Thaddeus Stevens Essay

1466 words - 6 pages

Thaddeus Stevens was a congressman from Pennsylvania who was a member of the House of Representatives during of the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction. He was the leader of a radical wing of the Republican Party called the Radical Republicans. Stevens was one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives who focused much of his political life on civil rights. He believed in equality for all men whether they were rich or poor, no matter what color their skin. Stevens was instrumental in drafting the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which was meant to protect the civil right of all Americans regardless of their race or gender. He was nicknamed the “Great Commoner” because he championed the plight of the everyday man. Stevens also advocated very harsh policies toward the southern states during the time of Reconstruction. Even though many of his ideas were controversial, he was regarded as a very important national figure during and immediately following the Civil War.
Stevens was born in Danville, Vermont on April 4, 1792. He had a very difficult childhood. He was born with a club foot and he grew up in a very poor single parent family. He was a very good student and graduated from Dartmouth College. He moved to Pennsylvania in 1816 and studied law. After he was admitted to the bar he became known for defending fugitive slaves without charging them legal fees. He entered politics in 1833, serving in the Pennsylvania state legislature as a member of the Anti-Mason party. Stevens was an avid defender of free public schools and spoke out against slavery (Sifakis). He also supported banks and spoke out against Jacksonian Democrats and Freemasons. In 1849, he was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives as a member of the Whig Party. He was against extending slavery to the new territories and states and did not want to appease the South in any way. His opposition to the Compromise of 1850 on the basis of his antislavery principles cost him his seat in Congress for much of that turbulent decade (Trefousse, Radical Republicans 82). Stevens later joined the new Republican Party where he became a leader of the radical wing. He became head of the House Ways and Means Committee where he had a lot of influence over spending during the Civil War. He was also actively involved in the Underground Railroad which helped slaves escape. Stevens publicly condemned slavery and the Confederacy. Even though he was a supporter of President Lincoln, he thought that the president's Reconstruction policies were too lenient on the South. He served as chairman of the Committee on Reconstruction. He believed that the Confederate states were considered conquered territory and should be made to pay for their mistakes. He helped to put the Congressional Reconstruction plan in place that placed the South under military occupation. Stevens was the person who led the congressional movement to impeach President Andrew...

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