Biography[edit | edit source]
Butler was a son of William Butler, and was born in Edgefield County, South Carolina. His early education was at Moses Waddel's Willington Academy. He graduated from South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1818.
Butler was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives as a young man, and in 1824 was elected to the South Carolina Senate. He served two terms and part of a third in the Senate before being appointed judge of the session court in 1833.
In 1835, Butler was appointed judge of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas. He was appointed to the United States Senate in 1846 as a States' Rights Democrat. He was re-elected by the South Carolina legislature to a full term in 1848 and he served in the Senate for the remainder of his life. He was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during much of that time.
Butler was an ardent advocate of slavery. He was co-author with Stephen A. Douglas of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. This act provided for westward expansion, but in order to gain Southern support, it undermined the Compromise of 1820 by allowing residents of new states the right to choose on allowing slavery.
Butler's senator career is noted for an event at which he was not present. Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, during of his "Crime Against Kansas" speech in May 1856, denigrated South Carolina and abused Butler personally in terms considered to exceed parliamentary propriety. Sumner likened Butler to Don Quixote and said Butler: "has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean the harlot, Slavery." He attacked Butler ad hominem ("The senator touches nothing which he does not disfigure") and mocked an aged infirmity ("With incoherent phrases discharged the loose expectoration of his speech").
South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, a relative of Butler, considered this an attack on his family honor. Two days after the speech, Brooks soundly thrashed Sumner on the Senate floor with a gutta-percha cane. Butler later remarked that if present during the speech, he would have called Sumner to order, hoping to prevent further offense.
Evaluation[edit | edit source]
U. R. Brooks noted that biographical material to write from was scanty, and that Butler's power lay in his own presence with "grand gifts of eloquence, action, pathos, and convincing argument." Ellet wrote "Senator Andrew Pickens Butler was conceded to be the most unique and original intellect in the Senate. His face, though not handsome, was sturdily expressive, with massive features and 'troubled, streaming, silvery hair, that looked as though it had been contending with the blasts of winter'.... His power as a speaker stood acknowledged in the admiration of both Houses.... Like all men of impetuous impulse, he was very restless; one moment pacing to and fro the space behind the Speaker's desk, another giving the grasp of his hand to some younger Senator, the next taking active part in the debates of the day.... The moment a question was submitted to him, his mind instinctively applied all the great principles."
Legacy[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- Ellet, Elizabeth (1869). Court Circles of the Republic. Various Reprints. ISBN 0-405-06910-3. pp. 471, 472, 485
- Brooks, U. R. (1908). South Carolina Bench and Bar. The State Company. pp. 9-20
- Benson, T. Lloyd (2004). The Caning of Senator Sumner. Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 0-15-506347-2.
[edit | edit source]
! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States Senate
Template:U.S. Senator box
|- style="text-align: center;"
|width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Chester Ashley |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
1847 – 1857 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
James A. Bayard, Jr. |- |} Template:USSenSC