Portrait of Thaddeus Stevens

On February 24, 1868, Representatives Thaddeus Stevens introduced a recommendation of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction that “Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors in office.” [Wikimedia Commons]

Thaddeus Stevens - Facts

April 4, 1792 - August 11, 1868

Key facts about Thaddeus Stevens a dominant member of the Radical Republicans who crafted Congressional Reconstruction policies after the American Civil War.

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Full Name:

  • Thaddeus Stevens

Birth Date:

  • April 4, 1792

Birth Location:

  • Danville, Vermont

Parents:

  • Joshua and Sally (Morrill) Stevens

Education:

  • Dartmouth College (1814)

Occupation:

  • Lawyer
  • Politician

Career Summary:

  • U.S. Congressman

Spouse:

  • None

Nickname(s):

  • The Great Commoner

Place of Death:

  • Washington, D.C.

Date of Death:

  • August 11, 1868

Place of Burial:

  • Shreiner’s Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Significance:

  • Thaddeus Stevens was the second of four sons of Joshua and Sally (Morrill) Stevens.
  • Thaddeus Stevens was born with a club foot that hindered him throughout his life.
  • Thaddeus Stevens’ father was an unsuccessful shoemaker who, according to different accounts, either abandoned his family, died at an early age, or was killed during the War of 1812.
  • In 1807, Steven’ mother moved her family to Peacham, Vermont, where she earned enough money as a menial laborer to enroll Stevens at the Peacham Academy. (also known as Caledonia Grammar School).
  • Thaddeus Stevens graduated from Dartmouth College in 1814.
  • Thaddeus Stevens was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1816 and moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to open a law practice.
  • During the 1820s, Thaddeus Stevens became a prosperous land speculator, and one of the wealthiest residents of Adams County, Pennsylvania.
  • While living in Gettysburg, Thaddeus Stevens became active in politics as a member of the Anti-Mason Party.
  • In 1832, Thaddeus Stevens was elected to his first of seven terms in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. After serving one term from 1833 to 1835, Stevens returned to the legislature in 1839 where he served intermittently until 1842.
  • In 1838, Thaddeus Stevens was a delegate to the Pennsylvania constitutional convention, but he refused to sign the final document drafted by that body because it limited the right to vote to whites.
  • During the 1830s, Thaddeus Stevens suffered a severe financial reversal when two ironworks in which he invested performed poorly, saddling him with debts of over $200,000.
  • In 1838, Thaddeus Stevens was appointed to the Pennsylvania state canal commission.
  • In 1842, Thaddeus Stevens retired from public life and moved his law practice to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
  • In 1848, Thaddeus Stevens returned to the political arena in voters in the Lancaster district elected him to represent them in the U.S. Congress as a member of the Whig Party. He served in the Thirty-first and Thirty-second Congresses from March 4, 1849 until March 3, 1853.
  • Thaddeus Stevens was a vocal opponent of the Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Law.
  • While serving in Congress, Thaddeus Stevens began gaining notoriety as a proponent of equal rights for politically disadvantaged groups including Native Americans, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Jews, Chinese, and women.
  • An ardent abolitionist, Thaddeus Stevens reportedly harbored fugitive slaves in the basement of his Lancaster law office.
  • Thaddeus Stevens returned to his law practice in 1853 after choosing not to run for reelection in 1852 Congressional election.
  • Thaddeus Stevens played a prominent role in organizing the Republican Party in Pennsylvania.
  • In 1858, Thaddeus Stevens resumed his political career when voters from Pennsylvania’s Ninth District returned him to Congress. Stevens served in the Thirty-seventh to Fortieth congresses.
  • During the Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth congresses (March 4, 1861–March 4, 1865), Thaddeus Stevens chaired of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which initiated legislation that financed the Civil War.
  • Although Thaddeus Stevens officially supported President Lincoln’s leadership during the war, he was often critical of the president for not being more aggressive regarding emancipation and the abolition of slavery.
  • Following President Lincoln’s assassination, Thaddeus Stevens grew progressively critical of the Reconstruction policies of his successor, Andrew Johnson.
  • Thaddeus Stevens was instrumental in the formation of the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction (more commonly known as the Joint Committee on Reconstruction).
  • On January 9, 1866, Thaddeus Stevens proposed a constitutional amendment to nullify the Three-fifths Compromise regarding apportionment (Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution).
  • On January 12, 1866, Thaddeus Stevens proposed a constitutional amendment affirming that “All laws, State and national, shall operate impartially and equally on all persons regardless of race or color.”
  • On April 21, 1866, Thaddeus Stevens proposed what would become the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
  • Thaddeus Stevens was instrumental in the enactment of the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which disbanded the governments of former Confederate states and imposed military rule in the South until Congressional Reconstruction conditions were met.
  • Thaddeus Stevens had personal reasons for favoring Draconian treatment of the former Rebels. During Gettysburg Campaign, Confederate General Jubal Early ordered his soldiers to burn Stevens’ ironworks at Caledonia, Pennsylvania to the ground.
  • Congressional Reconstruction policies championed by Thaddeus Stevens forcefully addressed the related issues of protecting former slaves in the South and establishing their rights as freedmen.
  • On February 24, 1868, Representatives Thaddeus Stevens introduced a recommendation of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction that “Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, be impeached of high crimes and misdemeanors in office.”
  • Thaddeus Stevens served as chairman of the committee appointed to manage the prosecution of the president, but because of his failing health, Stevens played an insignificant role in President Johnson’s impeachment trial before the Senate.
  • Thaddeus Stevens died at his apartment in Washington, D.C., near midnight on August 11, 1868.
  • After embalming, Thaddeus Stevens’ body was moved to the capitol building where it lay in state under the watch of a Black Honor Guard (the Butler Zouaves from the District of Columbia).
  • On August 14, his body was moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for funeral services that were attended by 20,000 mourners.
  • Thaddeus Stevens was often referred to as “The Great Commoner,”
  • Thaddeus Stevens chose to be buried at the Shreiner’s Cemetery, in Lancaster, because the graveyard was integrated.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Thaddeus Stevens - Facts
  • Coverage April 4, 1792 - August 11, 1868
  • Author
  • Keywords Thaddeus Stevens
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 29, 2021
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