Grave of Thaddeus Stevens
Thaddeus Stevens served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1849 to 1868. Before his service in the House, Stevens developed a passion for the abolition of slavery and black civil rights during his law and political career in Pennsylvania. This passion followed him to Washington D.C. and during the Civil War and Reconstruction, he became one of the most well-known and significant Radical Republicans. During the war Stevens pushed President Lincoln for the abolition of slaves and their civil rights when the war ended. Stevens remained an advocate for civil rights until his death in 1868.
Backstory and Context
Thaddeus Stevens was born to Sarah and Joshua Stevens on April 4, 1792 in Danville, Vermont. His father left the family when he was a child and Stevens had to grow up poor and slightly disabled due to a club foot. After studying and graduating from Dartmouth College, Stevens moved to York, Pennsylvania; here he taught classes throughout the day while he pursued a law degree at night. He earned his law degree two years later and started his career in Gettysburg. As a young lawyer, Stevens grew a bitter disliking to slavery that would follow him into his political career.
Stevens started his political career in 1833 on the state level for four years. As part of the Ant-Masonic Party, he defended banks, internal improvements, and public schools. Stevens was also vocal about his dislike of slavery, Jacksonian Democrats, and Freemasons, who he suspected were attempting to arrange a way they could get government seats. Stevens’ political career advanced after he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig politician in 1849. During his time in the House he supported tax increases and opposed the Fugitive Save Act in 1850. When the Civil War broke out Stevens supported the taking of Confederate property as well as their slaves, and he pushed President Lincoln to free the slaves.
Stevens switched to the Republican Party in the 1850s and assisted runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Stevens’ desire to end slavery became a main goal of his time in the House. Consequently, Stevens became one of the most well-known Radical Republicans in the country. Stevens spoke out against the Confederacy and would not allow Southern politicians to take part in a congressional meeting in 1865. With Stevens’ guidance, the Radical Republicans controlled much of Congress by 1866, and focused on Reconstruction policies. Stevens sat on the Joint Committee of Reconstruction and was a key player in the drafting of the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments and the Reconstruction Act of 1867. The 13th Amendment made slavery illegal, the 14th Amendment protects the liberties of the people from any local or state government that attempts to take those liberties away, and the 15th Amendment gave African American men the right to vote. Although the Radical Republicans had control of Congress, President Andrew Johnson fought against many of their policies. Stevens did not back down to the president but instead created the resolution to impeach him and chose the men who would carry out the process. Despite this, President Johnson was not impeached.
On April 11, 1868, Thaddeus Stevens passed away in Washington D.C.with his housekeeper, mulatto Lydia Hamilton Smith, at his side. There are rumors that Stevens and Smith shared a romantic relationship. Prior to his death, Stevens asked to be buried at the Shreiner-Concord Cemetery in Lancaster, Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania was inclusive to all races.
"Thaddeus Stevens." Biography. Accessed on February 17, 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/thaddeus-stevens-21011351
"Remarkable Radical: Thaddeus Stevens." HUMANITIES: The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Accessed on February 17, 2018. https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2012/novemberdecember/feature/remarkable-radical-thaddeus-stevens
"Thaddeus Stevens." HistoryNet. Accessed on February 17, 2018. http://www.historynet.com/thaddeus-stevens.htm