Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage

By Lloyd Paul Stryker | Go to book overview

XLI
BENJAMIN F. BUTLER

THE Congressional elections were drawing near. The truth so eloquently uttered at the Philadelphia and Cleveland conventions, and the mass meeting at Union Square, could be drowned out by lies, the Radicals believed. But the campaign of detraction must be kept going. They wanted it loud, raucous and offensive. The times were ripe for Benjamin F. Butler. We must know this man if we would understand Johnson's later struggles.

From his retirement in Lowell, where he had remained since January, 1865, when Grant relieved him of command,1 he now began discerning opportunities in the troubled politics of the hour, and, believing that the Radicals would ultimately triumph, came forward as a candidate for Congress, and as champion of all the enemies of Johnson and of Lincoln.

Butler was then forty-eight years old. In 1840 he was admitted to the bar of Massachusetts.2 His practice in the beginning was chiefly in the defense of criminals, or in civil cases where persons of that class were parties. "His method of defense," says Senator Hoar, "was frequently almost as objectionable as the crimes he was defending. He attacked the character of honest witnesses, and of respectable persons, victims of his guilty clients, who were seeking the remedy of the law. He had many ingenious fashions of confusing or browbeating witnesses, and sometimes of misleading juries."3 His reputation at the bar was that of "an unscrupulous practitioner."4 In July, 1864, Welles wrote: "While Butler has talents and capacity he is not to be trusted. The more I see of him the greater is my distrust of his integrity."5 And again in March, 1866: "I am told that General Butler has succeeded in inducing the Secretary of the Treasury to interfere in the matter of the Grey Jacket condemned as a prize. If so I

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