|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 9th district
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
March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1853
|Preceded by||John Strohm|
|Succeeded by||Henry A. Muhlenberg|
April 4, 1792|
Danville, Vermont, U.S.
|Died||August 11, 1868
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Resting place||Shreiner-Concord Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania
|Political party||Federalist, Anti-Masonic, Whig, Know-Nothing, Republican|
|Alma mater||Dartmouth College, University of Vermont|
|Nickname(s)||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 a leader 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.
Stevens was born in rural Vermont, in poverty, and with a clubfoot, giving him a limp he kept his entire life. He moved to Pennsylvania as a young man, where he 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 re-election 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 Union victory depended on the abolition of slavery, which was the basic support of the Confederacy; he was frustrated by the slowness of President Abraham Lincoln to adopt his positions. 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 the African-American 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 Lincoln and other Moderate Republicans, and were not enacted.
After Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, Stevens came into conflict with the new President, Andrew Johnson, who sought rapid restoration of the seceded states without guarantees for the 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. With Stevens in the lead, the Radicals abolished state governments in the South, put the Army in charge, gave the vote to blacks, disfranchised most white leaders, and saw Republican coalitions take control of 10 Southern states, after which their delegations were readmitted to Congress. His last great battle was to secure articles of impeachment in the House against Johnson, but it failed in the Senate. Historiographical views of Stevens have dramatically shifted over the years, from the early 20th century, which saw Stevens as reckless and motivated by hatred of the white South, to the neoabolitionists of the 1950s and afterwards, who applauded him for his egalitarian views.
Early life and education
Stevens was born in rural Danville, Vermont, on April 4, 1792. Thaddeus was the second of four children, all boys, and was named to honor Polish general who served in the American Revolution, patriot Thaddeus Kościuszko. His parents, who had emigrated from Massachusetts around 1786, were Baptists. Joshua Stevens, the boys' father, was a farmer and cobbler who struggled to make a living in Vermont. Thaddeus was born with a club foot, at the time seen as a judgment from Heaven for secret parental sin—and his older brother was born with two of them. After fathering two more sons (born without disability), Joshua abandoned both the children and his wife Sarah (neé Morrill). The circumstances of his departure are uncertain, with different stories being told, as is his fate: he may have died at the Battle of Oswego during the War of 1812.
Sarah Stevens struggled to make a living from the farm, though with the increasing aid of her sons. She also made some money caring for the sick, and her son Thaddeus assisted her. She was determined that her sons improve themselves, and in 1807 moved the family to the neighboring town of Peacham, where there was the Caledonia Grammar School (often called the Peacham Academy). There she enrolled young Thaddeus, who 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".
After graduation in 1811, Stevens enrolled in the sophomore class at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He spent his second year at Burlington College in Burlington, Vermont (today the University of Vermont) but had to return to New Hampshire when the Vermont school's campus was taken over by the federal government during the War of 1812. At Dartmouth, despite a stellar academic career, he was not elected to Phi Beta Kappa, said to have been a scarring experience for him. Stevens and another student, while at college, borrowed an axe to kill a farmer's cow, risking expulsion and prosecution. When he learned that the blame had fallen on the axe's owner, he approached the farmer, offering to pay twice the value of the cow, and the farmer cleared the blamed student, saying that the cow had been killed by passing soldiers. Stevens kept his word.
Stevens graduated from Dartmouth in 1814, speaking at commencement. The man who would, in his later years, be accused of being a latter-day revolutionary and Leveller spoke in defense of wealth, stating that it had banished barbarism from much of the globe. After graduation, he returned to Peacham and briefly taught there. Stevens also began to read law with Judge John Mattocks in Danville. He did not want to remain in Vermont, though, and in early 1815, after writing to friends there seeking information on job prospects, moved to York, Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania attorney and politician
In York, Stevens taught school at the York Academy, and continued his studies for the bar. However, the local lawyers passed a resolution barring from membership anyone who had not studied law for two years full-time, a restriction likely aimed at Stevens. He found his way past this in nearby Harford County, Maryland, presenting himself and four bottles of Madiera wine to an examining board. In a story he often retold in after years, few questions were asked but much wine drunk, and he left Bel Air the next morning clutching a certificate allowing him, through reciprocity, to practice anywhere. Under the circumstances, though, a move from York was advisable, and he determined upon the seat of Adams County, Gettysburg. Stevens opened an office there in September 1816.
Stevens knew no one in Gettysburg, and initially had little success as a lawyer there, sent a few small cases by fellow attorneys. 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. There was much local prejudice against the accused, and Stevens defended him in front of a hostile courtroom crowd. Stevens contended that his client was insane, an uncommon plea at the time. Although he was not successful, and his client was hanged, he later stated that this was the only time one of his clients was executed for murder. His defense impressed the local people, and he never lacked for clients thereafter. In his legal career, he evidenced the propensity for sarcasm that would mark him as a politician, once telling a judge who accused him of manifesting contempt, "Sir, I am doing my best to conceal it."
Proficient and successful as an attorney, after his death in 1868, all who memorialized Stevens agreed on his talent as a lawyer. He rarely took notes in court, but his grasp of witnesses and evidence was outstanding. 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 that he came to regret winning was Butler v. Delaplaine, in which he successfully reclaimed a slave on behalf of her owner. The slave, Charity Butler, lived in Maryland, but had been taken to Pennsylvania repeatedly. She claimed her freedom on the grounds that the visits totaled more than six months—a slave brought to Pennsylvania was freed if kept there more than that period. Stevens appeared on the other side, and convinced the state supreme court that the law required a continual presence. The young lawyer soon came to regret the outcome; in 1823, about two years after the decision, he made a Fourth of July toast hoping the next president "never [has] riveted fetters on a human slave".
