|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 4, 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
|Political party||Federalist, Anti-Masonic, Whig, Republican|
|Alma mater||Dartmouth College, University of Vermont|
Thaddeus Stevens (April 4, 1792 – August 11, 1868), of Pennsylvania, was a leader of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican Party and a fierce opponent of slavery. He was one of the most influential members in the history of Congress. As chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Stevens, a witty, sarcastic speaker and flamboyant party leader, dominated the House from 1861 until his death. He wrote much of the financial legislation that paid for the American Civil War. Stevens and Senator Charles Sumner were the prime leaders of the Radical Republicans during the war and Reconstruction era.
Scholarly views of Stevens have swung sharply since his death as interpretations of Reconstruction have changed. Historians of the Dunning School (1890s–1940s) held Stevens responsible for demanding harsh treatment of the white South and violating American traditions of republicanism, depicting Stevens as a villain for his advocacy of harsh measures in the South such as disfranchising all ex-Confederates. This highly negative characterization held sway into the 1950s. The rise of the neo-abolitionist school in the 1950s led to a strong positive appreciation of Stevens' work on civil rights for Freedmen. A recent biographer characterizes him as, "The Great Commoner, savior of free public education in Pennsylvania, national Republican leader in the struggles against slavery in the United States and intrepid mainstay of the attempt to secure racial justice for the Freedmen during Reconstruction, the only member of the House of Representatives ever to have been known as the 'dictator' of Congress.":Preface, xi
Early life and education 
Stevens was born in Danville, Vermont, on April 4, 1792. His parents had arrived there from Methuen, Massachusetts around 1786. Thaddeus was the second of four children and was named to honor Polish patriot Tadeusz Kościuszko. He suffered from many hardships during his childhood, including a club foot. The fate of his father, Joshua Stevens, an alcoholic, profligate shoemaker who was unable to hold a steady job, is uncertain. He may have died at home, abandoned the family, or been killed in the War of 1812; in any case, he left his wife, Sally (Morrill) Stevens, and four small sons in dire poverty. Having completed his course of study at Peacham Academy, Stevens entered Dartmouth College as a sophomore in 1811, and graduated in 1814; before doing so, he spent one term and part of another at the University of Vermont. He then moved to York, Pennsylvania, where he taught school and studied law. After admission to the bar, he established a successful law practice, first in Gettysburg in 1816, then in Lancaster, in 1842. He later took on several young lawyers, among them Edward McPherson, who later became his protégé and ardent supporter in Congress.
Personal life 
Stevens never married, though there were rumors about his 23-year relationship (1845–68) with his widowed quadroon housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith (1813–1884). Smith was described as "giving great attention to her appearance" and that in later years Smith had her clothes made to resemble those of Mary Lincoln. Carl Sandburg described Smith as "a comely quadroon with Caucasian features and a skin of light-gold tint, a Roman Catholic communicant with Irish eyes ... quiet, discreet, retiring, reputed for poise and personal dignity." Smith had two sons, William and Isaac, by her late husband, Jacob Smith, and she and Stevens raised the latter's nephews, whom he adopted in the 1840s.
During her time with Stevens—neighbors considered her his common law wife, and she was frequently called "Mrs. Stevens" by people who knew her, according to Sandburg. Opposition newspapers also called her Mrs. Stevens. Smith invested in real estate and other businesses and owned a prosperous boarding house. No evidence exists as to the exact nature of the relationship between Stevens and Smith. In the one brief surviving letter from Stevens to her, Stevens addresses her as Mrs. Lydia Smith. The letter shows Stevens did not view Smith only as a servant, but at the least as a very close friend. Letters to Stevens from other family members show Smith was a friend to them and have "frequent warm and cordial references" to her.
When Stevens died, Smith was at his bedside, along with his nephews Simon and 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.:Epilogue, 244 With the inheritance, she purchased Stevens's house, where she had lived for many years, and the adjoining lot.
Political life 
In 1821 a Maryland slaveowner hired Stevens to recover a slave, Charity Butler, and her two children. Butler was a runaway slave who lived in Pennsylvania. Butler claimed that since she had resided in a free state for more than six months, she could be declared free under state law. Stevens won the case by showing that Butler had not lived in Pennsylvania for six consecutive months. When reflecting on how his legal skill returned three people to slavery, Stevens was appalled. He became a devoted abolitionist.
