  125. ^ "Amendment XIV". US Government Printing Office. Archived from the original on July 15, 2013. Retrieved June 23, 2013. 
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  129. ^ Trefousse, p. 195
  130. ^ Trefousse, pp. 210–212
  131. ^ Foner, p. 309
  132. ^ Stewart, p. 39
  133. ^ Trefousse, pp. 217–218
  134. ^ Trefousse, pp. 213–214
  135. ^ Castel, pp. 136–137
  136. ^ Castel, pp. 146–147
  137. ^ Stewart, pp. 103–111
  138. ^ Castel, pp. 158–159
  139. ^ Brodie, p. 334
  140. ^ Foner, p. 334
  141. ^ Trefousse, pp. 224–225
  142. ^ Trefousse, p. 225
  143. ^ Meltzer, p. 200
  144. ^ Meltzer, p. 201
  145. ^ Trefousse, pp. 226–229
  146. ^ Trefousse, pp. 231–233
  147. ^ Stewart, pp. 233–234
  148. ^ Stewart, pp. 275–279
  149. ^ Trefousse, pp. 233–234
  150. ^ Trefousse, pp. 234–235
  151. ^ Brodie, pp. 356–357
  152. ^ Trefousse, p. 235
  153. ^ Brodie, pp. 361–363
  154. ^ Brodie, p. 363
  155. ^ Brodie, p. 364
  156. ^ Brodie, p. 366
  157. ^ Trefousse, pp. 240–241
  158. ^ a b Meltzer, p. 218
  159. ^ Trefousse, p. 242
  160. ^ "Thaddeus Stevens. The New York Times, August 13, 1868. Retrieved on June 14, 2013.
  161. ^ Brodie, p. 369
  162. ^ Trefousse, pp. 242–243
  163. ^ "Who was Lydia Hamilton Smith?". February 6, 2010. Archived from the original on February 6, 2010. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  164. ^ Woodley, Thomas Frederick (1969) [1937]. The Great Leveler: Thaddeus Stevens. New York: Stackpole Sons. p. 149.  
  165. ^ Brodie, pp. 86–87
  166. ^ Brodie, p. 87
  167. ^ Palmer, Beverly Wilson (1997). Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 219.  
  168. ^ Brodie, p. 88
  169. ^ Brodie, pp. 90–91
  170. ^ a b Trefousse, p. 244
  171. ^ Brodie, p. 92
  172. ^ Trefousse, pp. 78, 90–91
  173. ^ Chadwick, Albert G. (1883). Soldiers' record of the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-5. St. Johnsbury, Vt.: C.M. Stone & Co. p. 177. Retrieved July 15, 2013. 
  174. ^ Trefousse, p. 136
  175. ^ Retrieved on June 15, 2013.
  176. ^ Stevens Society to discuss new work. Gettysburg Times, January 4, 2006, p. 1. Retrieved on June 15, 2013.
  177. ^ Lelyveld, Joseph. "Well-wishers besiege Amy Carter's school". The New York Times, November 30, 1976, p. 41. Retrieved on June 17, 2013. (subscription required)
  178. ^ Current, p. 262
  179. ^ Berlin, pp. 153–154
  180. ^ a b Current, p. 260
  181. ^ Andreasen, p. 78
  182. ^ a b Berlin, p. 154
  183. ^ Brodie, p. 370
  184. ^ a b Castel, pp. 220–221
  185. ^ Brodie, pp. 369–370
  186. ^ Berlin, p. 155
  187. ^ Brodie, p. 86
  188. ^ Foner, Eric. "If you wondered about Thaddeus Stevens ...". The New York Times, December 31, 1976, p. 14. Retrieved on June 16, 2013. (subscription required)
  189. ^ James Truslow Adams. The Epic of America. Boston: Little, Brown, 1931. p. 275.
  190. ^ Berlin, pp. 155–157
  191. ^ Berlin, p. 157
  192. ^ Castel, pp. 222, 225
  193. ^ Andreasen, pp. 76–77
  194. ^ Andreasen, p. 79
  195. ^ Andreasen, pp. 79–80
  196. ^ Andreasen, p. 75
  197. ^ Hans L. Trefousse (1991). Historical Dictionary of Reconstruction. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 214.  
  198. ^ Andreasen, p. 80
  199. ^ Andreasen, p. 77
  200. ^ a b Pinsker, Matthew. Warning: Artists at work. Dickinson College, February 14, 2013. Retrieved on June 15, 2013.
  201. ^ Bady, Aaron. against the radicalsLincoln. Jacobin. Retrieved on June 15, 2013


