By 1861, the ongoing dispute between the two sections of the country convinced several Southern states to secede from (leave) the United States and attempt to form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate
States of America. But Northern political leaders were determined to keep the Southern states in the Union. The two sides soon went to war. Stevens became even more powerful in the U.S. Congress at this time. He served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee during the Civil War. This meant that he controlled the collection and spending of tax money that allowed the Union to fight the war.
Stevens also understood the personal cost of the war. Confederate troops destroyed his iron factories during the Battle of Gettysburg. He lost $90,000, or the equivalent of his life savings. But he claimed that he was willing to pay any price for victory. "We must all expect to suffer by this wicked war. I have not felt a moment's trouble over my share of it," he stated. "If, finally, the government shall be reestablished over our whole territory, and not a vestige [trace] of slavery left, I shall deem [believe] it a cheap purchase."
Stevens became very critical of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865; see entry) during the war years. Lincoln was against slavery, but he wanted to end it gradually. He was also hesitant to grant full civil and political equality to black people. In contrast, Stevens wanted to abolish (put an end to) slavery immediately and completely. And he believed that if black people were free, they should be treated the same as white people.
People like Stevens were considered extreme or radical, while people like Lincoln were considered more cautious or moderate. Stevens and other radicals criticized the president for moving too slowly toward ending slavery and for being too lenient (easy) in his policies toward the South. They kept pushing Lincoln to take dramatic steps toward freeing the slaves and changing the structure of Southern society. But even though Stevens and Lincoln had their political differences, they actually respected and helped each other. As their mutual friend Alexander McClure (1828-1909) described their relationship: "Stevens was ever clearing the underbrush and preparing the soil, while Lincoln followed to sow the seeds that were to ripen in a regenerated Union."
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