William Orlando Butler

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William Orlando Butler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 13th district
In office
March 4, 1839 – March 3, 1843
Preceded by William W. Southgate
Succeeded by District eliminated
Personal details
Born April 19, 1791
Jessamine County, Kentucky, U.S.
Died August 6, 1880 (aged 89)
Carrollton, Kentucky, U.S.
Political party Democratic Party (United States)
Profession Politician, Lawyer

William Orlando Butler (April 19, 1791 – August 6, 1880) was a U.S. political figure and U.S. Army major general from Kentucky. He served as a Democratic congressman from Kentucky from 1839 to 1843, and was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee under Lewis Cass in 1848.

Early life[edit]

Butler was born in Jessamine County, Kentucky (then Fayette County), and graduated from Transylvania University in 1812. He began the study of with Robert Wickliffe, but his education was interrupted by the War of 1812..

The War of 1812[edit]

When the War of 1812 began, Butler volunteered as a private to fight the British and the Indians. He took part in the Battle of the River Raisin. During the battle, Butler and fellow soldiers defended themselves behind a fencerow. The Indians poured such an intense fire on the fencerow that when it was over Butler found that his clothes were riddled with bullets.

The Indians captured Butler and sent him to Fort Niagara where he remained until the British freed him on parole. He returned to Kentucky only to join the American forces that met the British and Indians at the Battle of the Thames. During the battle, Butler volunteered to set a barn on fire where the enemy had taken shelter. He successfully did so and received the rank of colonel for his bravery. Butler and his men were sent to New Orleans to assist Andrew Jackson in the city's defense. Again he acquitted himself heroically. Among the men under his command during the Battle of New Orleans was future Florida governor Richard Keith Call, who would remain lifelong friends with Butler.

Political career[edit]

After the end of the War of 1812, Butler returned to Kentucky, resumed his legal studies, and attained admission to the bar. From 1817 to 1844, he practiced law in Carrollton. Butler served in the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1817 and 1818. From 1839 to 1843, he served as a congressman. In 1844, he received a unanimous nomination of the Democratic Party for governor. Described as the most formidable candidate that the Democrats had ever nominated for governor, Butler's race against Whig candidate William Owsley was close. Owsley won with 59,680 votes to Butler's 55,056.[1]

The Mexican War[edit]

Cass/Butler campaign poster

When the Mexican War broke out, Butler again joined the army. On June 29, 1846, he was appointed major general of volunteers and commanded the 1st Volunteer Division in the Army of Occupation. He served as second-in-command to Zachary Taylor during the Battle of Monterrey, in which he was wounded. On February 18, 1848, he superseded General Winfield Scott as the commanding general of the American army in Mexico City. He left the service on August 18, 1848, after he had been selected as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.

Election of 1848[edit]

In 1848, Butler was the Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States. At the 1848 Democratic National Convention, delegate Francis P. Blair was a leader of the movement to put Butler on the ticket with Lewis Cass, and Butler won the nomination on the first ballot over John A. Quitman and William R. King. In the general election, the ticket of Cass and Butler was defeated by Whig candidates Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore.

Later years[edit]

Butler in his later years.

Butler turned down the governorship of the Nebraska Territory in 1855.[2]

Politically, Butler was a moderate. Although a slaveholder, he was opposed to the extension of slavery and favored gradual legal emancipation.[3] He stood firmly for the preservation of the Union and was a Union Democrat during the Civil War.[4]

He was present at the peace conference of 1861, a gathering of political leaders that met in Washington, D.C. in an attempt to avert the impending American Civil War.[5]

Butler also authored a volume of poetry entitled The Boatman's Horn, and Other Poems.[6]

Death and burial[edit]

He died in Carrollton on August 6, 1880. He was interred in the Butler family cemetery in Carrollton.[7]

Legacy and trivia[edit]

Places named for General Butler:


  1. ^ William Orlando Butler at Kentucky State Parks
  2. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume VI. New York, NY: James T. White and Company. 1896. p. 183. 
  3. ^ Matthews, Gary R. (2014). More American Than Southern: Kentucky, Slavery, and the War for an American Ideology, 1828-1861. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-1-62190-118-1. 
  4. ^ Kleber, John E. (1992). The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-8131-1772-0. 
  5. ^ Report of the Kentucky Commissioners to the Late Peace Conference. Frankfort, KY: Jno. B. Major, State Printer. 1861. p. 25. 
  6. ^ Gilman, Daniel Coit (1907). The New International Encyclopædia, Volume 3. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 729. 
  7. ^ William Orlando Butler at Find a Grave
  8. ^ a b Eaton, David Wolfe (1916). How Missouri Counties, Towns and Streams Were Named. The State Historical Society of Missouri. p. 208. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William W. Southgate
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 13th congressional district

March 4, 1839 – March 4, 1843 (obsolete district)
District eliminated
Party political offices
Preceded by
George M. Dallas
Democratic vice presidential nominee
Succeeded by
William R. King