The Ugliest Member of Congress

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Who do you think is the “Ugliest Member of Congress”? In 1870s, the consensus was that Benjamin Butler (1818-1893) was the ugliest member who ever served. The newspapers even called him the “backside of hell’s hideous imp.” He was constantly drawn as a buffoon by the cartoonists.

Although he was scorned during his lifetime, he did more for the slaves than any man at that time did. As a major general for the union and a very astute lawyer, he declared escaped slaves “contraband” and refused to return them to the plantations.  He then enrolled them in the army, starting the first desegregated efforts in American military history. When the other union soldiers saw the slaves fight beside them bravely, getting wounded, and being awarded medals, then their attitude towards the African-Americans changed. Butler also authored the 1875 Civil Rights Act.

A champion of equality, he was the one who introduced Victoria Woodhull to Congress so she could testify that the Constitution already gave women the right to vote. He publicly supported her by attending many of her speeches. And he supported her when she was jailed on Election Day.

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