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Thu, 11.05.1818

Benjamin F. Butler, Military Officer born

Benjamin Franklin Butler

*Benjamin Franklin Butler was born on this date in 1818.  He was a white-American major general, politician, lawyer, and businessman.  

Born in Deerfield, New Hampshire, and raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, Butler is best known as a political major 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 American stage and in Massachusetts politics and ran several campaigns for Governor before his election to that office in 1882.  

A successful trial lawyer, he 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 broad 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.

This led to a political groundswell in the North, which included general emancipation and the end of slavery as official war goals. For his benefit, his commands were marred by financial and logistical dealings across enemy lines.  Butler was dismissed from the Union Army after he failed 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 plan 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.  Butler died on January 11, 1893, of complications from a bronchial infection a day after arguing a case before the Supreme Court.

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