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Benjamin Franklin Butler

Butler, Benjamin Franklin, 1818–93, American politician and Union general in the Civil War, b. Deerfield, N.H. He moved to Lowell, Mass., as a youth and later practiced law there and in Boston. He was elected to the state legislature in 1852 and 1858 and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1859 and 1860. Butler was a Democrat but a strong Unionist. At the beginning of the Civil War his contingent of Massachusetts militia was one of the first to reach Washington. He restored order (May, 1861) in secessionist Baltimore and was given command at Fort Monroe. He commanded the troops that accompanied Admiral Farragut in taking New Orleans and was made military governor of the city. There his highhanded rule (May–Dec., 1862) infuriated the people of New Orleans and the South and earned him the name "Beast." The government, severely criticized both at home and abroad for his actions, finally removed him. In May, 1864, as commander of the Army of the James, Butler was defeated by Beauregard at Drewry's Bluff and was bottled up at Bermuda Hundred until Grant crossed the James in June. After he failed to take Fort Fisher in Dec., 1864, he was removed from active command. From 1867 to 1875 Butler, by then a rabid radical Republican, was in Congress. He was one of the House managers who conducted the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson, and he ardently advocated the party's Reconstruction policy. He was said to have great influence with President Grant. Butler was (1877–79) an independent Greenbacker in Congress. After several unsuccessful attempts to secure the governorship of Massachusetts, he was elected by the Greenbackers and Democrats in 1882. In 1884 he received the nominations of the Anti-Monopoly and Greenback parties for President. Regarded by many as an unprincipled demagogue of great ability, Butler aroused intense antagonisms and was nearly always in controversy.

See his autobiography (1892); biographies by R. S. Holzman (1954), H. L. Trefousse (1957), R. S. West, Jr. (1965), and H. P. Wash, Jr. (1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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