Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Known as the “Great Leveler,” Thaddeus Stevens fought for the rights of the under-represented. He served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee during the 37th and 38th Congresses.
The Committee on Ways and Means is the oldest standing committee
in the United States House of Representatives. Created as a select committee in the 1st Congress
(1789–1791) on this date, the Committee on Ways and Means became a standing committee in the 4th Congress
(1795–1797). Thomas Fitzsimmons
of Pennsylvania was the first chairman of the select committee. Although the committee was originally conceived to review matters of taxation and finance, the committee’s jurisdiction also covered revenue and spending bills and eventually extended to oversight of social welfare programs. The committee’s power expanded greatly during the Civil War, as it legislated the creation of the first national income tax and a national paper currency. Due to the committee's heavy workload, Chairman Thaddeus Stevens
of Pennsylvania delegated the new responsibilities to the subcommittees on revenue and banking and currency. According to the Bicentennial History of the Ways and Means Committee, Stevens pioneered the technique of parceling out committee business by jurisdiction and assigning Members with expertise on particular subjects to chair specific subcommittees. By 1865, the growing committee workload spurred the creation of two new standing committees: Appropriations and Banking and Currency.