Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Pierce Butler

                    Pierce Butler was a signer of the Constitution of the United States of America and is recognized as one of our Founding Fathers; he was also a soldier, planter, and statesman.  He represented South Carolina in the Continental Congress, the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the U.S. Senate.

                    Butler was born on July 11, 1744, near the village of Tinryland in County Carlow, Ireland, to an aristocratic family.  He was the son of Sir Richard Butler, 5th Baronet of Cloughgrenan.  He was the Baronet's third son and as such could not inherit either the title or the land; therefore, his father purchased a commission in the British Army for him.  As a major with the Twenty-Ninth Regiment of Foot, he went to South Carolina in 1767.  He was still a "ranking" British officer in 1772 when his unit was "charged with suppressing the growing colonial resistance to Parliament."

                    Major Pierce Butler married Mary Middleton (c. 1750-1790) in January 1771.  Mary was the orphaned daughter of Thomas Middleton, a South Carolina planter and slave importer.  She inherited a "vast fortune" that brought her husband great wealth, and he resigned his commission in the British Army to settle with Mary in South Carolina.  Pierce and Mary became the parents of eight children:  Sarah (c. 1772-1831; married 1800, James Mease of Philadelphia), Anne Elizabeth (1771-1845; unmarried), Fraunces (1774-1836; unmarried), Harriot Percy (c. 1775-1815; unmarried), Pierce Jr. (1777-1780), Thomas (1778-1838; married 1812, Eliza de Mallevault of Paris), third son died young, and fourth son died young.

                    Pierce, an Anglo-Irish nobleman married to a wealthy American heiress, soon cut his ties with the old world and embraced his new country.  By the time of the Revolutionary War, Pierce owned 10,000 acres, mostly rice plantations and slaves to work them.  During the war, he served as an officer in South Carolina's militia.  He was "a man with a price on his head," but he trained and organized American forces to fight the invading British Army.

                    During the British occupation of South Carolina, Pierce and Mary lost their estates and fortune.  After the war, Pierce was "one of the first to call for reconciliation with the Loyalists" because "he believed unifying the country was critical."  He also worked to renew "friendly relations and business trading" with Great Britain because he wanted to rebuild his wealth and he knew that Great Britain was "the major trading partner of the United States."  Even though Pierce was among the "planter elite," he became "a leading spokesman for the frontiersmen and impoverished settlers in the western part of the state."

                    Pierce had a "strong and enduring sense of nationalism" and liked the "concept of a permanent union of the thirteen states.  His military and political experiences led him to the conviction that a strong central government, as the bedrock of political and economic security, was essential to protect the rights not only of his own social class and adopted state but also of all classes of citizens and all the states."  He signed the Declaration of Independence after the Revolutionary War was over.

                    Butler represented South Carolina at the 1786 Constitutional Convention.  "He was an eloquent advocate of the rights of white yeomen during the debate over the Constitution, as well as a proponent of concessions to benefit slaveholders (which he helped win)."  He was "a major planter" and was among "the political and social elite of the Southern colonies."  He was also "the most outspoken slave-owning member of the four-man South Carolina delegation."

                    "One of the largest slaveholders in the United States, Butler defended American slavery for both political and personal motives, though he had private misgivings about the institution, and particularly about the African slave trade.  He introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause of the U.S. Constitution during the convention, and supported other measures to benefit slaveholders, including outing the full slave population in state totals for the purposes of Congressional apportionment.  The compromise measure provided for counting three-fifths of the slave population in state totals, which led to Southern states having disproportionate power."

                    Pierce held 500 African Americans as slaves by 1793.  His slaves lived and worked on his rice plantation at Butler Island and cotton plantation at St. Simons Island (the Sea Islands of Georgia).  Each of the islands was several hundred acres in size.  He continued to acquire more land and slaves, and he owned more than 1,000 slaves when he died.

                    Although he suffered from health problems that kept him from active combat duty, Butler used his military talents to help his state.  Governor John Rutledge realized Butler's abilities when he asked him in early 1779 to help reorganize the defenses of South CarolinaButler served his state as adjutant general, a position that carried the rank of brigadier general, but he preferred to be called Major, which was his highest combat rank.

                    By 1778 the British forces located in the "northern and middle colonies had reached a stalemate with Washington's Continentals" who were "more adequately supplied and better trained after the hard winter at Valley ForgeGreat Britain was also concerned that France may enter the war as a partner to the Americans; therefore, the British shifted their war strategy to the southern colonies and captured Savannah, Georgia, in December 1778.

                    Butler and the militia of South Carolina mobilized in an effort to stop the British invasion.  Butler served as a volunteer aide to General Lachlan McIntosh in an attempt to drive the British from Georgia, but they failed in their efforts to relieve Savannah.