In Gettysburg, Stevens began his involvement in politics, serving six one-year terms on the borough council between 1822 and 1831, becoming its president. He took the profits from his practice, and invested them in Gettysburg real estate, becoming the largest landowner in town by 1825, and had an interest in several iron furnaces outside of town. 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 at Stevens's culpability. The rumors dogged Stevens for years; as late as 1867, an Alabama editor, who had come north to interview Stevens, dubbed him a "patricide and murderer". When one newspaper opposed to Stevens printed a letter in 1831, naming him as the killer, he successfully sued for libel.
Stevens's first political cause was Anti-Masonry, which became widespread in 1826 after the disappearance and likely killing of William Morgan, a Mason in Upstate New York who, disaffected from the group, prepared to publish an account of its rites, and most likely was killed at the hands of his brethren. When those accused of killing him were acquitted or given light sentences by a judge who was a Mason, there was widespread anger against the group. Since the leading candidate in opposition to President John Quincy Adams, General Andrew Jackson, was a Mason who mocked opponents of the group, Anti-Masonry became closely associated with opposition to Jackson, and to his policies once he was elected president in 1828.
Stevens had been told by fellow attorney (and future president) James Buchanan that if he joined Jackson's cause—his adherents were from the old Democratic-Republican Party and eventually became known as the Democrats—he could advance politically, but Stevens could not support Jackson, out of principle. For Stevens, Anti-Masonry became one means of opposing Jackson; he may also have had personal reasons as the Masons barred "cripples" from joining. There may also have been a dislike for secret societies from his college days when he was not elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In any event, Stevens took to Anti-Masonry with enthusiasm, and remained loyal to it when most Pennsylvanians had dropped the cause. His biographer, Hans Trefousse, suggests that another reason for Stevens's virulence was due to 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".
By 1829, Anti-Masonry had evolved into a political party, that proved popular in rural central Pennsylvania, where much of the population belonged to small religious groups such as the Mennonites, who considered Masonry papist. Stevens quickly became prominent in the Anti-Masonry 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 (he would also back McLean for the Republican nomination in 1856 and 1860) but the justice was defeated, as the nomination fell to former Attorney General William Wirt. Jackson was easily re-elected, defeating rival candidates such as Wirt and Kentucky Senator Henry Clay. The crushing defeat (the Anti-Masons won only Vermont) caused the party to disappear in most places, though it remained powerful in Pennsylvania for several years.
In September 1833, Stevens was nominated for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by the Anti-Masons. He was elected to a one-year term, winning about 40% of the vote in a three-way race, and once in Harrisburg sought to have the body establish a committee to investigate Masonry. Though one was established, it did not gain the right to subpoena witnesses. Stevens quickly became expert in legislative maneuvers, and gained attention far beyond Pennsylvania for his oratory against Masonry. In 1835, a split among the Democrats put the Anti-Masons into control of the legislature. Stevens used the opportunity to subpoena leading state politicians who were Masons, including Governor George Wolf. The witnesses invoked the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and when Stevens verbally abused one of the witnesses, there followed a backlash that caused his own party to end the investigation. The fracas cost Stevens re-election in 1836, and the issue of Anti-Masonry died in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Stevens remained an opponent to the order for the end of his life, writing in his last months during the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson to the Clerk of the House of Representatives for the names of senators who were Masons.
Crusader for education
From his early years in Gettysburg, Stevens sought to advance the cause of universal education. At the time, no state outside New England had free public education for all, and even there the quality was poor in most places. In Pennsylvania, there was free education in Philadelphia, but outside that city those wishing to have their children educated without paying tuition had to swear a pauper's oath. Stevens threw his extensive private library open to the public and gave up his presidency of the borough council, believing he could do better service on the school board. 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 (today Gettysburg College). Stevens deeded the school land upon which a building could be raised, worked to protect its interests once in the legislature and for many years served as a trustee. When the school's appropriation was attacked in 1834, he successfully defended it, charging that to his opponents "it was more important …that their horses may go dry-shod to the mill, than that the rubbish of ignorance should be cleared away from the intellects of our children".
In April 1834, Stevens, working with Governor Wolf across party lines, 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. About half of the districts did, including Gettysburg's, whose voters also elected Stevens as a school director (serving there until 1839). The bill had faced little opposition when being passed in the legislature, but tens of thousands of voters signed petitions urging a reversal. The repeal bill easily passed the Senate. That it would also pass the House, and be enacted was not considered in doubt despite expected opposition by Stevens, and when he rose to speak on April 11, 1835, the Senate crowded into the House to hear him too. Stevens defended the bill, stating that it would actually save money, and demonstrating how. He stated opponents were seeking to separate the poor into a lower caste then themselves, accusing 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!" The repeal bill was defeated. Stevens was given wide credit and was later presented with a copy of the school bill printed on silk, that he preserved as long as he lived. Trefousse suggests, though, that the victory was not due to Stevens's eloquence, but due to his influence, combined with that of Governor Wolf.
Political change; move to Lancaster
In 1838, Stevens sought to return to the legislature. He hoped that if the remaining Anti-Masons and the emerging Whig Party gained a majority in the legislature, that 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, leading to 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 the Democrats excluded, with the Whigs electing a Speaker and himself as senator. Amid rioting in Harrisburg—it became known as the "Buckshot War"—Stevens's ploy backfired, with the Democrats taking control of the House. Stevens was excluded from the body, deemed to have resigned his seat by the Democrats. He was returned in a special election, and remained in the legislature most years through 1842, but the episode helped cost him his political influence there, as the Whigs both blamed him for the debacle and were increasingly unwilling to give leadership to one who had not yet joined their party. Nevertheless, he supported the pro-business and pro-development Whig stances. He campaigned for the Whig candidate in the 1840 presidential election, former general and Ohio senator William Henry Harrison. Though Stevens later alleged that Harrison had promised him a Cabinet position if elected, he received none and any influence was ended when Harrison died after a month in office, to be succeeded by John Tyler, a southerner hostile to Stevens's stances on slavery.
