« ZurückWeiter »
portions. A similar charge was performed in the Senate by his colleague in the Revision, Judge Spencer. In this position Mr. Butler gained very high honor. The Statutes, as offered by the Revisers, were in very rare instances altered by the Legislature, except on their own motion, to adopt amendments suggested by themselves; and it was computed that at the regular session, in January, and an extra session which was held for the exclusive purpose of discussing this subject, Mr. Butler had to make not less than five or six hundred speeches, in encounter with the ablest antagonists, embracing the widest scope of inquiry into all the principles of law and practice necessarily involved in so extensive a system of codification.
In 1829 he was appointed by the Legislature one of the Regents of the University; which, however, he resigned in 1832. In 1833 he acted as a commissioner on the part of the State of New York, to settle the long disputed controversy between that State and New Jersey in relation to their boundary line, which was thus after a dispute of half a century brought to a satisfactory termination.
In November of the same year, 1833, he accepted, at General Jackson's very urgent request, the office of Attorney General of the United States, though he had before declined all the previous very honorable offers that had been made to induce him to come to Washington.* This office was so directly connected with his pro
* We cannot omit in this place quoting the following letter addressed to Mr. Butler, on the occasion of his leaving Albany to assume the office of Attorney General at the seat of government, by a large number of the most respectable and eminent citizens of the former place, not only of all ages and professions but of all parties. A volunteer tribute of such a kind, proceeding from such a source,—and not usual on similar occasions, constitutes a higher testimonial to the elevated purity of character and life which could alone have elicited it, than any other public honor could ever afford:
ALBANY, November 26, 1833.
"SIR: Your friends and fellow citizens have heard with much concern that you are about to leave a city in which you have resided many years, and in which you commenced an honorable career of professional distinction and public service, to fill a highly important office in the General Government. We cannot suffer you to depart from us, without expressing to you our high estimation of your character and talents, and our regret for the loss of our personal intercourse with you, and your valuable services in our benevolent institutions, and in relation to the interests of our city and the State.
"Yet it is grateful to us to say, that our regret is mitigated by the reflection that you are to be removed to a sphere of wider usefulness, and greater distinction, in which we hope the moral qualities and intellectual powers the developement of which we have witnessed with interest and pleasure, will prove beneficial to our common country, and promote your own reputation and welfare.
"With the solicitude for you naturally produced by the change you have made, is mingled a confidence that your public life will ever be characterized by that love of justice and truth, that moderation and prudence, which have won our esteem and regard, and which we hope will safely guide you through the uncertain future. "We part with you with the warmest wishes for your public usefulness and personal happiness."
fession, and was pressed upon him in a manner so flattering, that he did not feel at liberty to obey his own inclination and his own interests, which would alike have prompted him to decline it. It involved very considerable pecuniary sacrifices; but in the struggle in which General Jackson was then engaged with the Bank of the United States, he considered the President entitled to the support and assistance of all who concurred with him in his opposition to the attempts of that institution to defeat the expressed will of the people, and to overthrow the Administration of their choice. This office he continued to hold from November, 1833, till the first of September, 1838. With respect to his discharge of its duties, in preference to giving our own impressions, we will quote the follow. ing testimony of a very distinguished member of the Bar, than whom no one could be better qualified to judge, both by constant practice in the Supreme Court, and by all the personal requisites to give authority to his opinions:
"Mr. Butler appeared in the Supreme Court with a high professional character acquired at the Bar of New York, among competitors as numerous, able, and learned as any of the tribunals of our country afford.
"He fully sustained this character: and although the cases of the Government were generally, while he was in office, numerous and important, and his political duties, in those raging times, as a member of the Cabinet, such as to occupy a large share of his time and labor, his efforts in every cause showed a clear conception and thorough investigation of all the points in controversy, and a familiar acquaintance with the legal principles by which they were to be resolved.
