Friday, March 7, 2008

Thaddeus Who?

[from Shotgun's Home of the Civil War]

Thaddeus Stevens

Known primarily as an extreme Radical Republican, Thaddeus Stevens was in fact a champion of the equality of man-rich and poor, black and white. Born into a poor Vermont family, Stevens was put through school by his widowed mother.

Graduating from Dartmouth, he moved in 1815 to Pennsylvania. Studying law, he later set up his practice in Gettysburg where he became known for defending runaway slaves gratis.

His reputation grew for his use of the insanity defense in a murder case, a novelty at the time. Eventually he acquired a great deal of land in the area and went into the iron business. Although one of his forges was a frequent money loser, he kept it going rather than displace his employees. In politics he moved from Federalist to Anti-Mason, to Whig, and finally to Republican. He served in the state legislature from 1833 until 1842, where he is most remembered for his defense of free public schools. He was a master at the distribution of patronage, especially on the unnecessary Gettysburg railroad. In 1842 he returned to the management of his personal affairs, including the donation of land to what is now Gettysburg College. Elected to Congress as a Whig in 1848, he was a constant opponent of extending slavery or appeasing the South in any way.

During the Civil War he wielded great influence as head of the House Ways and Means Committee. Although he had supported Lincoln in 1860, he was a constant critic of his moderate actions against the South, favoring instead a war of extermination and recolonization of the South, abolishing the old state lines. With his control of the Congress' purse, he became a leader of the Radical Republicans. The Confederates, however, got even with him for his harsh rhetoric by burning his Caledonia ironworks during the Gettysburg Campaign. Stevens provided for the support of some of the families, who were unemployed by this action, for as long as three years. As chairman of the Committee on Reconstruction, he became an opponent of the Lincoln-Johnson policy as too lenient. It was Stevens who was the prime instigator of the impeachment proceedings against Johnson. He died a few months after the acquittal. In a final declaration for equality, he arranged to be buried in a remote cemetery since it did not have racial barriers. (McCall, Samuel W., Thaddeus Stevens)
Source: "Who Was Who In The Civil War" by Stewart Sifakis

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