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Butler, William Allen,
Incoming Correspondence to New York City attorney, William Allen Butler son of early “Albany Regency” member Benjamin F. Butler, written by U.S. Senator George F. Edmonds, of Vermont; U.S. Congressman Simeon B. Chittenden, of New York; & others, 1864-1895

15 letters, 27 pp., dated 6 February 1864 to 15 March 1895; of the 15 letters, 12 are dated 1879 to 1883; also includes a three-page manuscript note; and 2 used bank checks.

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Thirteen of the fifteen letters were written to William Allen Butler; they were written by: U.S. Senator George F. Edmonds, of Vermont (5); U.S. Congressman Simeon B. Chittenden, of New York (5); E.C. Benedict of Albany, NY (1); attorney George W. Parsons, of New York, NY (1); and his son Benjamin F. Butler, of Boston, MA (2); the remaining two letters written by William Allen Butler himself, listed as of New York, NY (1) to Lieut. Theodorus Bailey Myers Mason; and a letter of Butler’s son Benjamin F. Butler, written to James McKean, Esq., of New York City, New York.

    Senator George F. Edmonds and Congressman Simeon B. Chittenden, both write to William Allen Butler on their respective U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives letterhead.  George W. Parsons writes to Butler on the letterhead of his law firm “Barney, Butler, & Parson” (Butler is a partner in the firm). Butler’s son Benjamin F. Butler writes to him on his residential letterhead of 12 Pemberton Square, Boston, Massachusetts. William Allen Butler writes to Lieut. Theodorus Bailey Myers Mason on the letterhead of his law firm in 1895, “Butler, Stillman & Hubbard” of New York City. Theodore B. M. Mason was the founder and first head of the United States Office of Naval Intelligence, with the post of Chief Intelligence Officer (prior to it being re-designated as Director of Naval Intelligence in 1911). Butler writes to him soon after Mason retired and deals with some legal work for Mason.

The three-page manuscript note is a “Memo of Wm. Allen Butler to Miss Thorne 1850 given to W.A. B. Jr. by Mr. Samuel Thorne after Miss T’s death…”

    The letters written by Senator Edmonds and Congressman Chittenden to William Allen Butler, mainly concern an Act of 31 May 1878 titled: “An Act to forbid the further retirement of United States legal-tender notes.” The act reads:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the passage of this act it shall not be lawful for the Secretary of the Treasury or other officer under him to cancel or retire any more of the United States legal-tender notes. And when any of said notes may be redeemed or be received into the Treasury under any law from any source whatever and shall belong to the United States, they shall not be retired, cancelled or destroyed but they shall be re-issued and paid out again and kept in circulation: Provided, That nothing herein shall prohibit the cancellation and destruction of mutilated notes and the issue of other notes of like denomination in their stead, as now provided by law. All acts and parts of acts in conflict herewith are hereby repealed. Approved, May 31, 1878.”

     Butler was working with Edmonds and Chittenden to bring a case about this legal-tender notes in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and were working to get the House and Senate involved ( see examples of letters below).

      The following are biographies of Butler, Chittenden, and Edmunds:

      William Allen Butler, Esq. (1825-1902)

    William Allen Butler was an American lawyer and writer of poetical satires. He was born on 20 February 1825 in Albany, New York, the son of the poet and lawyer Benjamin Franklin Butler (1795-1858) and nephew of naval hero William Howard Allen. William’s father Benjamin was a prominent lawyer from the state of New York. A professional and political ally of Martin Van Buren, among the many elective and appointive positions he held were Attorney General of the United States  (1833-1838) and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York (1838-1841). He was also a founder of New York University and one of the founders of the Children's Village school in New York City. Benjamin studied at Hudson Academy in Hudson, New York, and read law with Martin Van Buren, whose son John Van Buren later read law with under him. Benjamin was admitted to the bar in 1817, and, became Martin Van Buren's partner. In his 1903 book The Art of Cross-Examination, author Francis L. Wellman indicated that Butler was regarded during his life as a highly effective trial lawyer, and one of the most successful cross-examiners of his day.

    Benjamin F. Butler was also one of the earliest members of “The Albany Regency,” a group of politicians who controlled the New York state government between 1822 and 1838. Originally called the "Holy Alliance,” it was instituted by Martin Van Buren, who remained its dominating spirit for many years. The group was among the first American political machines. In the beginning they were the leading figures of the Bucktails faction of the Democratic-Republican Party, later the Jacksonian Democrats and finally became the Hunkers faction of the Democratic Party.

