Biographical Sidebar:
Thaddeus Stevens

The most prominent Radical Republican in Congress during Reconstruction, Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) was born and educated in New England.

He moved as a young man to Pennsylvania, where he practiced law, became an iron manufacturer, and entered politics.

Stevens served several terms in the legislature, where he won renown as an advocate of free public education. He also championed the rights of Pennsylvania's black population.

A delegate to the Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1838, he refused to sign the document because it limited voting to whites.

As a Congressman, Stevens during the Civil War urged the administration to free and arm the slaves and by 1865 favored black suffrage in the South. He became one of Andrew Johnson's fiercest critics and an early advocate of his impeachment.

To Stevens, Reconstruction offered an opportunity to create a "perfect republic" based on the principle of equal rights for all citizens. As floor leader of House Republicans, he helped to shepherd Reconstruction legislation through Congress, although he thought much of it too moderate.

His plan for confiscating the land of Confederate planters and dividing it among Northern settlers and the former slaves failed to pass.

Learn more: Thaddeus Stevens' papers

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Copyright 2003
he Meaning of Freedom: Black and White Responses to Slavery From Free Labor to Slave Labor Rights and Power: The Politics of Reconstruction The Ending of Reconstruction Epilogue: The Unfinished Revolution Resources Credits for this Exhibit Introduction