The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson
ĽName: Thaddeus Stevens

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Thaddeus Stevens was born in Danville, Vermont. He suffered from many hardships during his childhood, including a club foot. His father was an alcoholic who was unable to hold a steady job and who abandoned the family before dying in the War of 1812. His mother worked as a maid or housekeeper to support her children. Stevens graduated from Dartmouth College in 1814, then moved to York, Pennsylvania, where he taught school and studied law. After admission to the bar, he established a successful law practice, first in Gettysburg, then in Lancaster.

Stevens served for several years in the Pennsylvania state legislature before his election to Congress in 1848 as an antislavery Whig. He opposed the fugitive slave law and the Compromise of 1850. In 1856, Stevens was reelected to Congress as a member of the new antislavery Republican party, and soon wielded great power as the chair of the important House Ways and Means Committee. As a passionate believer in the principles of Radical Republicanism, the "Great Commoner," as he was known, pushed for emancipation and black suffrage.

Stevens was an early and vehement critic of President Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction policy and eventually became a leader in the effort to impeach the president. An advocate of treating Southern states during Reconstruction as "conquered provinces," Stevens encouraged strong, sweeping action by the federal government to revolutionize the institutions and culture that bolstered white supremacy in the South. The measures he supported included the Fourteenth Amendment and an unsuccessful plan to confiscate plantations and redistribute the land to former slaves. He was a member of Congress’ joint committee on Reconstruction, but it was dominated by moderates. During Johnson’s impeachment trial, Stevens was so ill that he had to be carried into the Senate chamber and died in Washington, D. C., less than three months after the President’s acquittal.

Robert C. Kennedy, HarpWeek

Sources consulted:  Harper’s Weekly Encyclopedia of United States History; James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom; and James McPherson, Ordeal by Fire.


Thaddeus Stevens
(4 April 1792 - 11 August 1868)
Source:  History of Congress, 1867-69, Vol. I

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