"It was universally allowed that no man ever adapted his manner and style of speaking more appropriately to the high tribunal which he addressed. His course of argument, calm, clear, and strong, with no passionate appeals, no vehemence of voice or gesture, no wordy declamation, made its way directly to the understanding and showed a speaker who felt himself above all the arts of the rhetorician, and all desire of display.
"He had gained much reputation for eloquence not only at the Bar, but by those efforts which a man of public spirit and of high moral and religious feeling is continually called upon to make, in the prosecution of the various benevolent objects that engage the attention of an enlightened community. However warm and earnest and impressive his addresses had been to the feelings of his hearers on such occasions, be had the good sense to see, what seems not always to be perceived by gentlemen on such occasions, that law questions are not thus to be argued before a
"One thing was always observed in him-that he spoke and reasoned from his own convictions, with more or less confidence in the positions he maintained, according to his belief of their correctness; and no one doubted that, in the important constitutional questions he was called on to discuss, he mentioned no doctrines but such as he conscientiously believed were consistent with the great charter of our rights, and necessary to preserve and perpetuate the blessings it was designed to confer. His doctrines were such as became an American Jurist, equally remote from the wild speculations of the latitudinarian, and the narrow and impracticable limitations of the close construer of words.
"For another quality he will (as he deserves) be long remembered his nevervarying courtesy to the Bench and Bar, the result of no studied art, but the evident impulse of the kindest feelings. His opponents in discussion always found themselves and their opinions treated with respect, and their arguments met with the utmost candor and fairness."
In addition to his discharge of the duties of his office in court, its other labors were of unexampled amount during the period that it was held by Mr. Butler; and the number of written opinions given by him, on questions constantly submitted to him from all the other departments and offices of the Government, was probably not less than three or four times the number given by any of his predecessors.
For a period of about five months from October, 1836, to March, 1837, Mr. Butler added to his other multifarious and almost gigantic labors those of the charge of the Department of War, at that time, too, a peculiarly onerous burthen. This appointment, as Secretary of War ad interim, was almost forced upon him by General Jackson; who, on the office becoming vacant within so short a period from the close of his Presidential term, was unwilling to interfere, by a new appointment, with the freedom of choice of his successor, in filling his Cabinet according to his own liking. It was the universal testimony of all brought into official relations with Mr. Butler in this capacity, that it had never been filled more efficiently, and in all respects satisfactorily, by any of the predecessors whose undivided attention had been bestowed upon its duties. It may be here mentioned, that to him is due the authorship of the plan for the increase of the army, which was carried into effect at the last session of Congress.
At an early day after accepting the office of Attorney General, Mr. Butler announced his intention of retiring from it at the close of General Jackson's term. It had long been a favorite project with him to establish a Law School in the city of New York; in relation to which he published a pamphlet in 1835, and about at the same period accepted from the University, then recently organized in that city, the appointment of Principal Professor of its Law Faculty, to take effect on his contemplated retirement from Washington. It was not without great reluctance that he yielded to considerations of personal friendship, in consenting to retain his office for one year of Mr. Van Buren's Presidential term; refusing at the same time every inducement held out to him to retain a seat in Mr. Van Buren's Cabinet as Head of one of the Departments of his Administration. He finally resigned it in April of last year, though his resignation could not go into effect until the arrival of his successor at the seat of government, in the month of September.
Mr. Butler is now again in that retirement of private life to which it is well known that his inclinations have always, throughout his official career, so earnestly turned. In addition to a practice in the higher courts which may perhaps, without disparagement to the powerful competitors by whom he may be surrounded, be said to place him at the head of the Bar of his native State, a large por.
tion of his time, and of the faculties of a mind which may be said to be almost indefatigable and inexhaustible, is devoted to his favorite object of establishing a Law School in that city, commensurate with its greatness, and with his own views of the important benefits to flow from it to the profession and to the public. It is yet in the state of infant experiment, Mr. Butler's opening Inaugural having been delivered only in the month of April last. Its success can as yet be only a matter of prediction and conjecture; though we may safely say, that its failure would falsify all the calculations that it is possible to make, from the importance of an end proposed and the urgency of public demand, together with the signal competency and adaptation of the means employed.
