Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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BUTLER, Benjamin Franklin, lawyer, born at Kinderhook Landing, New York, 17 December, 1795; died in Paris, France, 8 November, 1858. He was a lineal descendant of Oliver Cromwell on his mother's side. His early years were spent in his father's store and in attending the district school. At the age of fourteen he was sent to the academy at Hudson, and soon afterward began the study of law with Martin Van Buren, then practicing in that town. He accompanied Van Buren to Albany in 1816, and, on admission to the bar, in 1817, became his partner. He was appointed district attorney of Albany County in 1821, and held the office till January, 1825. In the latter year he was named by the legislature one of three commissioners to revise the statutes of New York. Chancellor Kent says that "the plan and order of the work, the learning of the notes, the marginal references, should be ascribed to Mr. Butler." He was elected a member of the assembly in 1828, for the special purpose of aiding it in its deliberations on the work submitted by himself and his colleagues. In 1833 he was appointed commissioner for the state of New York to adjust the New Jersey boundary-line, Theodore Frelinghuysen being the New Jersey commissioner, and in the autumn of that year was appointed by President Jackson attorney general of the United States. He held the once through a part of Van Buren's administration, resigning in January, 1838, and from October, 1836, till March, 1837, was also acting secretary of war. From 1838 till 1841 he was United States district attorney for the southern district of New York. In 1848 he was appointed member of a commission to codify the laws of the state, but declined. By request of the council of the University of the City of New York, he had prepared, in 1835, a plan for organizing a faculty of law in that institution, and in 1837, became its principal law professor. During the greater part of his life he was an influential member of the Democratic Party, but on the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, abolishing the Missouri compromise, he joined the republicans, and voted for Fremont in 1856.
Mr. Butler was a thorough scholar, and a great admirer of the Greek and Latin writers. William Cullen Bryant, in 1825, writes of "his purity of character and singleness; how much he was admired on his first visit to New York, then a young man with finely chiseled features, made a little pale by study, and animated by an expression both of the greatest intelligence and ingenuousness." In 1847 Mr. Butler delivered, before the New York historical society, a discourse entitled "Outlines of the Constitutional History of New York" (New York, 1847). See "Life and Opinions of born F. Butler," by W. L. Mackenzie.- His son, William Allen, lawyer, born in Albany, New York, 20 February, 1825, was graduated at the University of the City of New York in 1843, studied law with his father, and, after traveling in Europe in 1846-'8, and contributing sketches of travel entitled " Out-of-the-Way Places in Europe" to the " Literary World," he entered upon the practice of his profession in New York, which he actively and successfully pursued. He contributed poetical pieces, displaying wit and fancy, to periodicals. Among his occasional contributions to magazines were humorous papers published in the " Literary World," under the title " The Colonel's Club," " The Cities of Art and the Early Artists," printed in " The Art Union Bulletin," and poetical contributions to the " Democratic Review." In 1846 he published " The Future," an academic poem ; in 1850, "Barnum's Parnassus," a volume of the character of the " Rejected Addresses"; in 1857, " Nothing to Wear," a satirical poem which attained celebrity, and was published in many forms in the United States and in England, and has been reproduced in French and German translations. It was originally published anonymously in " Harper's Weekly," and its authorship was claimed by all impostor, until Mr. Butler publicly declared himself the author; in 1858, "Two Millions," originally written for the Phi Beta Kappa society of Yale College ; " General Average," a stinging satire on sharp practices in mercantile life ; in 1860, "The Bible by Itself," all address delivered before the New York Bible society ; in 1862, "Martin Van Bu-ten," a biographical sketch ; in 1871, " Lawyer and Client," an ethical disquisition on their relations, being the substance of a lecture delivered to the law-school of the University of the City of New York; and his collected poems (Boston). In prose fiction he published anonymously, in 1876, "Mrs. Limber's Raffle," and in 1886 "Domesticus," a story illustrating various phases of the labor question, in 1879 he published a memorial address on his friend, Evert A. Duyckinck.
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