William O. Butler

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William Butler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 13th district
In office
March 4, 1839 – March 3, 1843
Preceded byWilliam Southgate
Succeeded byConstituency abolished
Personal details
William Orlando Butler

(1791-04-19)April 19, 1791
Jessamine County, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedAugust 6, 1880(1880-08-06) (aged 89)
Carrollton, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationTransylvania University (BA)
Military service
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1812–1815; 1846–1848
RankMajor General
  • 1st Volunteer Division, Army of Occupation
  • Commanding general of the American army in Mexico City
Battles/warsWar of 1812

Mexican–American War

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.

Born in Jessamine County, Kentucky, Butler studied law after graduating from Transylvania University. He served in the War of 1812, taking part in the Battle of the Thames and the Battle of New Orleans. After the war, he practiced law in Carrollton, Kentucky, and briefly served in the Kentucky House of Representatives. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1839 to 1843 before running for Governor of Kentucky in 1844. He lost the 1844 gubernatorial election to Whig nominee William Owsley.

During the Mexican–American War, Butler served as a major general of volunteers. He was General Zachary Taylor's second-in-command during the Battle of Monterrey and later succeeded Winfield Scott as the commander of American forces occupying Mexico City. The 1848 Democratic National Convention nominated a ticket of Cass and Butler, but the Whig ticket of Taylor and Millard Fillmore won the 1848 presidential election. He attended the Peace Conference of 1861, which sought to defuse the secession crisis that arose following the 1860 presidential election. During the Civil War, Butler was a War Democrat who favored the Union.

Early life[edit]

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

War of 1812[edit]

Battle of the River Raisin[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. While the British were being decimated by American riflemen behind the cover of fences from the left position of the American lines, the British placed their soldiers in the cover of a barn in front of the American positions 150 yards away. Butler volunteered to conduct a hit-and-run operation to destroy the barn to deprive the British of cover in the barn. Butler carried a firebrand in the face of steady enemy gunfire, Butler raced to the barn and set it ablaze. Butler withdrew back to the American lines to gather straw. He then raced to the barn to place the straw on the fire. With the barn destroyed, Butler safely returned to the American lines. Later, the whole American force were defeated and captured.[1][2]

Battle of the Thames[edit]

After the British 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 in 1813.

Battle of New Orleans[edit]

Butler and his men were sent to New Orleans to assist Andrew Jackson in the city's defense. He distinguished himself during the Battle of New Orleans. Among the men under his command 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.[3]

Mexican–American 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. Butler was the first non-incumbent Democratic vice presidential candidate to lose election.

Later years[edit]

Butler in his later years

Butler turned down the governorship of the Nebraska Territory when it was offered to him by President Franklin Pierce in 1854.[4][5]

Politically, Butler was a moderate. Although a slaveholder, he was opposed to the extension of slavery and favored gradual legal emancipation.[6] He stood firmly for the preservation of the Union and was a Union Democrat during the Civil War.[7]

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.[8]

Butler also authored a volume of poetry entitled The Boatman's Horn, and Other Poems.[9]

Death and burial[edit]

Butler died in Carrollton, Kentucky, on August 6, 1880, at age 89. He was interred in the Butler family cemetery in Carrollton.


The Gen. William O. Butler House, his home in Carrollton, Kentucky, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Places named for General Butler:


  1. ^ Floral City Images (2010). "Battle of Frenchtown, also known as the Battle of the River Raisin". Archived from the original on July 25, 2008. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
  2. ^ "1812: War with America" by Jon Latimer page.118.
  3. ^ William Orlando Butler at Kentucky State Parks
  4. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume VI. New York, NY: James T. White and Company. 1896. p. 183.
  5. ^ James C. Olson (1966). History of Nebraska (New Edition) (2nd ed.). University of Nebraska Press. p. 81.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Kleber, John E. (1992). The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-8131-1772-0.
  8. ^ Report of the Kentucky Commissioners to the Late Peace Conference. Frankfort, KY: Jno. B. Major, State Printer. 1861. p. 25. william o butler 1861 peace conference.
  9. ^ Gilman, Daniel Coit (1907). The New International Encyclopædia, Volume 3. New York, NY: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 729.
  10. ^ a b Eaton, David Wolfe (1916). How Missouri Counties, Towns and Streams Were Named. The State Historical Society of Missouri. pp. 208.
  11. ^ Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-915430-00-0.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 13th congressional district

Constituency abolished
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Kentucky
Succeeded by
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by