was a congressman from Pennsylvania and a leading radical
Republican during the period of the Civil War and early
Reconstruction. He was born in Danville, Vermont, to Sarah
Morrill Stevens and Joshua Stevens, a land surveyor and cobbler.
In his youth, Thaddeus endured poverty, a clubbed foot, and
abandonment by his father, all of which may account for his
lifelong affinity with the disadvantaged. In 1814, he graduated
from Dartmouth College, and then moved to Pennsylvania where he
taught school and read law. Settling in Gettysburg, he became
one of the townís council members and leading lawyers.
Stevens joined the Anti-Masonic party in the late 1820s and
was elected in 1833 to the Pennsylvania legislature, where his
zealotry earned him a reputation as the ďArch Priest of
Anti-Masonry.Ē Reelected several times, first as an Anti-Mason,
then as a Whig, Stevens backed internal improvements and
centralized banking, while fighting Democratic efforts to enact
anti-black legislation. He left the legislature in 1843 and
moved to Lancaster. Five years later he returned to politics by
winning election as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives,
where he became a leading opponent of slavery. He personally
assisted runaway slaves by legal and illegal means, and served
as one of the defense attorneys in the Christiana Slave Riot
case in 1852. His clients were acquitted, but Stevens lost his
bid for renomination.
Stevens briefly aligned with the American (Know-Nothing)
Party before helping to establish the Republican Party in
Pennsylvania. In 1858, he was reelected to the U.S. House as a
Republican. After Republicans won control of the House in 1860,
he advanced to chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee,
which has oversight of the federal budget. Although a radical
on racial issues, his stance on economic policies, such as
protective tariffs and centralized banking, were within the
Republican mainstream. A skilled parliamentarian with a surly
demeanor and acerbic wit, he proved to be an effective majority
leader. His strong-arm tactics in pushing the administrationís
legislative agenda through the House were deemed crucial to the
success of the Union war effort.
Stevens and other radical Republicans, however, were dismayed
by President Lincolnís caution concerning emancipation, black
civil rights, the use of black servicemen, and Reconstruction.
Nevertheless, the Pennsylvania congressman campaigned vigorously
for the presidentís reelection in 1864. After the war, Stevens
proposed one of the most far-reaching plans for reconstruction
of the Union. It treated the former Confederacy as conquered
territory subject to virtually unlimited federal control, and it
centered on land redistribution to undermine the white planter
aristocracy and create a class of small, independent black
When his radical plan was defeated, Stevens worked diligently
with moderates to pass civil rights legislation, including the
Fourteenth Amendment, the extension of the Freedmenís Bureau,
and the Military Reconstruction Acts. A sharp critic of
President Andrew Johnson for his intransigent opposition to
congressional Reconstruction, the Pennsylvania Congressman
pushed for the presidentís
was named one of the House managers (prosecutors) of the case
against the president at the removal trial in the Senate, but
was so ill that he had to be carried into the Senate chamber.
He died in Washington, D. C., on August 11, 1868, less than
three months after Johnsonís acquittal.
Stevens never married, but lived with a mulatto housekeeper,
Lydia Hamilton Smith, for twenty years. There is not enough
evidence to support or deny the rumors that Stephens and Smith
were romantically involved.