In 1842, Stevens moved his home and practice to the city of Lancaster. Although Stevens dominated the Gettysburg bar, he had landed in debt due to his business interests. Refusing to take advantage of the bankruptcy laws, he felt that he needed to move to a larger municipality in order to gain the money to pay his obligations. Within a short period, he was earning more than any other Lancaster attorney, and by 1848 had reduced his debts to $30,000, paying them off soon afterwards. As Stevens knew well, Lancaster County was an Anti-Mason and Whig stronghold, ensuring he retained a political base. It would be in his new home in Lancaster that he engaged the services of Lydia Hamilton Smith, a mulatto housekeeper who would remain with him the rest of his life.
Pennsylvania abolitionist and prewar congressman
Evolution of views
After his employment in the Butler case, Stevens never again did anything to support slavery. Why it was he turned to opposition to slavery has been disputed among his biographers. Of some recent ones, Richard Current (1942) suggested it was out of ambition, while Fawn Brodie, in her controversial 1959 psychobiography of Stevens, suggested it was out of identification with the downtrodden, based on his handicap. Trefousse, in his 1997 work agrees that Stevens's feelings towards the downtrodden were a part of it, combined with remorse over the Butler case, and that ambition was unlikely to have been a major motivating factor, as Stevens's fervor in the anti-slavery cause often caused him difficulties in his career.
At the time, few, even in the North, sought the immediate eradication of slavery. The abolitionist movement was young and only recently had agitators such as William Lloyd Garrison taken on that fight. Stevens, up to the outbreak of the Civil War, took the position that while he supported slavery's abolition and opposed its expansion, he would not seek to disturb it in the states where it existed.
At the state constitutional convention in 1837, Stevens, who was elected a delegate, fought against the disenfranchisement of African-Americans, although he supported proposals for a minimum property requirement for all voters. 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". When Stevens was in the legislature, he often served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and saw to it that communications from Southern state legislatures objecting to abolitionist activities in Pennsylvania prompted no action. After he moved to Lancaster, a city not far from the Mason-Dixon Line through which many escaped slaves traveled, he became active in the Underground Railroad, not only defending those believed to be fugitives, but co-ordinating the movements of those seeking freedom. 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 fugitives could hide. Despite his views, Stevens supported the slaveowning Whig candidates for president in 1844 (Henry Clay) and 1848 (General Zachary Taylor).
First tenure in Congress
In 1848, Stevens sought election to Congress. There was opposition to him at the Whig convention, with some delegates feeling that as Stevens had been late to join the party, that he should not receive the nomination. Others disliked his stance on slavery. He narrowly won the nomination at the convention. During the campaign, he was consulted by Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln, who asked his fellow Whig if the party would win Pennsylvania; Stevens was uncertain but hopeful. In a strong year for Whigs nationally and in Pennsylvania, both Taylor and Stevens were elected. Stevens's supporters pressed his cause in the 1848 senatorial election in the legislature, but he received few votes.
When Congress convened as scheduled in December 1849, Stevens took his seat, He joined other newly elected slavery opponents such as Salmon and Chase. There were many new members, and Stevens was quickly seen as a leader. No party had a majority in the House, and the balloting to elect a Speaker lasted weeks. Stevens received some votes, but never came close as Georgia's Howell Cobb was elected. Once the House proceeded to business, Stevens spoke out against the Compromise of 1850, crafted by Senator Clay, that gave some victories to both North and South, but would allow for some of the territories recently gained from Mexico to become slave states. This potential expansion of slavery was bitterly opposed by Stevens, who attacked the institution of slavery. He argued that not only was it wrong, it was uneconomical, that free states had greatly surpassed Virginia (a slave state) in production. Stevens suggested that the state "is now fit only to be the breeder, not the employer, of slaves", its white inhabitants seeking not to improve their lands or cattle, but to better breed black men "to supply the slave barracoons of the South." In June, as the debates continued, Stevens stated, "This word 'compromise' when applied to human rights and constitutional rights I abhor". Nevertheless, the bills passed, establishing such things as a Fugitive Slave Act, offensive to Stevens. 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".
Stevens's stance caused him some problems among pro-compromise Whigs; nevertheless he was easily renominated and reelected in 1850. The following year, 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 the attempt to enforce a Fugitive Slave Act warrant had resulted in the death of the slaveowner and armed resistance to a United States Marshal. Justice Robert Grier of the 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 (which were not charged), they were not guilty of treason. The Christiania riot, which like other acts of resistance to the Fugitive Slave Act was given massive publicity, and was one of the incidents in the 1850s that helped harden southern views, but also helped turn northern public opinion against slavery.
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 1852 candidate for president, General Winfield Scott. His political opposition, and local dislike of his slavery stance 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. General Scott was defeated by Democrat Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, who was sympathetic to Southern concerns.
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 was still 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 to say nothing 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. The party fracturing that marked the passage of the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act (revising the compromise of four years earlier) brought forth new political movements, and in 1855, Stevens joined the Republican Party. Other former Whigs who were anti-slavery joined the party, including William H. Seward of New York, Charles E. Sumner of Massachussents, and Lincoln. According to Foner, "like Lincoln, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the rise of the Republican party offered Stevens a chance to revive his political career".
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. Pennsylvania helped elect Buchanan. 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. Stevens arranged for nomination by the party convention, and despite influence exerted against him by the administration, was easily elected. Democratic papers were appalled. One bannered "Niggerism Triumphant".
Secession crisis; 1860 election
Stevens took his seat in Congress in December 1859, only days after the hanging of John Brown, who attacked a federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today in West Virginia) and who hoped to cause a slave insurrection. Stevens opposed Brown's violent actions at the time, though in the years following, as Brown came to be an abolitionist idol, he spoke more approvingly of the dead man. The intersectional 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. No blood was spilled, and Stevens acted with aplomb, but later referred grimly to the incident.