    After being admitted to the Bar, William Allen Butler, Benjamin’s son, practiced law and eventually headed the firm of Butler, Stillman & Hubbard. He served as president of the American Bar Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. He contributed travel writing and comic writing to The Literary World, a series on 'The Cities of Art and the Early Artists' to the Art Union Bulletin, and he also wrote for the Democratic Review. His most famous satirical poem, Nothing to Wear, was first published anonymously in Harper's Weekly in 1857, though Butler was forced to reveal his name after someone else claimed authorship.

    On 21 March 1850, he married Mary R. Marshall. Together, they were the parents of Howard Russell Butler, a painter and founder of the American Fine Arts Society, born in 1856. One of his daughters married John P. Crosby, another married Daniel B. Lord. His other children included Benjamin Franklin Butler, Jr., Mrs. Edmund Dwight, Mrs. Thomas S. Kirkbride, and Mrs. Alfred Booth. Butler also wrote various poems, including “Nothing to Wear; an Episode of City Life” which went on to become an American classic.

    William Allen Butler died at his residence, Round Oak, in Palisade Avenue in Yonkers, on September 9, 1902 due to sudden gastritis. Following a simple ceremony at his estate in Yonkers, a service was held at the First Presbyterian Church of Yonkers, and he was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx.

        U.S. Congressman Simeon Baldwin Chittenden (1814-1889)

    Simeon Baldwin Chittenden was a United States Representative from New York. Chittenden was born in Guilford, New Haven County, Connecticut on March 29, 1814. He was the son of Abel Chittenden (1779–1816) and Anna Hart (née Baldwin) Chittenden (1784–1845). His siblings included Henry Baldwin Chittenden and Sarah Dudley Chittenden, both of whom died young.

He attended Guilford Academy. In 1871, Chittenden received an honorary M.A. degree from Yale University. From 1829 to 1842, he engaged in mercantile pursuits in New Haven as a clerk with McCracken & Merriman.  In 1842, he moved to New York City and further in pursuit of mercantile business. From 1867 to 1869, he was vice president of the New York City Chamber of Commerce.

Chittenden was an unsuccessful candidate for election in 1866 to the 40th United States Congress. He was, however, successful in 1872 where he was elected as an Independent Republican to the Forty-third Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Stewart L. Woodford; he was reelected as an Independent Republican to the Forty-fourth Congress and as a Republican to the Forty-fifth and Forty-sixth Congresses serving from November 3, 1874 to March 3, 1881. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1880 to the Forty-seventh Congress and retired from public life.

On May 10, 1837, Chittenden was married to Mary Elizabeth Hartwell (1815–1852), the daughter of Sherman Hartwell and Sophia Todd. His father-in-law was the nephew of American founding father Roger Sherman and his first wife, Elizabeth Hartwell. Together, they were the parents of: Mary Hartwell Chittenden (1840–1871), who married Dr. William Thompson Lusk (1838–1897), an Adjutant-General in the United States Volunteers during the Civil War; Samuel Baldwin Chittenden (1845–1922), a Yale graduate who married Mary Warner Hill (1847–1925); and Charlie Sherman Chittenden (1850–1852), who died young.

After his first wife's death, he remarried Cornelia (née Colton) Colton (d. 1884), the daughter of Oren Colton and widow of Rev. Walter Colton (a Chaplain for the United States Navy), in 1854.

He died in Brooklyn on April 14, 1889. He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. After his death, he was eulogized by Seth Low. In his will, after bequests to charity, he directed the establishment of two trusts, one for his son and one for his late daughter.

       U.S. Senator George Franklin Edmunds (1828-1919)

George Franklin Edmunds (1828-1919) was an attorney with a practice in Burlington, Vermont. He was a Republican U.S. Senator from Vermont from 1866 to 1891. Before entering the U.S. Senate, he served in a number of high-profile positions, including as a member of the Vermont House of Representatives from Burlington (1854-1860); Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives (1857-1860); member of the Vermont State Senate from Chittenden County (1861-1863); President pro tempore of the Vermont State Senate (1861-1862). During his time in the U.S. Senate he was President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate (1883-1885) and Chairman of the U.S. Senate Republican Conference (1885-1891).

In the Senate, Senator Edmunds took an active part in the attempt to impeach President Andrew Johnson in 1868. He was influential in providing for the electoral commission to decide the disputed presidential election of 1876 and served as one of the commissioners, voting for Republicans Rutherford B. Hayes and William A. Wheeler. He was the author of the Edmunds Act against polygamy in Utah and the Sherman Antitrust Act to limit monopolies. In 1882 President Chester A. Arthur nominated Senator Roscoe Conkling to replace the retiring Ward Hunt as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. When Conkling declined, Arthur chose Edmunds, who also declined. The appointment ultimately went to Samuel Blatchford.