  1. ^ James Ashley introduced the amendment in December 1863. In March 1864 Stevens proposed a version which added "forever" to the conditional prohibition and explicitly annulled the Fugitive Slave Clause in Article 4, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. The version which ultimately passed had already been crafted by the Senate Judiciary Committee.[75]



See also

Steven Spielberg's 2012 film Lincoln, in which Stevens was played by Tommy Lee Jones, brought new public interest in Stevens. Jones's character is portrayed as the central figure among the radicals, responsible in large part for the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. Historian Matthew Pinsker notes that Stevens is referred to only four times in Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals on which scriptwriter Tony Kushner based the film's screenplay; other radicals were folded into the character. Stevens is depicted as unable to moderate his views for the sake of gaining passage of the amendment until after he is urged to do so by the ever-compromising Lincoln.[200] According to Aaron Bady in his article about the film and how it portrays the radicals, "he's the uncle everyone is embarrassed of, even if they love him too much to say so. He's not a leader, he's a liability, one whose shining heroic moment will be when he keeps silent about what he really believes."[201] The film depicts a Stevens–Smith sexual relationship; Pinsker comments that "it may well have been true that they were lovers, but by injecting this issue into the movie, the filmmakers risk leaving the impression for some viewers that the 'secret' reason for Stevens's egalitarianism was his desire to legitimate his romance across racial lines."[200]

Historian Hans Trefousse stated in a 1969 study of the Radical Republicans that Stevens's "one abiding passion was equality".[196] In 1991, he noted that Stevens "was one of the most influential representatives ever to serve in Congress. [He dominated] the House with his wit, knowledge of parliamentary law, and sheer willpower, even though he was often unable to prevail."[197] In his 1997 biography of Stevens, though, he took a position similar to McKitrick's: that Stevens was a relatively marginal figure, with his influence often limited by his extremism.[198] Trefousse believed that Brodie went too far both in deeming Stevens's clubfoot responsible for so much about him, and in giving full credence to the Stevens-Smith relationship: both those things cannot now be determined with certainty.[199]

Scholars who followed Brodie continued to chip away at the idea of Stevens as a vindictive dictator, who dominated Congress to get his way. In 1960, Eric McKitrick deemed Stevens "a picturesque and adroit politician, but a very limited one" whose career was "a long comic sequence of devilish schemes which, one after another, kept blowing up in his face".[194] From the mid-1970s onward, Foner argued that Stevens's role was in staking out radical position, but events, not Stevens, caused the Republicans to support him. Michael Les Benedict in 1974 suggested that Stevens's reputation as a dictator was based more on his personality than on his influence. In 1989, Allan Bogue found that as chairman of Ways and Means, Stevens was "less than complete master" of his committee.[195]

With Ralph Korngold's 1955 biography of Stevens, the neoabolitionist school of historians began to consider the former congressman. These professors rejected the earlier view that those who had gone South to aid the African-American after the war were "rapscallion carpetbaggers" defeated by "saintly redeemers". Instead, they applauded those who had sought to end slavery and forward civil rights, and castigated Johnson for obstructionism. They took the view that the African-American was central to Reconstruction, and the only things wrong with the congressional program were that it did not go far enough, and stopped too soon. Brodie's 1959 biography of Stevens was of this school. Controversial in its conclusions for being a psychobiography, it found that Stevens was a "consummate underdog who identified with the oppressed", and whose intelligence won him success, while his consciousness of his clubfoot retarded his social development.[191][192] According to Brodie, this also made him unwilling to marry a woman of his own social standing.[193]

Historians who penned biographies of Stevens in the late 1930s sought to move away from this perspective, seeking to rehabilitate him and his political career. Thomas F. Woodley wrote of Stevens in 1937, and while his work shows admiration of Stevens, he attributed Stevens's driving force to bitterness over his clubfoot. Alphonse Miller, in his 1939 biography, found that the former congressman was motivated by a desire for justice. Both men were convinced that recent books had not treated him fairly. Richard Current's 1942 work reflected current Beardian historiography which saw all American history, including Reconstruction, as a three-way economic struggle between the industrialists of the Northeast (represented by Stevens), the planters of the South and the farmers of the Midwest. Current argued that Stevens was motivated in his Reconstruction policies by frustrated ambitions, and a desire to use his political position to promote industrial capitalism and advance the Republican Party. He concluded that despite Stevens's egalitarian beliefs he actually promoted inequality, for "none had done more than he to bring on the age of Big Business, with its concentration of wealth".[190]

