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(1867) Thaddeus Stevens, “Reconstruction”

In 1867 Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner led the campaign for full voting rights for African Americans across the nation.  In the speech below which Stevens gave in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3, 1867 supporting the Reconstruction bill then being debated, he issued a response to those who said his call was radical and incendiary with a now famous quotation: I am for negro suffrage in every rebel State. If it be just, it should not be denied; if it be necessary, it should be adopted; if it be a punishment to traitors, they deserve it.   The entire speech appears below.

Mr. Speaker, I am very anxious that this bill should be proceeded with until finally acted upon.  I desire that as early as possible, without curtailing debate, this House shall come to some conclusion as to what shall be done with the rebel States.  This becomes more and more necessary every day; and the late decision of the Supreme Court of the United States has rendered immediate action by Congress upon the question of the establishment of governments in the rebel States absolutely indispensable.  

That decision, although in terms perhaps not as infamous as the Dred Scott decision, is yet far more dangerous in its operation upon the lives and liberties of the loyal men of this country. That decision has taken away every protection in everyone of these rebel States from every loyal man, black or white, who resides there. That decision has unsheathed the dagger of the assassin and places the knife of the rebel at the throat of every man who dares proclaim himself to be now, or to have been heretofore, a loyal Union man. If the doctrine enunciated in that decision be true, never were the people of any country anywhere, or at any time, in such terrible peril as are our loyal brethren at the South, whether they be black or white, whether they go there from the North or are natives of the rebel States.

Now, Mr. Speaker, unless Congress proceeds at once to do something to protect

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