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. Most Pennsylvania delegates on the first two ballots supported the state's favorite son, Senator Simon Cameron, and on the third ballot, in a deal brokered by Cameron and others, switched to support Lincoln, beginning a stampede that won the Illinoisan the nomination. Stevens did not accompany the rest of the Pennsylvania delegation to Springfield to see the new Republican candidate after the convention. Assured of re-election as the Democrats put up no candidate, Stevens supported Lincoln and campaigned in Pennsylvania for him. Lincoln won a majority in the Electoral College. The President-elect's known opposition to slavery caused immediate talk of secession in the southern states, a threat that Stevens had downplayed during the campaign.
Congress convened in December 1860, with several of the southern states already pledging to secede. Stevens was unyielding in opposition to efforts to appease the southerners, such as the Crittenden Compromise, that would have enshrined slavery as beyond constitutional amendment. He stated, in a remark widely-quoted 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. Despite Stevens's protests, the 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, and as it proved, Lincoln, 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".
Moving to emancipation
Stevens was at home in Lancaster, practicing law, when war began in April 1861. He took part in patriotic rallies, and returned to Washington for the special session that convened on July 4. Stevens took the position that the southerners were revolutionaries, to be crushed by force. He also believed that the South had placed itself beyond the protection of the 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 what were coming to be known as the Radical Republicans (for their position on slavery and associated matters, 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. Stevens had an able set of colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee, including Vermont's Justin Morrill and New York's Erastus Corning, who did much of the detail work of legislation, while Stevens forced the bills through the House of Representatives.
In July 1861, Stevens secured the passage of an act to confiscate the property, including slaves, of certain rebels. Lincoln, although he signed the bill, was slow to show public support for the end of slavery, urging patience on the Radical Republicans, and reversing the order of Frémont (now a general for the North, or Union) freeing slaves in Missouri. In November 1861, Stevens introduced a resolution to emancipate all slaves; it was defeated. Nevertheless, bills abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia and in the territories passed, and were signed by Lincoln. By March 1862, to Stevens's frustration, the most Lincoln had publicly supported was gradual emancipation in the Border States, with the masters compensated by the federal government.
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". Trefousse writes that Lincoln "fully availed himself of the unceasing radical pressure … the radicals pushed further, thus enabling the president to continue his onward march toward freedom for the slaves". Nevertheless, in April 1862, Stevens wrote to a friend, "As for future hopes, they are poor as Lincoln is nobody."
By one account, Lincoln was irritated at meeting radicals like Stevens and Senators Sumner and Henry Wilson wherever he went, urging him to issue an Emancipation Proclamation. He told a story of a boy who during a reading of Bible verses in turn by his class, is punished after failing to adequately pronounce Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As his next turn approaches, there is renewed sobbing from him, and when asked what is the matter, responds, pointing at the text, "there comes them same damn three fellows again". Lincoln stated that if it came to a showdown between the radicals and their enemies, he would have to side with them, and deemed them "the unhandiest devils in the world to deal with" but "with their faces … set Zionwards". Although Lincoln composed his proclamation in June and July of 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, Lincoln's onetime critic, quickly adopted the proclamation for use in his successful re-election campaign, pointing out that president and congressman were promoting the same policies.
During the Confederate incursion into the North in mid-1863 that culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederates twice sent parties to the furnace owned by Stevens, Caledonia Forge, near that town. Stevens had been there supervising operations, he was hastened away against his will. General Jubal Early, commanding the second party, took everything that could be taken away and wrecked everything else, causing a loss to Stevens of about $80,000. Early defended his actions stating that the North had done the same to southern figures, and that Stevens was well-known for his vindictiveness towards the South. The general was asked by Stevens's foreman if he would have taken the congressman to Libby Prison in Richmond; Early replied that he would have hanged Stevens, then divided his bones to be sent to the various southern states.
Stevens joined forces with the administration on what would become the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, 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. Early versions were introduced in Congress by December 1863; Stevens introduced a version with two sections, one similar to what was eventually ratified, the other explicitly repealing the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution (a provision he soon dropped). The proposed amendment easily passed the Senate, but fears that it might not pass delayed a vote in the House. Lincoln's hand was strengthened by his re-election in late 1864, and in his annual message to Congress when it reconvened in December, he urged the passage of the amendment. Stevens described the message as "the most important and best message that has been communicated to Congress for the last 60 years" Stevens closed the debate on the amendment on January 13, 1865, and when he did, as Illinois Representative Isaac Arnold described it, "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". Describing slavery as "the one blot" on the Constitution, Stevens recalled that he did not hesitate "in the midst of bowie-knives and revolvers and howling demons upon the other side of the House, to stand here and denounce this infamous institution". The amendment passed the House in a close vote, with every Republican voting in favor. Although the vote set off celebrations through Washington, there were charges of bribery and misuse of patronage appointments; Stevens himself stated, "The greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America."
Stevens and Lincoln differed on the fate of the African-American in one regard: Lincoln, although he eventually came to see them as impractical, supported schemes to have freedmen colonize outside the United States, feeling that both races would be better off if separated. Lincoln did not support forced deportation, though through his intervention, the bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia had subsidized freedmen there wishing to emigrate to Liberia, the nation founded by freed American slaves on the West Coast of Africa. Stevens believed that the African-American should remain and be made the white man's equal in all regards through legislative action. When he supported emigration programs in the House, it was to gain votes. Brodie notes that in opposing schemes that if successful would have devastated the South's economy, ideas with which Lincoln at least toyed, "Stevens, in effect if not in intention, was the truer friend of the South."
Financing the war
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. As he turned back attempts to slow the legislation, he would convulse the House with such comments as "There are no grave questions in this bill except the question of sending it to the grave."