With the advent of the Dunning School's view of Reconstruction after 1900, Stevens continued to be viewed negatively, and generally as motivated by hatred. These historians, led by William Dunning, taught that Reconstruction had been an opportunity for radical politicians, motivated by ill-will towards the South, to destroy what little of southern life and dignity the war had left.[182][183][184] Dunning himself deemed Stevens "truculent, vindictive, and cynical".[182] Lloyd Paul Stryker, who wrote a highly favorable 1929 biography of Johnson, labeled Stevens as a "horrible old man ... craftily preparing to strangle the bleeding, broken body of the South" and who thought it would be "a beautiful thing" to see "the white men, especially the white women of the South, writhing under negro domination".[184][185] In 1915, D. W. Griffith's film The Birth of a Nation was released, containing the villainous character, Congressman Austin Stoneman, who resembled Stevens down to the ill-fitting wig, limp, and African-American lover (named Lydia Brown). This popular treatment reinforced and reinvigorated public prejudices towards Stevens.[186][187] According to Foner, "as historians exalted the magnanimity of Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, Stevens came to symbolize Northern malice, revenge, and irrational hatred of the South."[188] The highly popular historian James Truslow Adams described Stevens as "perhaps the most despicable, malevolent, and morally deformed character who has ever risen to high power in America."[189]

Ralph Lewis as Austin Stoneman and Mary Alden as Lydia Brown, The Birth of a Nation, 1915

As Stevens biographer Richard N. Current put it, "to find out what really made the man go, the historian would need the combined aid of two experts from outside the profession—a psychoanalyst and a spiritualist."[178] The historical view of Thaddeus Stevens has fluctuated widely in the near century and a half since his death, generally in a manner inverse to that of Andrew Johnson. Early biographical works on Stevens were composed by men who knew him, and reflected their prejudices. Biographies at the turn of the century, such as that by Samuel McCall in 1899 and James Albert Woodburn in 1913, presented Stevens favorably, as a sincere man, motivated by principle.[179] Early African-American historian W. E. B. Du Bois called Stevens "a leader of the common people" and "a stern believer in democracy, both in politics and in industry".[180] Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James Ford Rhodes opined that though Stevens had a "profound sympathy" towards the African-American, "coming straight from the heart", he also showed "virulence toward the South" and was "bitter and vindictive".[180] This view of a vengeful Stevens originated during Reconstruction, and persisted well into the 20th century.[181]

Historical and popular view

[177] Among a number of other schools named for Stevens, the

Buildings associated with Stevens and with Smith in Lancaster are being renovated by the local historical society,[175] In his will, Stevens made a number of bequests, with much of his estate to his nephew Thaddeus Jr., on condition that he refrain from alcohol. If he did not, that bequest would go to establish an orphanage in Lancaster, to be open to all races and nationalities without discrimination. A legal fight over his estate ensued, and it was not until 1894 that the courts settled the matter, awarding $50,000 to found the orphanage.[170] The school today is the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, in Lancaster.[176]

Thaddeus Stevens School, also known as Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School, located at 1050 21st Street, NW in Washington, D.C. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Related sites

Stevens had taken custody of his two young nephews, Thaddeus (often called "Thaddeus Jr.") and Alanson Joshua Stevens after their parents died in Vermont. Alanson was sent to work at Stevens's business, Caledonia Forge, Thaddeus Jr. was expelled from Dartmouth, though he subsequently graduated and was taken into his uncle's law practice.[172] Alanson during the Civil War rose to be commanding captain of a Pennsylvania Volunteers field artillery unit and was killed in action at Chickamauga.[173] After Alanson's death, his uncle used his influence to have Thaddeus Jr. made provost marshal of Lancaster.[174]

When Stevens died, Smith was at his bedside, along with his friend Simon Stevens, nephew Thaddeus Stevens Jr., two African-American nuns, and several other individuals. Under Stevens' will, Smith was allowed to choose between a lump sum of $5,000 or a $500 annual allowance; she was also allowed to take any furniture in his house.[170] With the inheritance, she purchased Stevens' house, where she had lived for many years. A Roman Catholic, she chose to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, not near Stevens, although she left money for the upkeep of his grave.[171]

As evidence that their relationship was sexual, Brodie pointed to an 1868 letter in which Stevens compares himself to Richard M. Johnson, vice president under Martin Van Buren, who lived openly with a series of African-American slave mistresses. Johnson was elected even though this became known during the 1836 campaign, a fact that Stevens notes, and expresses his bitterness about his inability to gain election by the legislature to the Senate, or to secure a Cabinet position.[169]

