The following is an excerpt from "The 25 Most Influential Alumni", featured in the January/February 2019 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine. Profile written by Rick Beyer ’78.
“No man assailed him without danger or conquered him without scars,” declared one contemporary of Thaddeus Stevens. The congressman was a warrior. He agitated ceaselessly against slavery and for the rights of blacks. He was instrumental in the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. He took on a president who opposed him and nearly removed him from office. Full of vitriol, both hater and hated, Stevens gave no quarter.
His Dartmouth roommate recalled that Stevens was “inordinately ambitious, bitterly envious of all who outranked him as scholars, and utterly unprincipled.” Stevens was selected as the 1814 Commencement speaker but was enraged when he was not elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Stevens practiced law in Pennsylvania, where he became a committed abolitionist and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During the Civil War he was a leader of the Radical Republicans, who favored immediate abolition and harsh measures against the South. “Free every slave—slay every traitor—burn every rebel mansion,” he thundered. Southerners returned his hatred. One newspaper editor labeled him “this wicked man…this demon.” Even Northern editors referred to him as an “evil genius.”
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Photo credits: At left, courtesy of The Hood Museum of Art, 1867 engraving of Thaddeus Stevens by John Sartain; at right, courtesy Dartmouth Library, Stevens' family farm in Peacham, Vermont.