In addition to the incessant labors in which his professional and other avocations have kept him engaged, Mr. Butler has likewise devoted no inconsiderable portion of his most earnest attention to many of the great causes of moral and religious philanthropy of his time; the different institutions for the promotion of which have had a free command of his influence, time, and eloquence, both of the tongue and the pen, on numberless public occasions. Of these we need only specify that of the Temperance Reform, of which he was from the commencement one of the most zealous advocates. It should not, however, be omitted here-as illustrative of the general calm and well-balanced character of his mind-that he never allowed himself to participate in that fanaticism into which so many of those with whom he had from the first acted, afterwards ran. And towards the close he found himself so far separated from the communion of his associates, who directed the organization and public action of the societies-by his refusal to go beyond the restriction of ardent spirits, and to carry out the system of social inquisition and persecution adopted, to an extreme which could not but defeat its own objects-that his own immediate connexion with them ceased as soon as their cause, from a philanthropy, degenerated into a fanaticism.
In this connexion it ought perhaps to be mentioned, that Mr. Butler has been, since the year 1817, a professing and zealous member of the Presbyterian church, though his sentiments have always inclined to the moderate Calvinism of the present day, harmonizing entirely with those of Wilberforce, Hannah More, and others of that school in the Anglo-Episcopal church. At the same time we ought not to omit, that, while earnest in his own views, and strict in the practice appropriate to them, no one could entertain a more expanded liberality of mind, and freedom from every kind of religious intolerance or sectarianism, than characterize the subject of our present sketch.
Mr. Butler has labored with great assiduity to repair the deficiencies of his early education,-with what success is sufficiently
attested by the elegance, and familiarity with the highest range of "ancient and modern literature, which mark many of his public productions. He has never remitted the classical studies so generally neglected by many similarly engrossed in the active pursuits of professional and public life; and besides some proficiency in the Italian and German languages, has cultivated considerably the French and Spanish,-the last named since he has held the office of Attorney General. And although, as has been seen above, he never graduated at any college, the degree of A. M. has been twice conferred upon him (by Union College, New York, and Williams College, Massachusetts,) as also that of LL. D. by Rutger's College, and by the Regents of the University, in 1834.
Entirely plain and unostentatious in all his habits, few men have been more highly favored in the possession of all the elements of domestic and social happiness, within that circle of private life unseen to the general eye which watches so vigilantly the public career of the politician. His wife, whom he married in 1818, is a sister of that gallant and universally lamented Lieutenant Allen of the Navy, who was killed in a boat attack upon a piratical schooner, in November, 1822, and who has been immortalized in the lines of Halleck doubtless familiar to many of our readers.
As a politician, Mr. Butler has always been a consistent, unwavering and zealous democrat; and, while never false to his principles or his party, he has never failed, on any division of the Republican party, to side with the more democratic of the two portions; as he has also, on several occasions, exhibited an independence, in obeying the convictions of his own judgment, or the generous impulses of his own heart, attesting equally the firmness of his moral courage and the sincerity of his convictions. During his single term as a member of the Assembly of New York, notwithstanding his general desire to avoid taking part in any other business than the special purpose for which alone he had sought a seat there, several opportunities occurred to testify this quality of his political character. It is sufficient for us to allude to twohis support of the Chenango canal (the principal measure of the session,) which his voice and influence carried against the general opposition of his friends;-and his generous advocacy of the claims of the family of Dewitt Clinton on the liberality of the State, which
* It may not be uninteresting to mention that this practice, in Mr. Butler's case, was early derived from the example and advice of Chancellor Kent; who on being found on one occasion by Mr. Butler, engaged in his office in some reading of ancient classic literature having apparently but little connection with the appropriate business of the place, mentioned that it was his daily habit and rule for at least an hour, and earnestly enjoined its adoption on his young friend,-adding an interesting anecdote descriptive of the occasion on which he himself had had the similar benefit of the same example and advice from the late Edward Livingston.