It is uncertain if the Stevens-Smith relationship was romantic. The Democratic press, especially in the South, assumed so, and when he brought Mrs. Smith to Washington in 1859, where she managed his household, that did nothing to stop their insinuations.[166] In the one brief surviving letter from Stevens to her, Stevens addresses her as Mrs. Lydia Smith.[167] Stevens insisted that his nieces and nephews refer to her as Mrs. Smith, deference towards an African-American servant almost unheard of at that time. They do so in surviving letters, warmly, asking Stevens to see that she comes with him next time he visits.[168]

Lydia Hamilton Smith

Stevens never married, though there were rumors about his 20-year relationship (1848–1868) with his widowed housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith (1813–1884).[163][164] She was a light-skinned African-American; her husband Jacob and at least one of her sons were much darker than she was.[165]

Personal life

Personal life and sites

Stevens's body was conveyed from his house to the Capitol by white and African-American pallbearers together. Thousands of mourners, of both races, filed past his casket as he lay in state in the Rotunda;[158] Stevens was the third man, after Clay and Lincoln, to receive that honor. African-American soldiers constituted the guard of honor. After a service there, his body was taken by funeral train to Lancaster, a city draped in black for the funeral. Stevens was laid to rest in Shreiner's Cemetery (today the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery); it allowed burial of people of all races, although at the time of Stevens's interment, only one African-American was buried there. The people of his district posthumously renominated him to Congress, and elected his former student, Oliver J. Dickey to succeed him. When Congress convened in December 1868, there were a number of speeches in tribute to Stevens; they were afterwards collected in book form.[162]

Stevens's casket lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda

President Johnson issued no statement upon the death of his enemy.[158] Newspaper reaction was generally along partisan lines, though sometimes mixed. The Detroit Post stated that "if to die crowned with noble laurels, and ... secure of the respect of the world ... is an end worthy the ambition of a well spent life, then the veteran Radical may lie down with the noblest of the fathers to a well contented sleep".[159] The New York Times stated that Stevens had "discerned the expediency of emancipation, and urged it long before Mr. Lincoln issued his proclamation" but that after the war, "on the subject of Reconstruction, then, Mr. Stevens must be deemed the Evil Genius of the Republican Party.[160] The [Franklin, Louisiana] Planter's Banner exulted, "The prayers of the righteous have at last removed the Congressional curse! May ... the fires of his new furnace never go out!"[161]

When Congress adjourned in late July, Stevens remained in Washington, too ill to return to Pennsylvania. Stevens was in pain from his stomach ailments, from swollen feet, and from dropsy. By early August, he was unable to leave the house. He still received some visitors though, and correctly predicted to his friend and former student Simon Stevens (no relation) that Grant would win the election. On the afternoon of August 11, his doctor warned that he would probably not last through the night. His longtime housekeeper and companion, Lydia Hamilton Smith, his nephew Thaddeus, and friends gathered by him. Two black preachers came to pray by him, telling him that he had the prayers of all their people. He sucked on ice to try to sooth the pain; his last words were a request for more of it. Thaddeus Stevens died on the night of August 11, 1868, as the old day departed.[157]

I repose in this quiet and secluded spot
Not from any natural preference for solitude
But, finding other Cemeteries limited as to Race
by Charter Rules
I have chosen this that I might illustrate
in my death
The Principles which I advocated
through a long life;

The inscription on Stevens's grave

Brodie suggested that Stevens's hatred of Johnson was the only thing keeping him from despair, aware as he was of the continued violence in the South, some of which was committed by the Ku Klux Klan. Several of the southern states had been re-admitted by this time, and the murders and intimidation were aiding the Democrats there in restoring white rule. With the Republicans unwilling to embrace black suffrage in their platform and the Democrats opposed to it, Stevens feared Democratic victory in the 1868 elections might even bring back slavery. He told his fellow Pennsylvania politician, Alexander McClure, "My life has been a failure. With all this great struggle of years in Washington, and the fearful sacrifice of life and treasure, I see little hope for the Republic.", He took pride, he continued, in his role in establishing free public education in Pennsylvania.[153] When interviewed by a reporter seeking to gain his life story, Stevens replied, "I have no history. My life-long regret is that I have lived so long and so uselessly."[154] Nevertheless, in his last formal speech to the House, Stevens stated that "man still is vile. But such large steps have lately been taken in the true direction, that the patriot has a right to take courage."[155]