At first, Stevens belonged to the Federalist Party, but switched to the Anti-Masonic Party, then to the Whig Party, and finally to the Republican Party. In 1833, he was elected on the Anti-Masonic ticket to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, where he served intermittently until 1842. He introduced legislation to curb secret societies, to provide more funds to Pennsylvania's colleges, and to put a constitutional limit on state debt. He refused to sign the new state constitution of 1838 because it did not give the right to vote to black citizens. He also came to the defense of a new state law, passed on April 1, 1834, providing free public schools. Newly elected members of the Pennsylvania State Senate tried to repeal the public education act, while the lower house tried to preserve it. Although Stevens had been reelected with instructions to favor repeal, in a great speech, he defended free public education and persuaded the Pennsylvania Assembly to vote 2–1 in favor of keeping the new law.
Stevens devoted most of his enormous energies to the destruction of what he considered the Slave Power—the conspiracy he saw of slave owners to seize control of the federal government and block the progress of liberty. In 1848, while still a Whig party member, Stevens was elected to serve in the House of Representatives. He served in congress from 1849 to 1853, and then from 1859 until his death in 1868.
He defended and supported Native Americans, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Jews, Chinese immigrants, and women. Until the abolition of slavery became his primary political and personal focus, however, the defense of runaway or fugitive slaves gradually began to consume the greatest amount of his time. He was actively involved in the Underground Railroad, assisting runaway slaves in getting to Canada. An Underground Railroad site has been discovered under his office in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
During the American Civil War Stevens was the most powerful member of the House of Representatives, using his slashing oratorical powers, his chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, and above all his single-minded devotion to victory.:p. 112
His power grew during Reconstruction as he dominated the House and helped to draft both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Reconstruction Act in 1867, and played a key role in setting Reconstruction policies for the former Confederate states.
Radical Republicanism 
In July 1861 Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution stating the limited war aim of restoring the Union while preserving slavery; Stevens helped repeal it in December. In August 1861, he supported the Confiscation Act, which said owners would forfeit any slaves they allowed to help the Confederate war effort. By December he was the first congressional leader pushing for emancipation as a tool to weaken the rebellion. He called for total war on January 22, 1862:
"Let us not be deceived. Those who talk about peace in sixty days are shallow statesmen. The war will not end until the government shall more fully recognize the magnitude of the crisis; until they have discovered that this is an internecine war in which one party or the other must be reduced to hopeless feebleness and the power of further effort shall be utterly annihilated. It is a sad but true alternative. The South can never be reduced to that condition so long as the war is prosecuted on its present principles. The North with all its millions of people and its countless wealth can never conquer the South until a new mode of warfare is adopted. So long as these states are left the means of cultivating their fields through forced labor, you may expend the blood of thousands and billions of money year by year, without being any nearer the end, unless you reach it by your own submission and the ruin of the nation. Slavery gives the South a great advantage in time of war. They need not, and do not, withdraw a single hand from the cultivation of the soil. Every able-bodied white man can be spared for the army. The black man, without lifting a weapon, is the mainstay of the war. How, then, can the war be carried on so as to save the Union and constitutional liberty? Prejudices may be shocked, weak minds startled, weak nerves may tremble, but they must hear and adopt it. Universal emancipation must be proclaimed to all. Those who now furnish the means of war, but who are the natural enemies of slaveholders, must be made our allies. If the slaves no longer raised cotton and rice, tobacco and grain for the rebels, this war would cease in six months, even though the liberated slaves would not raise a hand against their masters. They would no longer produce the means by which they sustain the war."
Stevens led the Radical Republican faction in their battle against the bankers over the issuance of money during the Civil War. Stevens made various speeches in Congress in favor of President Lincoln and Henry Carey's "Greenback" system, interest-free currency in the form of fiat government-issued United States notes that would in effect threaten the bankers' profits in being able to issue and control the currency through fractional reserve loans. Stevens warned that a debt-based monetary system controlled by for-profit banks would lead to the eventual bankruptcy of the people, saying "the Government and not the banks should have the benefit from creating the medium of exchange."
Stevens was so outspoken in his condemnation of the Confederacy that Confederate general Jubal Early made a point of burning much of his iron business, at modern-day Caledonia State Park, to the ground during the Gettysburg Campaign.
