Reference Entry

Butler, William Allen

in American National Biography Online


Published online April 2002 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697

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lawyer and writer, was born William Howard Allen Butler in Albany, New York, the son of Benjamin Franklin Butler, an attorney, and Harriet Allen Butler, sister of Lieutenant William Howard Allen, a naval hero in the War of 1812. His family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1834 when his father was appointed attorney general by President Andrew Jackson, and Butler studied at private schools in Georgetown and Hudson, New York. When his father became attorney general in the cabinet of Martin Van Buren in 1837, Butler entered the grammar school of the newly established University of the City of New York. The next year his father retired from the cabinet and went into private practice in New York City, where he helped establish the law school of the City University and collaborated on the preparation of The Revised Statutes of the State of New York. Butler graduated in 1843, and, as the law school at the university had not yet opened, he prepared for a career in the field by studying with his father. Three years later he was called to the bar. At that time, according to his daughter, he dropped “Howard” from his name “as the signature was inconveniently long” (p. 87, fn.) and embarked on a seventeen-month tour of Europe. On his return in 1848, he joined his father in practice.

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