During the recess of the impeachment court, the Republicans met in convention in Chicago and nominated Grant for president. Stevens did not attend, and was dismayed by the exclusion of African-American suffrage from the party platform as radical influence began to fade in the Republican Party. When the Senate returned to session, it voted down Articles II and III by the same 35–19 margin as before, and Chase declared the President acquitted. Stevens did not give up on the idea of removing Johnson; in July, he proffered several more impeachment articles (the House refused to adopt them).[150] He offered a bill to divide Texas into several parts so as to gain additional Republican senators to vote out Johnson. It was defeated; the Herald stated, "It is lamentable to see this old man, with one foot in the grave, pursuing the President with such vindictiveness."[151] Nevertheless, Stevens planned to revisit the question of impeachment when Congress met again in late 1868.[152]

Stevens's grave in Lancaster

Final months and death

Most radicals were confident that Johnson would be convicted and removed from office. Stevens, however, was never certain of the result as Chief Justice Chase (the former Treasury Secretary) made rulings that favored the defense, and he had no great confidence Republicans would stick together. On May 11, the Senate met in secret session, and senators gave speeches explaining how they intended to vote. All Democrats were opposed, but an unexpectedly large number of Republicans also favored acquittal on some or all of the articles. Counting votes, managers realized their best chance of gaining the required two-thirds for conviction was on the Stevens-inspired Article XI, and when the Senate assembled to give its verdict, they scheduled it to be voted upon first. The suspense was broken when Kansas Senator Edmund Ross, whose position was uncertain, voted for acquittal. This meant that, with the votes of those who remained, the President would not be convicted on that article. The article failed, 35 in favor to 19 against. In the hope that delay would bring a different result, Republicans adjourned the Senate for ten days. Stevens was carried from the Senate in his chair—one observer described him as "black with rage and disappointment"—and when those outside clamored for the result, Stevens shouted, "The country is going to the devil!"[148][149]

Increasingly ill, Stevens took little part in the impeachment trial, at which the leading House manager was Massachusetts Representative Benjamin F. Butler. Stevens nourished himself on the Senate floor with raw eggs and terrapin, port and brandy. He spoke only twice before making a closing argument for the House managers on April 27. As he spoke, his voice weakened, and finally he allowed Butler to read the second half of his speech for him. Stevens focused on Article XI, taking the position that Johnson could be removed for political crimes; he need not have committed an offense against the law. The President, having sworn to faithfully execute the laws, had intentionally disobeyed the Tenure of Office Act after the Senate had refused to uphold his removal of Stanton, "and now this offspring of assassination turns upon the Senate who have ... rebuked him in a constitutional manner and bids them defiance. How can he escape the just vengeance of the law?"[146][147]

Stevens (right) and John A. Bingham formally notify the Senate of Johnson's impeachment. From Harper's Weekly.

Stevens led the delegation of House members sent the following day to inform the Senate of the impeachment, though he had to be carried to its doors by his bearers. Elected to the committee charged with drafting articles of impeachment, his illness limited his involvement. Nevertheless, dissatisfied with the committee's proposed articles, Stevens suggested another, that would become Article XI. This grounded the various accusations in statements Johnson had made denying the legitimacy of Congress due to the exclusion of the southern states, and stated that Johnson had tried to disobey the Reconstruction Acts. Stevens was one of the managers, or prosecutors, elected by the House to present its case in the impeachment trial. Although Stevens was too ill to appear in the Senate on March 3, when the managers requested that Johnson be summoned (the President would appear only by his counsel, or defense managers), he was there ten days later when the summons was returnable. The New York Herald described him as having a "face of corpselike color, and rigidly twitching lips ... a strange and unearthly apparition—a reclused remonstrance from the tomb ... the very embodiment of fanaticism, without a solitary leaven of justice or mercy ... the avenging Nemesis of his party—the sworn and implacable foe of the Executive of the nation".[145]

When Congress met again in December, although the Judiciary Committee voted 5–4 for impeachment, the House voted against it.[137] On January 13, 1868, the Senate overturned Johnson's suspension of Stanton. Grant resigned as Secretary of War, and Stanton reclaimed his place.[138] Nevertheless, on February 21, the President ousted Stanton from his position, appointing General Lorenzo Thomas in his place—though Stanton barricaded himself in his office.[139][140] These actions caused great excitement in Washington, and in the House of Representatives, Stevens went from group to group on the floor, repeating, "Didn't I tell you so? What good did your moderation do you? If you don't kill the beast, it will kill you."[141] Stevens concluded the debate on a renewed impeachment resolution on February 24, though due to his poor health he was unable to complete his speech and gave it to the Clerk to read aloud. He accused Johnson of usurping the powers of other branches of government, and of ignoring the will of the people. He did not deny impeachment was a political matter, but "this is not to be the temporary triumph of a political party, but is to endure in its consequence until the whole continent shall be filled with a free and untrammeled people or shall be a nest of shrinking, cowardly slaves."[142][143] The House voted 126–47 to impeach the President.[144]