Stevens paid 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. Stevens did not write the bill—that was done by New York Congressman Elbridge Spaulding, a banker who fought for the legislation in a divided Ways and Means Committee. Stevens backed the bill and forced it through the House. In 1863, working with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, 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. Stevens, who preferred that only the government issue money, initially held up the matter, but got it passed once persuaded of its merits.The system endured for a half-century, until supplanted by the Federal Reserve System in 1913.
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 greenbacks. The Senate believed bankers would not take the risk of buying the bonds with gold without receiving interest paid the same way. To gain the necessary gold, Stevens got legislation passed making tariffs payable in that metal, and raised rates repeatedly. As the value of paper money dropped, Stevens railed against gold speculators, and in June 1864 after consultation with Chase, proposed what became known as the Gold Bill—to abolish the gold market by forbidding its sale by brokers or for future delivery. It passed Congress in June; the chaos caused by the lack of an organized gold market caused the value of paper to drop even faster. Under heavy pressure from the business community, Congress repealed the bill on July 1, twelve days after its passage. Stevens was unrepentant even as the value of paper currency recovered in late 1864 amid the expectation of Union victory. Despite this restoration of the value of paper currency, Stevens proposed legislation to make paying a premium in greenbacks for an amount in gold coin a criminal offense. It did not pass.
As Union military victories caused more to think beyond the end of the war, the question of how to deal with the retaken southern states was unresolved. That a single Union would unite all was not in question, but what roles would be played by freedmen and former Confederates was as yet undetermined. Lincoln's position on Reconstruction is unclear, and he might well have changed it as events required had he lived to complete a second term. Stevens stated that what was needed was a "radical reorganization of southern institutions, habits, and manners".
Although many radicals would have preferred a candidate minded to move faster on emancipation—Secretary Chase was spoken of until he withdrew from consideration—Stevens gave public support to the nomination of Lincoln to a second term. No candidate emerged to oppose Lincoln for the nomination, and Stevens voted for him at the convention of the National Union Party (as Republicans and some others called themselves in 1864). He would have preferred to vote for the nomination of the sitting vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, 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?" Stevens campaigned for the Lincoln-Johnson ticket; it was elected, with Stevens chosen for another term.
Stevens believed that the Confederate states had left the union, and stood in the status of conquered provinces, with Congress, not the executive, empowered to govern them. Lincoln had made orders for the South in wartime in his capacity as Commander-in-chief; Stevens held that a peacetime president had no such power. Congress had no obligation to admit the southern states, in Stevens's mind, unless it was satisfied with the terms exacted and guarantees given. He sought revolutionary change in the South: the confiscation of the estates of the wealthier southerners with their property distributed to the freedmen.
Advent of Andrew Johnson
Before leaving town after Congress adjoined in March 1865, Stevens met with Lincoln to urge him to press the South hard in the war that by then was drawing to a close. Lincoln looked at Stevens for a few minutes, then said "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." 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".
On the evening of April 14, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer. Stevens, when brought the news in the middle of the night, exclaimed "Betrayed again, by ——!" and recalled that the previous vice presidents to take office had been unsuccessful. Due to illness, Stevens was unable to attend the ceremonies when Lincoln's funeral train passed through Lancaster; Trefousse speculates he may have had other reasons for avoiding the rites. According to Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg, Stevens stood at a railroad bridge, and lifted his hat.
Johnson had made speeches urging harsh treatment of the retaken South, and many radicals were pleased at his accession. Nevertheless, Johnson had a different agenda. Although he, like Stevens, had come from a poor family to gain wealth and advance in politics, he was a former slaveowner, and had little interest in civil rights for African Americans. Although Johnson, like the radicals, hoped to deprive the planter class in the South of power, he wanted to have the power go to the poor whites.
Stevens was disturbed when Johnson recognized the provisional government of Virginia under Governor Francis Pierpont in May 1865. He was even more concerned when Johnson ordered that the other former Confederate states elect delegates to constitutional conventions and begin the process of reconstructing their state governments. The President made no provision for protection of the rights of the freedmen in these declarations; the law in the South did not allow African-Americans to vote. He also pardoned most southerners by proclamation, and issued many individual pardons to those who did not qualify. These actions outraged Stevens and others who took his view; Wendell Phillips stated, "the reconstruction of rebel states without Negro suffrage is a practical surrender to the Confederacy." The radicals saw that having a test for voting applicable to black and white would not help the African-American, deprived in the South of learning and land. They began to call for universal male suffrage.
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 Congress convened. Congress has the constitutional power to be the judge of whether those seeking membership are properly elected; Stevens urged that no senators or representatives from the South be seated.  He argued that as not even Congress had the power to meddle with the domestic institutions of the states, that if the seceded states were treated as if they had not left the Union, no reform could be imposed.
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 in the South, those who owned more than 200 acres (81 ha). Much of this property he wanted distributed in 40 acres (16 ha) plots to the freedmen; other lands would go to reward men in both North and South who had aided the government. The remainder could be sold to pay down the public debt and fund war pensions. He warned that under Johnson'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. The Democrats, would, he charged, enact that the federal government pay the Confederate States's defaulted-on war debt, or decree that the bonds issued by the North during the war not be paid. He prophesied that Johnson, if he continued in his course, would be the most unpopular president in history, with the exception of his fellow Lancastrian, Buchanan.
Through late 1865, the southern states held white-only balloting and in congressional elections, chose many former rebels, most prominently Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, voted as senator by the Georgia Legislature. Violence against African-Americans was common and unpunished in the South; the new legislatures enacted Black Codes, depriving them of most civil rights. These actions, seen as provocative in the North, privately dismayed Johnson, and helped turn northern public opinion against him.