Edmunds served as chairman of the Committee on Pensions from 1869 to 1873, the Committee on the Judiciary from 1872 to 1879 and again from 1881 to 1891, the Committee on Private Land Claims from 1879 to 1881 and the Committee on Foreign Relations in 1881. He was President pro tempore of the Senate from 1883 to 1885 and chairman of the Republican Conference from 1885 to 1891.

While serving in Congress he continued to practice law, as did many other members of Congress at the time. He held retainers from railroads and other corporations, including those which could be affected by Senate action.

An acerbic debater, he often favored the status quo or slow progress. He was known for making his colleagues feel the sting of his criticisms, and some thought him better at merely opposing than offering constructive alternatives. David Davis joked that he could make Edmunds vote against any measure by simply phrasing the request for votes in the New England town meeting way: "Contrary-minded will say no." One friend trying to interest him in a presidential bid pleaded, "But, Edmunds, think how much fun you would have vetoing bills."

Edmunds took special delight in goading southern senators into blurting out statements that would embarrass the Democratic Party. To those southerners opposed to any federal role in protecting blacks' right to vote, Edmunds seemed the epitome of Yankee evil. One southern correspondent in 1880 wrote, "When I look at that man sitting almost alone in the Senate, isolated in his gloom of hate and bitterness, stern, silent, watchful, suspicious and pitiless, I am reminded of the worst types of Puritan character... You see the impress of the purer persecuting spirit that burned witches, drove out Roger Williams, hounded Jonathan Edwards for doing his sacred duty, maligned Jefferson, and like a toad squatted at the ear of the Constitution it had failed to pervert."

But Edmunds also had admirers. One Democrat with no reason to appreciate him wrote a colleague that among all the Republicans, "Edmunds made the most impression upon me. I couldn't help admiring his clear and incisive way of putting a question, although it appeared to me that his manner is occasionally very irritating. This manner of his is very much that of a lawyer employed as counsel in a case, who therefore makes ex-parte statements, and thinks it fair to make all manner of allegations." His closest friend in the chamber for many years was the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Allen G. Thurman of Ohio.

Edmunds was a candidate for president at the 1880 Republican National Convention. Nominated by Frederick H. Billings, he received 34 votes on the first ballot. His support remained at 31 or 32 votes through the 29th ballot, after which his supporters began to trend towards eventual nominee James A. Garfield.

In 1884, Republicans who favored civil service reform, including Theodore Roosevelt, supported Edmunds for President over incumbent President Chester Alan Arthur and former Senator James G. Blaine, hoping to build a groundswell for Edmunds if the two stronger candidates deadlocked. Revelations about Edmunds's legal work for railroads and corporations while sitting in the Senate prevented Edmunds from attaining wide support from reformers. On the first ballot he received 93 votes, but his support declined, and the nomination went to Blaine on the fourth ballot. Edmunds was among the Republicans who gave lukewarm support to Blaine (some backed Cleveland outright), and Blaine lost the general election to Grover Cleveland. At Arthur's funeral in 1886, Edmunds extended his hand to Blaine. Blaine, recalling the 1884 campaign, refused to shake it.

Edmunds resigned from the Senate in 1891 in order to start a law practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He later retired to Pasadena, California where he died on February 27, 1919. He was buried at Green Mount Cemetery in Burlington. In 1852 Edmunds married Susan Marsh Lyman (1831-1916), a niece of George Perkins Marsh.  They had two daughters, Mary (1854-1936) and Julia (1861-1882).

Among Edmunds's honors were an honorary master of arts from the University of Vermont and honorary LL.D. degrees from Middlebury College, Dartmouth College and the University of Vermont.

       Sample Quotes:

“United States Senate Chamber,

Washington, April 17th 1879


Dear Sir:

My Chittenden has handed me your letter to him of the 16th.