Stevens was the leader of the Radical Republicans, a varied group, though his own views were not shared by them all. His support for the confiscation of the leading planters' estates found little support even among Radicals and had no chance of passage. His theory of Reconstruction was equally outspoken. Known as the "conquered provinces" idea, it asserted that the Confederacy had in practical fact created a separate nation, however illegal doing so under the Constitution might be. They could therefore be treated as if they were a foreign nation that had been conquered, permitting the United States full power to remake southern society as it saw fit. (At the same time, Stevens's theory meant that Confederate leaders could not be tried for treason, because they had not made war on their own country, and Stevens himself was prepared to act as defense counsel for Jefferson Davis, if the occasion arose.) W. W. Holden, the Republican governor of North Carolina, later wrote that in December 1866 Stevens told him, "it would be best for the South to remain ten years longer under military rule, and that during this time we would have Territorial Governors, with Territorial Legislatures, and the government at Washington would pay our general expenses as territories, and educate our children, white and colored."  Stevens took alarm at President Johnson's Reconstruction program almost at once, partly because it permitted new governments to be elected on an exclusively white suffrage, but also because of his intense disapproval of a Reconstruction initiated by executive authority: Stevens was a fierce defender of Congressional prerogatives.:p. 164-165
In the 39th Congress, Stevens served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, but found moderate members of his party predominating. In the House, he called for a reconstruction in which leading Confederates would be deprived of the vote and former slaves, at least the adult males among them, would be enfranchised. He found the Fourteenth Amendment's final provisions, with a limited disqualification from office for some former Confederates, deeply disappointing, but accepted it as the best terms possible. After the 1866 elections, Stevens pressed for a long probation period for the Confederate states, under military oversight, until they had been changed enough to be safe for readmission to Congress, but the so-called Military Reconstruction Acts of February and March, 1867, fell short of his wishes and set up a mechanism by which those states might be eligible for readmission within months. All the same, Stevens is credited with playing a central role in negotiating the course of Reconstruction. The key actions of 1866–67, says McKitrick, reflected the "Spirit of Thaddeus Stevens," although a couple of Senators had more power on specific issues. Accused of treason by President Johnson, convinced that Johnson was using all his executive powers to block a successful implementation of the Reconstruction Acts, Stevens was among the first Republicans to call for the president's impeachment—and with very little success. Only when Andrew Johnson tried to force his Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, out of office did moderate Republicans join the Radicals in voting through articles of impeachment. Stevens proposed and passed the resolution for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in February 1868. He served on the panel of managers that prosecuted the case before the Senate, but Johnson was acquitted on May 16, 1868 by a single vote. Stevens knew the game was lost, but he continued to present impeachment resolution in the following few months.:p. 233-235
When the Republican national platform failed to endorse universal suffrage, he called it "lame and cowardly." His one regret, he told a newspaper interviewer, was that he had lived so long and so uselessly. His last efforts in Congress came in helping pass the appropriation to pay for William Henry Seward's purchase of Alaska. Though the two men differed sharply on Reconstruction, they worked together well on foreign policy matters.:p. 213, 238
Thaddeus Stevens died at midnight on August 11, 1868, in Washington, D.C., less than three months after the acquittal of Johnson by the Senate. Stevens' coffin lay in state inside the Capitol Rotunda, flanked by a Black honor guard (the Butler Zouaves from the District of Columbia). Twenty thousand people, one half of whom were African American, attended his funeral in Lancaster, PA. He chose to be buried in the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery, because it was the only cemetery that would accept people without regard to race.
Stevens wrote the inscription on his headstone that reads: "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, equality of man before his Creator."
Stevens' monument is at the intersection of North Mulberry and West Chestnut streets in Lancaster.
Stevens dreamed of a socially just world, where unearned privilege did not exist. He believed from his personal experience that being different or having a different perspective can enrich society. He believed that differences among people should not be feared or oppressed but celebrated. In his will he left $50,000 to establish Stevens, a school for the relief and refuge of homeless, indigent orphans. "They shall be carefully educated in the various branches of English education and all industrial trades and pursuits. No preference shall be shown on account of race or color in their admission or treatment. Neither poor Germans, Irish, or Mahometan, nor any others on account of their race or religion of their parents, shall be excluded. They shall be fed at the same table."
This original bequest has now evolved into Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology. The college continually strives to provide underprivileged individuals with opportunities and to create an environment in which individual differences are valued and nurtured.
In Washington, D.C., the Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School was built in 1868 as one of the first publicly funded schools for black children. President Jimmy Carter's daughter, Amy Carter, attended the school.
Locations named in honor of Thaddeus Stevens in Pennsylvania include the community of Stevens, Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in New Castle, Stevens School in York, Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in the Chartiers neighborhood of Pittsburgh (built in 1940 with architectural details by Charles Bradley Warren), Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in Chambersburg, Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School in Williamsport, and Stevens High School in Lancaster. Also, Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School which was in Penn Hills, Pennsylvania, during the 1940s and ’50s until it was torn down and the Thaddeus Stevens School of Practice in Philadelphia on Spring Garden Street.