By this time, Stevens was in his seventies and in poor health; he was carried everywhere in a special chair. He remained cheerful about his condition, asking his young black bearers what he will do when he outlives them. When Congress convened in early December, Stevens made arrangements with the Clerk of the House that when the roll was called, that the names of the southern electees be omitted. This was done over objection, and the ones the Clerk did name proceeded to elect a Speaker and continue the exclusion of the southerners. The Senate also excluded southern claimants, and the two houses passed a resolution authored by Stevens that established a joint committee to investigate the course of Reconstruction. A young congressman and future president, Ohio's Rutherford B. Hayes, described Stevens, "He is radical throughout, except, I am told, he don't [sic] believe in hanging. He is leader." These defeats for the South caused gloom there, with Georgia's Howell Cobb writing that "if the movements of Sumner in the Senate and Thad Stevens in the House foreshadow the future policy of the Govt. then indeed are our darkest days yet to come."
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. He was the most influential House member of the joint Committee of Fifteen, that sat to investigate the conditions in the South. It heard not only of the violence against African-Americans, but against Union loyalists, or against what southerners termed "carpetbaggers", northerners who had journeyed south after the restoration of peace, with some of these come to teach or otherwise help the African-American. Illinois Senator Lyman Trumbull introduced legislation to renew the Freedman's Bureau, an agency to help and protect the former slaves that was due to expire. Trumbull also proposed what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1866, giving the African-American citizenship and equality before the law, and forbidding any action by a state to the contrary. This would invalidate the Black Codes. Trumbull met repeatedly with Johnson, and was convinced he would sign both bills. Nevertheless, when they passed the House, Johnson vetoed both. In his veto message on the Freedman's Bureau bill, Johnson called the agency unconstitutional, and decried its cost, when Congress had never purchased land, established schools, or provided financial help for "our own people". Johnson made the gap between him and Congress wider when he accused Stevens, Sumner, and Phillips of trying to destroy the government. Although Congress initially failed to override the President's veto of the Freedman's Bureau reauthorization (it did later), it enacted the Civil Rights Bill.
Stevens successfully steered a bill to enfranchise African-Americans in the District of Columbia through the House, though the Senate did not join in passing it until 1867. 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. An expansionist, he supported the railroads. Although he sought to protect manufacturers with high tariffs, he also sought unsuccessfully to get a bill passed to protect labor with a eight-hour day in the District of Columbia. Stevens advocated a bill to give government workers raises; it did not pass.
In early 1866, the Committee of Fifteen began consideration of what would become the Fourteenth Amendment. Members wished to prevent a future Congress from undoing such things as the grant of citizenship to the freedmen. The amendment also prohibits the government from paying the Confederate war debt, and requires the payment of federal obligations. Stevens was not fully happy with the result, but supported its passage through the House, stating that he was living among men, not angels; it passed the Senate as well and went to the states for ratification.
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.
Congress convened in December for its lame duck session, again with the South excluded. Stevens joked that he had been too conservative in the previous session, but intended to be radical now. In January 1867, he introduced legislation to divide the South into five districts, each commanded by an army general empowered to override civil authorities, and empowered to supervise elections with all males entitled to vote, except for those who could take an oath of past and future loyalty, that most white southerners could not. He also introduced a Tenure of Office Act, restricting Johnson from firing officials who had received Senate confirmation without getting that body's consent. Both bills eventually passed over Johnson's veto, though each was amended in the Senate in ways Stevens did not like: the Second Supplementary Reconstruction Act was changed to allow the president, rather than the Army, to appoint and dismiss the generals. The Tenure of Office Act was amended to make it unclear if by its terms it applied to Johnson, as the officeholder could be dismissed once the president who had appointed him left office, 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.
Impeachment and death
Impeaching the President
The new 40th Congress was not as aggressive in opposing Johnson as Stevens had hoped. It soon adjourned until July, though leaving its Judiciary Committee, charged with considering whether the President should be impeached. 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. Also a supporter of women's suffrage, Wade was widely mistrusted for his views; 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. 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.
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 to resign in August 1867, Johnson suspended Stanton, as permitted by the Tenure of Office Act, and made General Grant interim Secretary of War. 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 Senator Wade, whose term was due to expire in 1869, would not be re-elected. Wade's explanation was simple, "The nigger whipped us".
When Congress met again in December, although the Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 for impeachment, the House voted against it. On January 13, 1868, the Senate overturned Johnson's suspension of Stanton. Grant resigned as Secretary of War, and Stanton reclaimed his place. 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. 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." 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." The House voted 126–47 to impeach the President.
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 the Senate 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 work, Stevens suggested another, that would become Article XI, which 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 (he 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".
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?"
Most radicals were confident that Johnson would be convicted and removed from office. Stevens, however, was never confident in 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!"
Final months and death
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 failure of the party to include African-American suffrage in the party platform. 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). 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." Nevertheless, Stevens planned to revisit the question of impeachment when Congress met again in late 1868.
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, though, he continued, in his role in establishing free public education in Pennsylvania. When interviewed by a reporter seeking to gain his history, Stevens replied, "I have no history. My life-long regret is that I have lived so long and so uselessly." 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."
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 nephews, 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.
President Johnson issued no statement upon the death of his enemy. 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". 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. 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!"
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; 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 buried in Schreiner's Cemetery (today the Schreiner-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.
Personal life and sites
Stevens never married, though there were rumors about his 20-year relationship (1848–1868) with his widowed quadroon housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith (1813–1884). She was light-skinned; her husband Jacob and at least one of her sons were much darker than herself.
It is uncertain if the Stevens-Smith 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. In the one brief surviving letter from Stevens to her, Stevens addresses her as Mrs. Lydia Smith. 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.
As evidence that their relationship was sexual, Brodie points 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.
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's 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. With the inheritance, she purchased Stevens's house, where she had lived for many years. A Roman Catholic, she chose to be buried in a Catholic cemetery, not near Stevens, but left money for the upkeep of his grave.
Stevens took 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. Alanson during the war rose to be commanding captain of a Pennsylvania Volunteers field artillery unit and was killed in action at Chickamauga. After Alanson's death, his uncle used his influence to have Thaddeus Jr. made provost marshal of Lancaster.
