Benjamin F. Butler (November 5, 1818 – January 11, 1893) completed his personal memoir in 1892 upon retiring from public service to shed light on his legacy for future generations. He led a controversial life and most of it is portrayed in the decisions he made as military commander, politician and distinguished lawyer in one of the most troubling times in the history of the United States. (1)
How can one judge Butler’s decisions when relying only on his record of those decisions without taking a closer look at the man himself? One answer to this is to begin getting to know Butler, himself, through his memoirs. Reading his own words and comparing them to the historical context in which those decisions were made, his background, cultural history, his education and various experiences through the years, can be weighed against his character. This will give an idea as to why he might have made those decisions based on what he felt was the right thing to do at the time.
As this information becomes clearer, one can view a larger picture of the history because decisions Butler made affected the world around him. Still, others may have influenced his thinking and he in turn he may have influenced others. The connection formed from this process of historical study strengthens knowledge of the past because they connect thoughts, actions and words and allow researchers to understand more of why Butler and others made their decisions and the reasons for them. This can lead to more questions or answer questions of just what Butler’s intent was. Was Benjamin F. Butler heartfelt at helping out where he could by using his talents and skills or was he a selfish person using those tools to create a persona of celebrity and personal gain? (2)
Benjamin F. Butler continues to fascinate new generations of historians and enthusiasts. Luckily, at the time, Butler saw his controversies’ as something that would be questioned by those future generations and decided to pen his past to present to the future his side of the story. He did not want his character judged by his decisions’ and actions but by how he came to those decisions and why he felt so strongly about them. His memoir is not only useful to answer some of those questions but allows a place to start looking just where Benjamin F. Butler fits in American history.
1. For background and general interest in Benjamin F. Butler, see: https://www.google.com/#q=benjamin+f.+butler.
2. Benjamin F. Butler, Butler’s Book: Autobiography and Personal Reminiscences of Major General Benj F. Butler : A Review of His Legal, Political, and Military Career (Boston: A.M. Thayer & Co., 1892).