Buildings associated with Stevens are currently being restored by the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with an eye toward focusing on the establishment of a $20 million museum. These include his home, law offices, and a nearby tavern. The effort also celebrates the contributions of his housekeeper, Lydia Hamilton Smith, who was involved in the underground railroad.
In popular culture 
- Austin Stoneman, the villainous, fanatical and ultimately naive congressman in D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, was modeled on Stevens., Additionally, he was portrayed as a villain in The Clansman, the second novel in the trilogy upon which Birth of a Nation was based. He was also portrayed (by Lionel Barrymore) as a villain and fanatic in Tennessee Johnson, the 1942 MGM film about the life of President Andrew Johnson.
- In Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film Lincoln, Stevens is played by Tommy Lee Jones and portrayed as a fierce and courageous abolitionist. The performance garnered much critical acclaim and accolades for Jones, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. In one of the film's final scenes, Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith are explicitly depicted as lovers. (see Lydia Hamilton Smith).
See also 
- National Union Party (United States)
- Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
- Thaddeus Stevens School of Observation
- James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1931) p. 275: "Thaddeus Stevens, perhaps the most despicable, malevolent, and morally deformed character who has ever risen to high power in America."
- C. Vann Woodward, American Historical Review (April 1974) p. 471
- Trefousse, Hans (1997). Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 080782335X. OCLC 35280615.
- "Thaddeus Stevens." Dictionary of American Biography. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928–36.
- John B. Sanford, A Book of American Women (University of Illinois, 1995), pages 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.
- Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), page 274
- Zeitz, Joshua (November 12, 2012). "Fact-Checking 'Lincoln': Lincoln's Mostly Realistic; His Advisers Aren't". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
- Richard Nelson Current, Thaddeus Stevens: The Man and the Politician (University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1939), page 122
- Palmer, Beverly Wilson (1997). Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 219. ISBN 1555530788. OCLC 21164443.
- James Albert Woodburn, The Life of Thaddeus Stevens (The Bobbs–Merrill Company, 1913), page 584
- Sherene Baugher and Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood, editors, Archaeology and Preservation of Gendered Landscapes (Springer, 2010), pages 120–121
- Carlson, "Lincoln's Feisty Foil"
- Lawrence Kestenbaum. "Index to Politicians: Stevens, S to T". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
- Congressional Biography
- Barbara J. Little; Paul A. Shackel (2007). Archaeology As a Tool of Civic Engagement. Rowman Altamira. p. 161. ISBN 9780759110601.
- Robert D. Hormats (2007). The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars. Henry Holt. p. 63.
- Woodburn 178–179
- William F. Hixson (1993). Triumph of the bankers: money and banking in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Praeger. p. 142.
- See Holden, Memoirs of W. W. Holden (1911) p. 85
- Eric L. McKitrick (1988). Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction. Oxford University Press. pp. 260–61, 266–69.
- "Thaddeus Stevens". New York Times. August 14, 1868.
- Brands, H.W. (2012). The Man Who Saved the Union. New York, NY: Doubleday. p. 421. ISBN 9780385532419.
- Miller, Alphonse B. (1960). Thaddeus Stevens. Michigan: Ann Arbor. p. 404.
- Woodburn pp 606–620
- Knapp, Tom (2009-04-03). "Stevens to honor Stevens, Town was named for famous legislator, who got it a post office". Intelligencer Journal. Retrieved 2009-05-09.
- "Thaddeus Stevens School". Thestevensschool.com. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
- Tommy Lee Jones To Portray Thaddeus Stevens In Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens Society
- ‘Lincoln’: A More Authentic Wonderment, Then New York Review of Books, November 21, 2012
- Yamato, Jen (5 May 2011). "Spielberg’s Lincoln Adds Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Hawkes". Movie Line. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
Further reading 
- 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)
- Brodie Fawn M. Thaddeus Stevens, Scourge of the South (1959), controversial psychohistory
- Bryant-Jones, Mildred. "The Political Program of Thaddeus Stevens, 1865", Phylon 2#2 (1941), pp. 147–154 in JSTOR
- Carlson, Peter. "Lincoln's Feisty Foil," American History, Vol. 48, No. 1 (April 2013), pp. 50–55.
- 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
- Stryker, Lloyd Paul; Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage (1929), hostile to Stevens online version
- Trefousse, Hans L. Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (1997) online version, a standard scholarly biography
- 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 aristocratic.
Primary sources 
- 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 April 7, 2013.
- "Thaddeus Stevens". Equal Rights Congressman. Find a Grave. November 3, 2007. Retrieved April 7, 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