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Thadeus Stevens
(1792 – 1868)

American politician, leading member of the US House of Representatives during the Civil War and the Reconstruction period. Born in Danville.

Congenitally lame, he grew up with an intense empathy for society's poor and disenfranchised. Educated at Dartmouth College, he started practicing law in 1816 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, subsequently serving in that state's legislature. He went to Congress in 1849 as a Whig, but left in 1853, impatient with the party's stand on slavery. After helping to form the new Republican party, he returned to Congress in 1859, serving until his death.

On his return Congress, Stevens quickly established himself as an extremist in his attitude toward slaveholders. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he exerted major influence on the conduct of the Civil War, often differing with President Lincoln. He was one of the first to urge Lincoln to decree the emancipation of slaves in conquered territory and to enlist them in the Union army. After the war he favored strict federal control of the South in order to democratize it before its reintegration into the Union.

He advocated the full enfranchisement of the liberated slaves and sponsored the legislation that later, as the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, affirmed the political and civil rights of African-Americans. His idea of treating the South as what he called "a conquered province" brought him into open conflict with President Andrew Johnson. During the continuing struggle over Reconstruction policy, Stevens played a leading role in Johnson's impeachment; he died three months after the acquittal, during which period introducing another impeachment motion which came to naught.

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October 14, 2013