The sense in which the words directing the reissue in the Act of May 31st 1878 is understood in legislation and executive circles is the putting out again of the same money in quantity and not, necessarily, the same identical pieces of paper; and it is only under this construction that the power to issue new pieces of paper in the place of legal tenders redeemed, exists at all. If the original notes redeemed under the Act of 1875 could have been again obtained from the Treasury in their specific identity, by a regular transaction which authorized the Treasurer to pay out money, it would have perhaps been better, but I did not see any convenient means of accomplishing that. I have no question that the Supreme Court will hold that if a United States war note redeemed in time of peace under the Act of 1875, thereby lost its legal tender quality, neither it nor any other note that should take its place could be made a legal tender. I have no idea that they will hold that the notes tendered in this case are not good because they are not the identical pieces of paper issued during the war, and redeemed, but will and must proceed upon the solid substance of the question, as to the power of the government to impart the quality of legal tender to paper money it issues or reissues after the redemption, which is the same thing, in time of peace. It seems to me, therefore, that there is no substantial difficulty in raising the question on the case as it stands.

I learn from Mr. Chittenden that the tender has already been made. If that be so, of course the case must be decided upon the condition of things as it then existed, and nay new steps you may take will have no effect, unless you repeat the tender. If you can conveniently and without much loss of time, get two or three thousand dollars of old notes in lien of an equal amount of those you tendered before, and get those old notes redeemed at the Treasury, and can in the regular course of business get those identical old pieces of paper reissued, and then repeat your tender in bills of both kinds, you will meet every possibly aspect of the case. For, of course the tender to be good, must be entirely of the money that the creditor was bound to take.

If the question is to be presented on the answer to the complaint, the answer might state fairly & truly that these notes tendered were issued under the Act of 31 May 1878 in the lien and place of the old legal tender notes of the war issue, which had been redeemed at the Treasury under the Act of 1875. And the same statement could be made if you conclude to present the question on the complaint or by a replication (if you have such a thing) to the answer of the defendant, so that I do not see any difficulty, if both sides are desirous of presenting the real question. At the same time, as I said before, if without delay the tender with two or three thousand dollars of old notes that have been once redeemed and again regularly issued in their identical form, and the residue in the notes you now have, of course every quibble will be avoided.

Very truly yours,

Geo. F. Edmunds”



“United States Senate Chambers

Washington, June 3d 1879


My Dear Sir,

I have yrs of the 2d inst. I would by all means allow Judge Blatchford to decide pro forma adversely to us. That will enable the case to get an early standing on the docket of the Supreme Court, and will give us the advantage of a reply.

Very truly yours,

Geo. F. Edmunds”

“House of Representatives

Washington, D.C. Dec 5, 1879


My dear Mr. Butler,


I have done my best to ‘stir ‘em up’ and send you the part which describes me.


I have seen Senator Edmunds but once when he was still a little scared before the message. Had a note from him yesterday, am to meet him in a day or two.


I thing Bayard has forced the fight. Conkling, Edmunds, Hoar & the rest must go with Bayard or go to Court!


Sincerely yours,

S.B. Chittenden…”


House of Representatives U.S.

Washington, D.C. Dec 8, 1879


My dear Mr. Butler,


Senator Edmunds thinks it ‘our duty’ to move the Court to advance our case, and [honored] me enclosed to indicate the method.


He requested me not to tell newspaper men or anybody but you, ‘for three or four days,’ what we propose to do.


He expects you to send him your notes for suggestions.


My own feelings is that time is precious. It seems to me important to get our ‘move’ fairly before the country before Congress adjourns for the holidays.


I think we not only have truth on our side, but also Providence!


There is sure to be something new before the end of the week!

Sincerely yours,

S.B. Chittenden”



“United States Senate Chamber,

Washington, Dec 9th 1879


My Dear Sir,


I have yrs of 8th inst. I am thoroughly satisfied that the present is the most opportune time for bringing the legal tender question to a decision. And I yesterday gave Mr. Chittenden a copy of a motion and the points in another case for advancing, to send you as a suggestion of the form for the application. I think you had better draw up the motion & the points in support of it at an early day & if you will send me a draft of it, I will make such suggestions as occur to me.


I find on looking it up, that there is nothing later than the rule we read in your office, in respect of the circumstances under which a cause may be advanced. I think our chief, if not only, reliance must be on the fifth clause of No.26, and it strikes me that the ‘special & secular circumstances’ are those that it is of the greatest importance since the reissuing act of last year, that the law should be settled, and at a time, as now, when the decision of it either way will not work hardship upon parties making contracts for the payment of money; but if the case were to be decided at a time when the so-called legal tenders are below par, the hardship it would work upon debtors who had made contracts when they were at par, would be immense.


It is of the highest interest; therefore, to the whole community that both creditors & debtors shall know at the earliest possible moment, what their rights will be in a court of law in these respects.

Sincerely yours,

Geo. F. Edmunds”