Image courtesy of Library of CongressRepresentative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania served as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means and Appropriations committees.
On this date, Representative Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania opened the 39th Congress (1865–1867) by introducing a resolution to create a Joint Committee on Reconstruction. His proposal empowered nine House Members and six Senators to investigate political and social conditions in the former Confederate states before considering their readmission to the Union. A brilliant political strategist, Stevens was the de facto floor leader for the Radical Republicans. He was the driving force in Congress in the waning days of the Civil War, aggressively asserting congressional leadership to implement equal civil and political rights for the newly freed slaves. The Radical Republicans challenged President Andrew Johnson, who believed in limited federal intervention in the South. “[The former Confederates] have torn their constitutional states into atoms and built on their foundations fabrics of a totally different character,” Stevens declared on the House Floor. “Dead states cannot restore their own existence. . . [Congress] is the only power that can act in that matter.” In approving the resolution within minutes after it was introduced, 133 to 36, the House fired the first shot in a battle it would wage with President Johnson throughout the 39th Congress over postwar Reconstruction.