The Pennsylvania congressman was an ardent abolitionist, and was known as "The Great Commoner." He was also widely regarded as the most sarcastic man on Capitol Hill, a formidable debater with no qualms about denouncing his Congressional colleagues in the harshest terms.
It is believed the most intense insults Stevens let fly were never saved for history. The reporters who transcribed debates in the Capitol would simply write, when his tirades became too incendiary for print, that the congressman's words had been inaudible.
If you wish to dive deeply into such lore, a great starting point would be some very rare vintage books about Thaddeus Stevens, which have been scanned and are now freely available at Google Books. From his early career defending fugitive slaves, to his prominence during the Civil War and Reconstruction, Thaddeus Stevens was representative of turbulent times in America.
I'll always believe Tommy Lee Jones deserved the Oscar. And I'll always appreciate his performance, especially as it will help to ensure that future generations will occasionally be reminded of the amazing character he portrayed.
Illustrations: Thaddeus Stevens/Library of Congress
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