Buildings associated with Stevens and with Smith in Lancaster are being renovated by the local historical society, LancasterHistory.org. 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 found 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. The school today is the Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, in Lancaster.
Among a number of other schools named for Stevens, the Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in Washington, D.C. was founded in 1868 as the first school built for African-American children there. It was segregated for the first 86 years of its existence. In 1977, Amy Carter, daughter of President Jimmy Carter, a Georgian, was enrolled there, the first child of a sitting president to attend public school in almost 70 years.
Historical and popular view
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." 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 of 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. Early African-American historian W.E.B. DuBois called Stevens "a leader of the common people" and "a stern believer in democracy, both in politics and in industry". 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". This view, of a vengeful Stevens, originated during Reconstruction, and persisted well into the 20th century.
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 that the war had left. Dunning himself deemed Stevens "truculent, vindictive, and cynical"': 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". In 1915, D.W. Griffith's film 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. 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."
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 Stevens was motivated by a desire for justice. Both men were convinced that recent books had not treated Stevens fairly. Richard Current's 1942 work on Stevens 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".
With Ralph Korngold's 1955 biography of Stevens, the neoabolitionist school of historians began to deal with the 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 is 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. According to Brodie, this also made him unwilling to marry a woman of his own social standing.
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". Foner argued from the mid-1970s 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.
Historian Hans Trefousse had in 1969 stated in a study of the Radical Republicans that Stevens's "one abiding passion was equality". In his 1997 biography of Stevens, he took a position similar to McKitrick's, that Stevens was a relatively marginal figure, with his influence often limited by his extremism. Trefousse believes 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.
Steven Spielberg's 2012 film Lincoln, in which Stevens was played by Tommy Lee Jones, brought new public interest in Stevens. Jones' 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 referenced only four times in the index to 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. 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." The film depicts a Stevens-Smith romantic 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."
- Trefousse, pp. 1–2
- Meltzer, pp. 3–4
- Brodie, pp. 26–27
- Trefousse, pp. 4–5
- Brodie, pp. 27–29
- Trefousse, pp. 5–7
- Trefousse, p. 11
- Meltzer, p. 14
- Brodie, p. 32
- Metzger, p. 17
- Trefouse, pp. 13–16
- Glatfelter, p. 163
- Trefousse, pp. 21–22
- Brodie, p. 18
- Brodie, pp. 42–45
- Brodie, pp. 38–39
- Trefousse, pp. 25–26
- Brodie, pp. 38–39, 57
- Metzger, pp. 27–29
- Trefousse, pp. 26–31
- Brodie, pp. 57–59
- Trefousse, pp. 33–37, 42–43
- Metzger, pp. 31–32
- Brodie, p. 59
- Glatfelter, pp. 164–166
- Brodie, pp. 60–61
- Trefousse, pp. 39–40
- Trefousse, p. 40
- Brodie, pp. 75–84
- Trefousse, pp. 57–67
- Trefousse, pp. 68–69
- Berlin, pp. 155–158
- Trefousse, p. 46
- Brodie, pp. 105–106
- Meltzer, pp. 52–53
- Foner, p. 143
- Trefousse, p. 73
- Carlson, Peter (February 19, 2013). "Thaddeus Stevens". history net.com. Retrieved May 29, 2013.
- Brodie, p. 103
- Meltzer, pp. 81–82
- Trefousse, pp. 76–77
- Thaddeus Stevens quotes. Thaddeus Stevens Society. Retrieved on June 17, 2013.
- Trefousse, pp. 79–80
- Trefuousse, p. 81
- Meltzer, p. 94
- Brodie, p. 114
- Brodie, pp. 116–119
- Trefousse, pp. 84–86
- Brodie, pp. 121–123
- Brodie, pp. 129–130
- Trefousse, pp. 95–97
- Brodie, pp. 130–132
- Trefousse, pp. 100–103
- Brodie, p. 133
- Metzger, pp. 119–121
- Trefousse, p. 107
- Trefousse, p. 109
- Brodie, p. 139
- Trefousse, pp. 109–114
- Trefousse, pp. 118–119
- Brodie, pp. 154–155
- Brodie, p. 153
- Trefousse, p. 116
- Trefousse, p. 119
- Brodie, pp. 157–158
- Trefousse, p. 101
- Trefousse, pp. 120–121, 126–127
- Trefousse, p. 134
- Brodie, p. 180
- Trefousse, p. 140
- Trefousse, p. 162
- Brodie, p. 203
- Brodie, p. 204
- Brodie, pp. 161–162
- Brodie, p. 170
- Brodie, pp. 150–151
- Smock, pp. 193–194
- Trefousse, p. 131
- Brodie, pp. 174–175
- Brodie, pp. 174–177
- Brodie, p. 178
- Stewart, pp. 17–18
- Bryant-Jones, p. 148
- Foner 2002, pp. 35–37
- Stewart, p. 17
- Trefousse, pp. 144–147
- Trefousse, pp. 148–149
- Bryant-Jones, pp. 148–149
- Trefousse, p. 157
- Brodie, p. 216
- Trefousse, pp. 158–159
- Brodie, pp. 219–223
- Meltzer, p. 166
- Meltzer, pp. 165–167
- Trefousse, pp. 163–164
- Brodie, pp. 225–230, 234–239
- Brodie, p. 231
- Brodie, pp. 231–233
- Brodie, pp. 240–242
- Brodie, p. 242
- Trefousse, p. 176
- Foner, pp. 242–247
- Trefousse, pp. 180–181
- Trefousse, pp. 181–186
- Trefousse, p. 193
- Trefousse, pp. 194
- Trefousse, p. 195
- Trefousse, pp. 178–179
- Brodie, pp. 277–289
- Trefousse, pp. 203–204
- Brodie, pp. 296–303
- Trefousse, pp. 210–212
- Foner, p. 309
- Stewart, p. 39
- Trefousse, pp. 217–218
- Trefousse, pp. 213–214
- Castel, pp. 136–137
- Castel, pp. 146–147
- Stewart, pp. 103–111
- Castel, pp. 158–159
- Brodie, p. 334
- Foner, p. 334
- Trefousse, pp. 224–225
- Trefousse, p. 225
- Meltzer, p. 200
- Meltzer, p. 201
- Trefousse, pp. 226–229
- Trefousse, pp. 231–233
- Stewart, pp. 233–234
- Stewart, pp. 275–279
- Trefousse, pp. 233–234
- Trefousse, pp. 234–235
- Brodie, pp. 356–357
- Trefousse, p. 235
- Brodie, pp. 361–363
- Brodie, p. 363
- Brodie, p. 364
- Brodie, p. 366
- Trefousse, pp. 240–241
- Meltzer, p. 218
- Trefousse, p. 242
- "Thaddeus Stevens. The New York Times, August 13, 1868. Retrieved on June 14, 2013.
