Thaddeus Stevens, Reconstruction (American National Biography)

Josh Zeitz, "Stevens, Thaddeus," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
The end of the war presented the Republican party with several distinct policy options, the most radical of which was pioneered by Stevens. Arguing that the southern states were conquered territories, outside of the Union, without constitutional protections, and subject to direct congressional governance, he proposed a wide-reaching land redistribution program aimed at breaking the economic and political influence of the planter elite and creating an independent black yeomanry. Like most of his contemporaries, he understood civil rights as entailing equality under the law and equal opportunity for self-advancement, but he viewed the enfranchisement of freedmen as a privilege and not a right, beyond congressional authority and secondary in importance to the socioeconomic restructuring of the South.

In 1866 and 1867 Stevens found himself forced to juggle dual roles as House leader and Radical chieftain. He forged a precarious balance between compromise and principle. When his land redistribution program was defeated in February 1866, he accepted the party's moderate course and defended the Freedmen's Bureau and civil rights bills against presidential opposition. Later that year he shepherded the relatively moderate Fourteenth Amendment, parts of which he had authored, through the House. Although he viewed these measures as incomplete, he counseled his fellow Radicals to "take what we can get now and hope for better things in further legislation" (Congressional Globe, 39th Cong., 1st sess., p. 3148).
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