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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."
During his time in the General Assembly, the accomplishment
Thaddeus Stevens was most proud of was his effort to
institute free public education. In 1830's America, there
were practically no free public schools. Those that existed
were found in New England and in large cities. Only affluent
families could afford to send their children to school. In a
few places, poor children could attend school if their parents
would publicly admit poverty; however, this was very rare.
When a Free School Bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania
House of Representatives, Stevens became an ardent
supporter. He collaborated with Governor Wolfe to get the
bill passed, even though Wolfe was a Mason. However, when
the legislators returned to their districts there was an uproar.
Some people believed that free public education was too
expensive while others opposed the bill because they had
their own religious schools. Over 32,000 individuals signed a
petition to repeal the new legislation. The General Assembly
was recalled and went into session to reconsider. The Senate
quickly passed a repeal bill. The bill then went to the House.
Stevens took the floor to defend the original bill. There was
standing room only as most of the Senate filled the gallery.
Stevens began his speech by using statistics to show how
a state system of free schools was more efficient and
ultimately less costly than the existing system. He said the
repeal act should be called: "An act for branding and marking
the poor, so that they may be known from the rich and the
proud." He went on:
"I know how large a portion of the community can scarcely
feel any sympathy with, or understand the necessities of
the poor; the rich appreciate the exquisite feelings which
they enjoy, when they see their children receiving the
boon of education, and rising in intellectual superiority
above the clogs which hereditary poverty had cast
upon them.... When I reflect how apt hereditary wealth,
hereditary influence, and perhaps as a consequence,
hereditary pride, are to close the avenues and steel the
heart against the wants and rights of the poor, I am
induced to thank my Creator for having, from early life,
bestowed upon me the blessing of poverty."
He urged the legislators to ignore the misguided petitions
and to lead their people as philosophers, with courage and
benevolence.

After he finished he limped back to his seat to the cheers
of the entire assembly. The House suspended the rules
and amended the Repeal Bill into an act that actually
strengthened the original Free School Act and passed it. The
Senate immediately followed suit. The result was to give
Pennsylvania a statewide, free public school system an entire
generation before New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode
Island, and the entire South. This is why Stevens is referred
to as the savior of free public education in Pennsylvania, and
why the Commonwealth created Thaddeus Stevens College
of Technology as a tribute to Thaddeus Stevens.
The free public school system is another example of Stevens
drawing from his own background and experience and
attacking privilege based on anything other than merit. Also,
it reflects his fundamental belief that education is the great
equalizer. He later said that if education is inexpensive and
honorable, people with intelligence-no matter how poor-
would utilize it to improve themselves.
An important part of Thaddeus Stevens' legacy is his
philanthropy. Throughout his life, he could never recall the
poverty and discrimination of his childhood without great pain.
Its effect was to sensitize him to the oppression and human
suffering in the world. He simply could not bear to hear or see
suffering if his money or legal aid could relieve it. He gave
of them both almost without limit. He did this irrespective of
race, religion, national origin, or political affiliation. Even his
harshest critics said he was charitable, kind, and lavish with
his money in the relief of poverty. He had standing orders with
his physician and cobbler to treat all deformed and disabled
children at his expense. It is impossible to estimate how
much money he gave to the poor and needy or the value of
the legal services he provided for free. One indicator was that
at the time of his death, he had over $100,000 in notes from
individuals to whom he had loaned money, money which had
never been repaid. In his will, he left $50,000 to establish a
school for the relief and refuge of homeless, indigent orphans.
This original bequest has evolved into Thaddeus Stevens
College of Technology.
His will states:
"They shall be carefully educated in the various branches
of English education and all industrial trades and pursuits.
No preference shall be shown on account of race or color
in their admission or treatment. Neither poor Germans,
Irish, or Mahometan, nor any others on account their
race or religion of their parents, shall be excluded. They
shall be fed at the same table."
He defended and supported Indians, Seventh-day Adventists,
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