Harper's Weekly woodcut of Stevens making his final argument to the House

Most of Johnson's Cabinet supported him but Secretary of War Stanton did not, and with the General of the Army, war hero Ulysses S. Grant, worked to undermine Johnson's Reconstruction policies. Johnson obeyed the laws that Congress had passed, sometimes over his veto, though he often interpreted them in ways contrary to their intent. After Stanton refused Johnson's request that he resign in August 1867, Johnson suspended Stanton, as permitted by the Tenure of Office Act, and made General Grant interim Secretary of War.[135] Republicans campaigned in that year's election on the issue of African-American suffrage, but were met with a voter surge towards the Democrats, who opposed it. Although no seats at Congress were directly at stake, voters in Ohio both defeated a referendum on black suffrage and elected the Democrats to the majority in the legislature, meaning that Wade, whose term was due to expire in 1869, would not be reelected.[136]

The new Congress, which convened on March 4, 1867, was not as aggressive in opposing Johnson as Stevens had hoped. It soon adjourned until July, though its Judiciary Committee remained to hold hearings on whether the President should be impeached.[130] Stevens firmly supported impeachment, but others were less enthusiastic once the Senate elected Ohio's Benjamin Wade as its president pro tempore, next in line to the presidency in the absence of a vice president. Wade was a radical who supported wealth redistribution; a speech of his in Kansas so impressed Karl Marx that he mentioned it in the first German edition of Das Kapital.[131] Also a supporter of women's suffrage, Wade was widely mistrusted for his views;[132] the prospect of his succession made some advocates of Johnson's removal more hesitant. Stevens, however, strongly supported the removal of the President, and when the Judiciary Committee failed to report, tried to keep Congress in session until it did.[133] Despite his opposition to its leader, Stevens worked with the administration on matters both supported; he obtained an appropriation for the purchase of Alaska and urged Secretary of State Seward to seek other territories to expand into.[134]

Impeaching the President

Stevens steered a bill to enfranchise African-Americans in the District of Columbia through the House; the Senate passed it in 1867, and it was enacted over Johnson's veto. Congress was downsizing the Army for peacetime; Stevens offered an amendment, which became part of the bill as enacted, to have two regiments of African-American cavalry. His solicitude for African-Americans extended to the Native American; Stevens was successful in defeating a bill to place reservations under state law, noting that the native people had often been abused by the states.[127] An expansionist, he supported the railroads.[128] Although he sought to protect manufacturers with high tariffs, he also sought unsuccessfully to get a bill passed to protect labor with an eight-hour day in the District of Columbia. Stevens advocated a bill to give government workers raises; it did not pass.[129]

Stevens introduced a Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson from firing officials who had received Senate confirmation without getting that body's consent. The Tenure of Office Act was ambiguous, since it could be read to protect officeholders only during the tenure of the president who appointed them, and most of the officials the radicals sought to protect had been named by Lincoln. Chief among these was Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a radical himself.[126]

In January 1867, Stevens introduced legislation to divide the South into five districts, each commanded by an army general empowered to override civil authorities. These military officers were to supervise elections with all males, of whatever race, entitled to vote, except for those who could not take an oath of past loyalty—most white southerners could not. The states were to write new constitutions (subject to approval by Congress) and hold elections for state officials. Only if a state ratified the Fourteenth Amendment would its delegation be seated in Congress.[123] The system gave power to a Republican coalitions of freedmen (mobilized by the Union League), carpetbaggers and co-operative southerners (the last dubbed scalawags by indignant ex-rebels) in most southern states.[124] These states ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, which became part of the Constitution in mid-1868.[125]

Radical Reconstruction

After Congress adjourned in July, the campaigning for the fall elections began. Johnson embarked on a trip by rail, dubbed the "Swing Around the Circle", that won him few supporters; his arguments with hecklers were deemed undignified. He attacked Stevens and other radicals during this tour. Stevens campaigned for firm measures against the South, his hand strengthened by violence in Memphis and New Orleans, where African-Americans and white Unionists had been attacked by mobs, including the police. Stevens was returned to Congress by his constituents; Republicans would have a two-thirds majority in both houses in the next Congress.[122]

