Benjamin Franklin Butler - Inventory Number: AUT 038
(November 5, 1818 – January 11, 1893)
Major general of the Union Army, politician, lawyer and businessman from Massachusetts. Born in New Hampshire and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, Butler is best known as a political major general of the Union Army during the American Civil War, and for his leadership role in the impeachment of U.S. President Andrew Johnson. He was a colorful and often controversial figure on the national stage and in the Massachusetts political scene, during his one term as Governor.
Butler, a successful trial lawyer, served in the Massachusetts legislature as an antiwar Democrat and as an officer in the state militia. Early in the Civil War he joined the Union Army, where he was noted for his lack of military skill, and his controversial command of New Orleans, which brought him wide dislike in the South and the "Beast" epithet. He helped create the legal idea of effectively freeing fugitive slaves by designating them as contraband of war in service of military objectives, which led to a political groundswell in the North which included general emancipation and the end of slavery as official war goals. His commands were marred by financial and logistical dealings across enemy lines, some of which probably took place with his knowledge and to his financial benefit.
Butler was dismissed from the Union Army after his failures in the First Battle of Fort Fisher, but soon won election to the United States House of Representatives from Massachusetts. As a Radical Republican he opposed President Johnson's Reconstruction agenda and was the House's lead manager in the Johnson impeachment proceedings. As Chairman of the House Committee on Reconstruction, Butler authored the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and coauthored the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1875.
In Massachusetts, Butler was often at odds with more conservative members of the political establishment over matters of both style and substance. Feuds with Republican politicians led to his being denied several nominations for the governorship between 1858 and 1880. Returning to the Democratic fold, he won the governorship in the 1882 election with Democratic and Greenback Party support. He ran for President on the Greenback ticket in 1884.
Inventory Number: AUT 038