- Brodie, p. 369
- Trefousse, pp. 242–243
- John B. Sanford, A Book of American Women (University of Illinois, 1995), p. 48
- "Who was Lydia Hamilton Smith? | Stevens & Smith Historical Site as archived at archive.org". Stevensandsmith.org. February 6, 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-06.
- Woodley, Thomas Frederick (1937). The Great Leveler: Thaddeus Stevens. Stackpole Sons. p. 149. ISBN 9780836951042. OCLC 38458167.
- Brodie, pp. 86–87
- Brodie, p. 87
- Palmer, Beverly Wilson (1997). Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 219. ISBN 1555530788. OCLC 21164443.
- Brodie, p. 88
- Brodie, pp. 90–91
- Trefousse, p. 244
- Brodie, p. 92
- Trefousse, pp. 78, 90–91
- Chadwick, Albert G. Soldiers' record of the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-5. St. Johnsbury, Vt.: C.M. Stone & Co., book and job printers, 1883; p.177 ("Non-resident Soldiers"); KIA: 20 Sept 1863.
- Trefousse, p. 136
- LancasterHistory.org. LancasterHistory.org. Retrieved on June 15, 2013.
- Trefousse, p. 244
- Stevens Society to discuss new work. Gettysburg Times, January 4, 2006, p. 1. Retrieved on June 15, 2013.
- 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)
- Current, p. 262
- Berlin, pp. 153–154
- Current, p. 260
- Andreasen, p. 78
- Berlin, p. 154
- Brodie, p. 370
- Castel, pp. 220–221
- Brodie, pp. 369–370
- Berlin, p. 155
- Brodie, p. 86
- Foner, Eric. "If you wondered about Thaddeus Stevens …". The New York Times, December 31, 1976, p. 14. Retrieved on June 16, 2013. (subscription required)
- Berlin, pp. 155–157
- Berlin, p. 157
- Castel, pp. 222, 225
- Andreasen, pp. 76–77
- Andreason, p. 79
- Andreason, pp. 79–80
- Andreasen, p. 75
- Andreasen, p. 80
- Andreasen, p. 77
- Pinsker, Matthew. Warning: Artists at work. Dickinson College, February 14, 2013. Retrieved on June 15, 2013.
- Bady, Aaron. Lincoln against the radicals. Jacobin. Retrieved on June 15, 2013
- 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. JSTOR 20149003.
- Berlin, Jean V. (April 1993). "Thaddeus Stevens and his biographers". Pennsylvania History (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press) 60 (2): 153–162. JSTOR 27773615.
- Brodie, Fawn (1966) . Thaddeus Stevens: Scourge of the South (Norton Library ed.). New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. ISBN 0-393-00331-0.
- Bryant-Jones, Mildred (2nd Qtr. 1941). "The political program of Thaddeus Stevens, 1865". Phylon (Atlanta: Clark Atlanta University) 2 (2): 147–154. JSTOR 271784.
- Castel, Albert E. (1979). The Presidency of Andrew Johnson. American Presidency. Lawrence, Kan.: The Regents Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0190-2.
- Current, Richard N. (October 1947). "Love, hate, and Thaddeus Stevens". Pennsylvania History (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press) 14 (4): 259–272. JSTOR 27766829.
- Epps, Garrett (2006). Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in post-Civil War American. New York: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-7130-X.
- Foner, Eric (2002) . Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-093716-5.
- 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. JSTOR 27773616.
- Meltzer, Milton (1967). Thaddeus Stevens and the Fight for Negro Rights. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. ISBN 978-0690809732.
- Trefousse, Hans (1997). Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-5666-5.
- 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)
- 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).
- Goldenberg, Barry M. The Unknown Architects of Civil Rights: Thaddeus Stevens, Ulysses S. Grant, and Charles Sumner. Los Angeles, CA: Critical Minds Press. (2011).
- McCall, Samuel Walker. Thaddeus Stevens (1899) 369 pages; outdated biography online edition
- Simpson, Brooks D. (April 1993). "Land and the ballot: Securing the fruits of emancipation?". Pennsylvania History (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press) 60 (2): 176–188. JSTOR 27773617.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Thaddeus Stevens|
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Thaddeus Stevens|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Stevens, Thaddeus.|
- 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.
- Thaddeus Stevens's Legacy
- Mr. Lincoln and Freedom: Thaddeus Stevens
- Mr. Lincoln's White House: Thaddeus Stevens
- Thaddeus Stevens: A Man Before His Time
- Thaddeus Stevens: Champion of Freedom
- "Thaddeus Stevens". U.S. Congressman. Find a Grave. January 1, 2001. Retrieved June 16, 2013.
|United States House of Representatives|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 9th congressional district
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 8th congressional district
Henry A. Muhlenberg
|Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee
|Persons who have lain in state or honor
in the United States Capitol rotunda
August 13 – August 14, 1868