Congress overrode a Johnson veto to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (also introduced by Trumbull), granting African-Americans citizenship and equality before the law, and forbidding any action by a state to the contrary. Johnson made the gap between him and Congress wider when he accused Stevens, Sumner, and Wendell Phillips of trying to destroy the government.[121]

When Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull introduced legislation to reauthorize and expand the Freedmen's Bureau, Stevens called the Bill a "robbery" because it did not include sufficient provisions for land reform or protect the property of refugees given them by the military occupation of the South.[118] Johnson vetoed the Bill anyway, calling the Freedmen's Bureau unconstitutional, and decrying its cost—Congress had never purchased land, established schools, or provided financial help for "our own people".[119][120] Congress was unable to override Johnson's veto in February, but five months later passed a similar bill. Stevens criticized the passage of the Southern Homestead Act of 1866 arguing that the low-quality land it made available would not drive real economic growth for black families.[118]

Based on ill-considered exchanges between Johnson and hecklers during the Swing Around the Circle this Thomas Nast cartoon excerpt shows Johnson delivering a pardon to Davis as Stevens and Wendell Phillips hang in the background.

[117] Still, Stevens told the House: "Forty acres of land and a hut would be more valuable to [the African-American] than the immediate right to vote."[116] Nevertheless, stating that he lived among men, not angels, he supported the passage of the compromise amendment.[115][114] The resolution providing for what would become the Fourteenth Amendment was watered down in Congress; during the closing debate, Stevens said these changes had shattered his lifelong dream in equality for all Americans.[113] The Committee of Fifteen began consideration of what would become the

As the responsibilities of the Ways and Means chairman had been divided, Stevens took the post of chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, retaining control over the House's agenda.[108] Stevens focused on legislation that would secure the freedom promised by the newly ratified Thirteenth Amendment.[109] He proposed and then co-chaired the Joint Committee on Reconstruction with Maine Senator William Pitt Fessenden.[110] This body, also called the Committee of Fifteen, investigated conditions in the South. It heard not only of the violence against African-Americans, but against Union loyalists, and against what southerners termed "carpetbaggers", northerners who had journeyed south after the restoration of peace. Stevens declared: that "our loyal brethren at the South, whether they be black or white" required urgent protection "from the barbarians who are now daily murdering them."[109]

By this time, Stevens was in his seventies and in poor health; he was carried everywhere in a special chair. When Congress convened in early December 1865, Stevens made arrangements with the Clerk of the House that when the roll was called, the names of the southern electees be omitted. The Senate also excluded southern claimants. A new congressman, Ohio's Rutherford B. Hayes, described Stevens, "He is radical throughout, except, I am told, he don't believe in hanging. He is leader."[107]

Stevens in a thoughtful pose

Congressional Reconstruction

Through late 1865, the southern states held white-only balloting and in congressional elections, chose many former rebels, most prominently Confederate Vice President Black Codes, depriving the freedmen of most civil rights. These actions, seen as provocative in the North, both privately dismayed Johnson and helped turn northern public opinion against him.[104]

In September, Stevens gave a widely reprinted speech in Lancaster in which he set forth what he wanted for the South. He proposed that the government confiscate the estates of the largest 70,000 landholders there, those who owned more than 200 acres (81 ha). Much of this property he wanted distributed in plots of 40 acres (16 ha) to the freedmen; other lands would go to reward loyalists in both North and South, or to meet government obligations. He warned that under the President's plan, the southern states would send rebels to Congress who would join with northern Democrats and Johnson to govern the nation and perhaps undo emancipation.[106]

Stevens wrote to Johnson that his policies were gravely damaging the country and that he should call a special session of Congress, which was not scheduled to meet until December. When his communications were ignored, Stevens began to discuss with other radicals how to prevail over Johnson when the two houses convened. Congress has the constitutional power to be the judge of whether those seeking to be its members are properly elected; Stevens urged that no senators or representatives from the South be seated.[104] He argued that the states should not be readmitted as thereafter Congress would lack the power to force race reform.[105]

In May 1865, Andrew Johnson began what came to be known as "universal male suffrage and continued their demands for land reform.[102][103]

Before leaving town after Congress adjourned in March 1865, Stevens privately urged Lincoln to press the South hard militarily, though the war was ending. Lincoln replied, "Stevens, this is a pretty big hog we are trying to catch and to hold when we catch him. We must take care that he does not slip away from us."[99] Never to see Lincoln again, Stevens left with "a homely metaphor but no real certainty of having left as much as a thumbprint on Lincoln's policy".[100] On the evening of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth. Stevens did not attend the ceremonies when Lincoln's funeral train stopped in Lancaster; he was said to be ill. Trefousse speculated he may avoided the rites for other reasons. According to Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, Stevens stood at a railroad bridge and lifted his hat.[101]

