Thaddeus Stevens was born into a poor family in Danville, Vermont, on April 4, 1792. His father left his mother and her children when Thaddeus was a boy. After studying at Peacham Academy, Stevens entered Dartmouth College, completing his studies there in 1814. He then became a lawyer after moving to York, practicing in Gettysburg and Lancaster.
Stevens` politics evolved over time. Initially a Federalist, he later became a Whig, an Anti-Mason, a Whig, and finally a member of the Republican Party. Elected to the Pennsylvania House in 1832, he served for a decade. He refused to sign the Pennsylvania constitution in 1838 because it denied the vote to blacks, and he argued strongly and successfully to preserve public education in 1834.
Stevens moved on to Congress, where he served from 1849 to 1853 as a Whig, and from 1859 until his death in 1868 as a Republican. During the Civil War, Stevens was one of the leaders of the Radical Republicans, successfully leading the effort to repeal the Crittenden-Johnston Resolution of July, 1861, which had stated the limited aims of the war to be the preservation of both the Union and the institution of slavery.
Following the war, Stevens played a large part in drafting both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which instituted harsh terms on the South. He drafted and proposed the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868.
Stevens was an ardent supporter of the Underground Railroad, and there is evidence that one of its way stations was located under his legal office in York.
Stevens died at midnight on August 11, 1868, in Washington, less than three months after the acquittal of Johnson. He was buried in Shreiner-Concord Cemetery in Lancaster because it was at the time the only one that accepted burials without regard to race.