                    "In 1780 the British captured Charleston, South Carolina, and with it most of the colony's civil government and military forces.  Butler escaped as part of a command group deliberately located outside the city.  During the next two years, he developed a counter strategy to defeat the enemy's southern operations.  Refusing to surrender, allies in South Carolina, and the occupied portions of Georgia and North Carolina, organized a resistance movement.  As adjutant general, Butler worked with former members of the militia and Continental Army veterans such as Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter to integrate the partisan efforts into a unified campaign.  They united with the operations of the Southern Army under the command of Horatio Gates and later Nathanael Greene.

                    "As a former Royal officer, Butler was a special target for the British occupation forces.  Several times he barely avoided capture.  Throughout the closing phases of the southern campaign, he personally donated cash and supplies to help sustain the American forces and also assisted in the administration of prisoner-of-war facilities."

                    Due to his generous spending to help military operations toward the end of the Revolutionary War, Butler was left a poor man.  "Many of his plantations and ships were destroyed, and the international trade on which the majority of his income depended was in shambles.  He traveled to Europe when the war ended in an effort to secure loans and establish new markets.  He enrolled his son in a London school and engaged a new minister from among the British clergy for his Episcopal church in South Carolina."

                    Butler returned to America in late 1785 and began to encourage reconciliation with former Loyalists and to advocate for equal representation for the residents of the backcountry.  The South Carolina legislature asked Butler to represent their state at the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787.

                    "Butler's experiences as a soldier and planter-legislator led to his forceful support for a strong union of the states.  He had come to appreciate the need for a national approach to defense.  As a planter and merchant, he understood that economic growth and the international respect to support trade depended upon a strong central government.  At the same time, he energetically supported the special interests of his region.  He introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause (Article 4, Section 2), which established protection for slavery in the Constitution.  In addition, while privately criticizing the international trade in African slaves, he supported the passage in the Constitution that prohibited regulation of the trade for 20 years.  By the time of the Constitutional Convention, some northern states had already abolished slavery, and others soon did so, leaving the new country largely divided between the slaveholding South and the free labor North.  Similarly, Butler supported counting the full slave population in the states' totals for the purposes of Congressional apportionment, but had to be satisfied with the compromise to count three-fifths of the slaves toward that end.  This gave the Southern whites (and states) representation out of proportion to their population, ensuring that the Southern planter elite would exert strong influence in national politics for decades."

                    Inconsistencies seemed to be a part of Butler's life.  He favored ratification of the Constitution but did not attend South Carolina's ratification convention.  He represented Georgia for three separate terms in the United States Senate while at the same making abrupt changes in party allegiances.  He began his service in the Senate as a Federalist, then switched to the Jeffersonian party in 1795, and then declared himself an independent in 1804.  The voters apparently got fed up with all his changes and stopped electing him to national office.  He did however serve three more times in the state legislature where he was an easterner who spoke on behalf of the west.

                    Butler retired from politics in 1805 and spent much of his time in Philadelphia where his oldest daughter Sarah lived with her family.  He disinherited his only surviving son Thomas Butler along with his French-born wife and children about a decade before he died.  He convinced two of Sarah's three surviving sons to irrevocably change their names in order to inherit his estate.  John and Pierce Butler Mease changed their surnames to Butler after they came of age and inherited portions of his estate. 

                    Butler continued his business adventures and became one of the wealthiest men in the United States; he held "huge land holdings in several states."  He continued to support the institution of slavery but privately opposed slavery and the international slave trade.  "He tried to protect the institution as a politician because of its importance to the Southern economy.  But, unlike Washington or Thomas Jefferson, for example, Butler never acknowledged the fundamental inconsistency in simultaneously defending the rights of the poor and supporting slavery."

                    Associates of Butler considered him to be "eccentric" and an "enigma."  He was a man who "followed his own path to produce the maximum of liberty and respect for those individuals whom he classed as citizens.  He wanted to maintain a strong central government, but a government that could never ride roughshod over the rights of the private citizen."

                    After his wife died in 1790, Major Pierce Butler sold his land in South Carolina and invested in the Sea Island plantations in Georgia.  He hired Roswell King to manage his two plantations there.  Butler and King had conflicts because Butler wanted his slaves treated more moderately, and King left to pursue other plans, including founding Roswell, Georgia, in 1839.

                    Butler hired Roswell King, Jr. to manage his profitable plantations, and King Jr. continued to manage the estate after Butler's death in 1822.  When the two Mease grandsons came of age, adopted the surname of Butler, and inherited their portions of the estate, King, Jr. moved to his own plantation in Alabama.

                    Major Pierce Butler died on February 15, 1822, at age 77 in Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaButler and many of his descendants are buried in a family vault at the Episcopal Christ Church in Philadelphia, which was built in 1727-1744 and is now a National Historic Landmark.  Butler Street in Madison, Wisconsin, is named in honor of Pierce Butler.

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