Presidential Reconstruction

Stevens reluctantly voted for Lincoln at the convention of the National Union Party, a coalition of Republicans and War Democrats. He would have preferred to vote for the sitting vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, as Lincoln's running mate in 1864, but his delegation voted to cast the state's ballots for the administration's favored candidate, Military Governor of Tennessee Andrew Johnson, a War Democrat who had been a Tennessee senator and elected governor. Stevens was disgusted at Johnson's nomination, complaining, "can't you get a candidate for Vice-President without going down into a damned rebel province for one?"[96] Stevens campaigned for the Lincoln-Johnson ticket; it was elected, as was Stevens for another term in the House.[97] When in January 1865 Congress learned that Lincoln had attempted peace talks with Confederate leaders, an outraged Stevens declared that if the American electorate could vote again, they would elect General Benjamin Butler instead of Lincoln.[98]

As Congress debated how the U.S. would be organized after the war, the status of freed slaves and former Confederates remained undetermined.[91][92] Stevens stated that what was needed was a "radical reorganization of southern institutions, habits, and manners".[93] Stevens, Sumner and other radicals argued that the southern states should be treated like conquered provinces, without constitutional rights. Lincoln, on the contrary, said that only individuals, not states, had rebelled.[94] In July 1864, Stevens pushed Lincoln to sign the Wade–Davis Bill, which required at least half of prewar voters to sign an oath of loyalty for a state to gain readmission. Lincoln, who advocated his more lenient ten percent plan, pocket vetoed it.[95]

Problem of reconstructing the South


[90] Stevens was unrepentant even as the value of paper currency recovered in late 1864 amid the expectation of Union victory, proposing legislation to make paying a premium in greenbacks for an amount in gold coin a criminal offense. It did not pass.[89] Although the Legal Tender legislation allowed for the payment of government obligations in paper money, Stevens was unable to get the Senate to agree that interest on the national debt should be paid with

Stevens played a major part in the passage of the Legal Tender Act of 1862, when for the first time the United States issued currency backed only by its own credit, not by gold or silver. Early makeshifts to finance the war, such as war bonds, had failed as it became clear the war would not be short.[86] In 1863, Stevens aided the passage of the National Banking Act, that required that banks limit their currency issues to the amount of federal bonds that they were required to hold. The system endured for a half-century, until supplanted by the Federal Reserve System in 1913.[87]

Stevens worked closely with Lincoln administration officials on legislation to finance the war. Within a day of his appointment as Ways and Means chairman, he had reported a bill for a war loan. Legislation to pay the soldiers Lincoln had already called into service and to allow the administration to borrow to prosecute the war quickly followed. These acts and more were pushed through the House by Stevens. To defeat the delaying tactics of Copperhead opponents, he had the House set debate limits as short as half a minute.[85]

Financing the war

After passing the Thirteenth Amendment, Congress debated the economic rights of the freedmen. Urged on by Stevens,[51] it voted to authorize the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, with a mandate (though no funding) to set up schools and to distribute "not more than forty acres" [16 ha] of confiscated Confederate land to each family of freed slaves.[84]

The amendment passed narrowly after heavy pressure exerted by Lincoln himself, along with offers of political appointments from the "Seward lobby". Allegations of bribery were made by Democrats;[79][80] Stevens stated "the greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America."[81] The amendment was declared ratified on December 18, 1865. Stevens continued to push for a broad interpretation of it that included economic justice in addition to the formal end of slavery.[82][83]

Stevens pushed Congress to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime measure, did not apply to all slaves, and might be reversed by peacetime courts; an amendment would be slavery's end.[40] The Thirteenth Amendment[1]—which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for crime—easily passed the Senate, but failed in the House in June; fears that it might not pass delayed a renewed attempt there.[76] Lincoln campaigned aggressively for the amendment after his re-election in 1864, and Stevens described his December annual message to Congress as "the most important and best message that has been communicated to Congress for the last 60 years".[77] Stevens closed the debate on the amendment on January 13, 1865. Illinois Representative Isaac Arnold wrote: "distinguished soldiers and citizens filled every available seat, to hear the eloquent old man speak on a measure that was to consummate the warfare of forty years against slavery".[78]

[74] in Richmond, Early replied that he would have hanged Stevens and divided his bones among the Confederate states.Libby Prison Asked if he would have taken the congressman to [73]

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