Born in 1792 of a poor Vermont family, Stevens was further disadvantaged by a physical disability (a club foot) which was sometimes regarded as the mark of the “devil.” Throughout his life, he helped the poor and vulnerable, and defended those who were outside the political system women, Indians, Chinese and especially slaves and Black freemen. A lawyer, he served in the Pennsylvania legislature, where he campaigned for public schools, and then the US House of Representatives, where he spoke loudly against the extension of slavery. He became the leader of the Radical Republicans during the Civil War, and chairman of the Committee on Reconstruction, where he pushed for the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and (in vain) for economic reparations (“40 acres and a mule”) for freemen. He was also a major figure behind the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. He was disappointed when the Fourteenth Amendment restricted voting to males. He died in 1868 as “Radical Reconstruction” was getting underway.
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