Military Wiki
William Orlando Butler
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
March 4, 1839 – March 4, 1843
Preceded by William W. Southgate
Succeeded by (none)
Personal details
Born April 19, 1791
Jessamine County, Kentucky, U.S.
Died August 6, 1880 (aged 89)
Carrollton, Kentucky, U.S.
Political party Republican
Profession Politician, Lawyer

William Orlando Butler (April 19, 1791 – August 6, 1880) was a U.S. political figure and U.S. Army major general from Kentucky. He served as a Democratic congressman from Kentucky from 1839 to 1843, and was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee under Lewis Cass in 1848.

Early life

Butler was born in Jessamine County, Kentucky (then Fayette County), and graduated from Transylvania University in 1812. After graduating from Transylvania University in 1812, he studied law under Robert Wickliffe.

The War of 1812

When the War of 1812 began, Butler volunteered as a private to fight the British and the Indians. He took part in the Battle of the River Raisin. During the battle, Butler and fellow soldiers defended themselves behind a fencerow. The Indians poured such an intense fire on the fencerow that when it was over Butler found that his clothes were riddled with bullets.

The Indians captured Butler and sent him to Fort Niagara where he remained until the British freed him on parole. He returned to Kentucky only to join the American forces that met the British and Indians at the Battle of the Thames. During the battle, Butler volunteered to set a barn on fire where the enemy had taken shelter. He successfully did so and received the rank of colonel for his bravery. Butler and his men were sent to New Orleans to assist Andrew Jackson in the city’s defense. Again he acquitted himself heroically.

Political career

After the end of the War of 1812, Butler returned to Kentucky. From 1817-1844, he worked as a lawyer and a politician. From 1839 to 1843, he served as a congressman. In 1844, he received a unanimous nomination of the Democratic Party for governor. Described as the most formidable candidate that the Democrats had ever nominated for governor, Butler’s race against Whig candidate William Owsley was close. Owsley won with 59,680 votes to Butler’s 55,056.[1]

The Mexican War

Cass/Butler campaign poster

When the Mexican War broke out, Butler again joined the army. On June 29, 1846, he was appointed major general of volunteers and commanded the 1st Volunteer Division in the Army of Occupation. He served as second-in-command to Zachary Taylor during the Battle of Monterrey, in which he was wounded. On February 18, 1848, he superseded General Winfield Scott as the commanding general of the American army in Mexico City. He left the service on August 18, 1848, after he had been nominated as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee.

Election of 1848

In 1848, Butler was the Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States. Francis P. Blair was a leader of the movement to put Butler on the Democratic ticket with Lewis Cass. Butler and Cass were defeated by Whig candidates Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore.

Later Years

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Butler in his later years.

Butler turned down the governorship of the Nebraska Territory in 1855.

Politically, Butler was a moderate. Although a slaveholder, he was opposed to the extension of slavery and favored gradual legal emancipation. He stood firmly for the preservation of the Union and was a Union Democrat during the Civil War.

He was present at the peace conference of 1861, a gathering of political leaders that met in Washington, D.C. in an attempt to avert the impending American Civil War. Butler returned to his home in Carrolton where he remained until his death. He died in 1880 aged 89 of natural causes. His remains were interred in the Butler family cemetery.

Legacy and Trivia

  • Butler was the first non-incumbent Democratic vice presidential candidate to lose election.

Places named for General Butler:

  • Butler County, Iowa
  • Butler County, Missouri
  • Butler, Missouri (in Bates county)
  • General Butler State Resort Park near Carrollton, Kentucky.
  • Butler Township, County of Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, is also named for him.
  • Butler, Georgia (see Butler, Georgia city website for confirmation)


  1. William Orlando Butler at Kentucky State Parks

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William W. Southgate
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 13th congressional district

March 4, 1839 – March 4, 1843
District eliminated
Party political offices
Preceded by
George M. Dallas
Democratic vice presidential nominee
Succeeded by
William R. King

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