Benjamin Franklin Butler (lawyer)

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For the 19th century United States politician and general, see Benjamin Butler (politician).
Benjamin Franklin Butler
Benjamin Franklin Butler (U.S. Attorney General).jpg
8th United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
In office
March 14, 1845 – September 1, 1848
President James K. Polk
Preceded by Ogden Hoffman
Succeeded by Charles McVean
6th United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York
In office
December 10, 1838 – March 12, 1841
President Martin Van Buren
Preceded by William M. Price
Succeeded by Ogden Hoffman
12th United States Attorney General
In office
November 15, 1833 – July 4, 1838
President Andrew Jackson
Martin Van Buren
Preceded by Roger B. Taney
Succeeded by Felix Grundy
5th District Attorney of Albany County, New York
In office
February 19, 1821 – June 14, 1825
Preceded by Samuel A. Foot
Succeeded by Edward Livingston
Personal details
Born (1795-12-17)December 17, 1795
Kinderhook Landing, Columbia County, New York
Died November 8, 1858(1858-11-08) (aged 62)
Paris, France
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Harriet Allen
Profession Lawyer

Benjamin Franklin Butler (December 17, 1795 – November 8, 1858) was a prominent lawyer from the state of New York. A professional and political ally of Martin Van Buren, among the many elective and appointive positions he held were Attorney General of the United States and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. He was also a founder of New York University and one of the founders of the Children's Village school in New York City.[1]

Early life[edit]

He was the son of Medad Butler and Hannah Butler (née Tylee), of Kinderhook Landing, in Columbia County, New York. He studied at Hudson Academy in Hudson, New York, and read law with Martin Van Buren, whose son John Van Buren later read law with Butler.

Butler was admitted to the bar in 1817, and became Martin Van Buren's partner. Francis Wellman, in his book The Art of Cross-Examination, regarded Butler as one of the most successful cross-examiners of his day (p. 233).[2]

In 1818, he married Harriet Allen; their children included attorney William Allen Butler.

Political career[edit]

Butler was one of the earliest members of the Albany Regency. He began his political career as district attorney of Albany County, serving from 1821 to 1825. He was appointed one of the three commissioners to revise the State statutes in 1825. Butler was a member from Albany County of the New York State Assembly in 1828. In 1833, he served as commissioner for New York to adjust the New Jersey boundary line. On November 15, 1833, President Andrew Jackson appointed Butler Attorney General, an office he held until 1838. From that year until 1841, and from 1845 to 1848, he was United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Legacy and death[edit]

The monument of Benjamin Butler in Woodlawn Cemetery

Butler was a regent of the University of the State of New York from 1829 to 1832. He was instrumental in founding New York University in 1831 and served in various capacities with the university from its inception. He received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Rutgers University in 1834. He was appointed principal professor of New York University in 1837.

While visiting Europe in 1858, he died in Paris, France. He was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.[3]

Fort Butler, one of the main forts built for the forced removal of the Cherokee Indians on the Trail of Tears, was named for him.[4]

He was the grandfather of Sir Alfred Allen Booth, 1st Baronet, a director of Alfred Booth and Company and chairman of Cunard.

Published works[edit]


  1. ^ "OUR CITY CHARITIES--NO. II.; The New-York Juvenile Asylum.". New York Times. January 31, 1860. Retrieved November 21, 2015. 
  2. ^ Wellman, Francis L. (1903–1904). The Art of Cross-Examination. London: The Macmillan Company. Retrieved October 26, 2012.  at Internet Archive
  3. ^ Benjamin Franklin Butler at Find a Grave
  4. ^ Riggs, Brett H.; Duncan, Barbara (2003). Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press in association with the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. p. 189. ISBN 0-8078-5457-3. 

Further reading[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Roger B. Taney
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren

Succeeded by
Felix Grundy