2016-17 Course Catalog - 6
The Legacy of Thaddeus Stevens
Thaddeus Stevens was born in Danville, Vermont, on April 4,
1792. He was the second of four boys whose parents were Sarah
and Joshua Stevens. Thaddeus' older brother, Joshua, was born
with two clubfeet that made it very difficult for him to walk. In
the late 1700s, any physical deformity was seen as a sign from God
that the family had committed some serious sin. Such a deformity
Sarah Stevens was a kind woman with great energy, a strong will,
and a devout faith in God. She held the family together by working
day and night. In addition to the farm work, she cleaned and
performed other domestic chores for her neighbors. Thaddeus
loved his mother and was devoted to her throughout his life.
Sarah realized that the best hope for her eldest sons was education.
She scraped together enough money to enroll them in the nearby
one-room Peacham School. Thaddeus was frail, poor, disabled,
and not particularly attractive. Consequently, he was teased
mercilessly by other children throughout his childhood.
Extremely sensitive, he became very shy; however, he excelled
in school. It became obvious that he possessed a great intellect
and had a special aptitude for debating. Upon completion of his
education at Peacham, Thaddeus was accepted at Dartmouth
College. He was the poorest student at the College, never having
enough money for books let alone money to socialize with his
rich classmates. As a result, he was an outcast, just as he had been
throughout his childhood. Even though he was more qualified
than most of his peers, he was not nominated for Phi Beta Kappa,
an honors fraternity. This insult left him hurt and bitter.
Thaddeus Stevens graduated from Dartmouth and accepted a
teaching position at a one-room school in York, Pennsylvania. He
studied law in the evenings and passed the bar exam in a year. He
set up practice in Gettysburg and later moved to Lancaster. He
became an instant success. In his first year, he successfully argued
nine out of ten cases before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,
an unprecedented feat. Word of his ability and success spread
throughout the region, and he was inundated with clients. After
five years, he owned a house and lot, several other properties, and
was able to purchase for his mother a 250-acre farm with 14 cows.
He said that buying her the farm was the "greatest satisfaction of
his life." During the next 21 years, he would become very wealthy
and became known as an excellent attorney, renegade politician,
was called the mark of the devil, and as a consequence, the family
was ridiculed and shunned. The family's status worsened when
Thaddeus was also born with a clubfoot.
Thaddeus' father, Joshua Stevens, was an alcoholic and an abusive
man with a special talent for staying poor. The family lived in
abject poverty on a small farm. By the time Thaddeus was 12, his
father had abandoned the family and was later killed in the War
6 * Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology
In 1833, Thaddeus Stevens was elected to the Pennsylvania House
of Representatives. He did not run as a Democrat, the party that
dominated Pennsylvania politics, but rather as an Anti-Mason.
This was a political party that opposed Freemasons or Masonry.
Freemasons were an organization that included many of the most
influential and prestigious men of the time, including George
Washington. Anti-Masons opposed it because of its secrecy, oaths,
and religious pageantry. Stevens objected to Masonry because of
his personal hatred of exclusionary clubs and societies and because
some chapters' charters excluded "cripples."