WILLIAM BUTLER. - Among the distinguished men whose influence and labors have been potent in shaping the destiny of state and nation was William Butler, of Springfield, who through the most perilous epoch in the history of the country - that which brought out the legislation concerning slavery, followed by the dark days of war and the period of reconstruction - exerted a strong influence in public affairs as the champion of justice, right, patriotism and progress. He was born in Adair county, Kentucky, December 15, 1797, and when the war of 1812 was in progress he was selected to carry important messages from the governor of Kentucky to General Harrison on the field, although he was but fifteen years of age. He made the journey on horseback and successfully accomplished his mission. When a young man he was employed in an iron foundry in Tennessee and also filled the position of deputy in the office of the circuit clerk of his native county. While thus engaged he formed the acquaintance of a young lawyer, Stephen T. Logan, afterward the venerable and distinguished jurist of Illinois and a resident of Springfield.
Having acted for a time as clerk on a steamboat Mr. Butler cane to Sangamon County in 1828 and purchased a farm in Island Grove township and brought his father, Elkanah Butler, to his home, where he spent the remainder of his days. William Butler took up his abode in Springfield and was soon afterward appointed clerk of the circuit court by his early friend, Judge Logan, acting in that capacity from the 19th of March, 1836, until March 22, 1841, when he resigned. From that time forward for thirty years he was an active and influential citizen of the state, prominent in political circles in which his wise judgment and sound counsel were eagerly sought. He was the friend and adviser of many of the most eminent men of the state and he recognized not only the possibilities of the country and its needs, but also was an excellent judge of men and character. Before Abraham Lincoln became a leader in political life of the nation or even the state, William Butler became the friend of the young lawyer, recognized his ability, believed in his power and had firm faith in his future. He gave him a home in his own family when he came to Springfield to practice law and Mr. Lincoln remained a member of the household until the day of his marriage. He watched with interest the growing prominence of the young lawyer, rejoiced in the honors which were conferred upon him in his state, and in conjunction with David Davis, O. H. Browning and Stephen T. Logan, was largely instrumental in placing Lincoln in nomination for the presidency in Chicago, in 1860.
Mr. Butler also figured to some extent in public office. From the time he attained his majority until the dissolution of the party he was a Whig and when the new Republican party was formed he joined its ranks. He never sought office, the public positions which he held being tendered to him without solicitation on his part for he much preferred to use his influence to decide who should and who should not be placed in office and his potent aid was usually decisive as to the result. However, on the 29th of August, 1859, he was appointed by Governor Bissell to the position of state treasurer to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of the previous incumbent, and in 1860 he was elected to the office for a term of two years. A more honest custodian of the public funds never held the position of state treasurer. During the Rebellion his official position gave him broad opportunities for serving his state and nation. In connection with Jesse K. DuBois and O.M. Hatch, he formed the cabinet of Governor Richard Yates, who was pre-eminently the greatest war governor of the republic.
On the 18th of December, 1832, William Butler was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Rickard and they became the parents of three children: Salome E., Speed and Henry Wirt. A biographer of Mr. Butler has said: "He was in his personal appearance, rather more than average height; not heavy, but compactly built, active in his movements and of great strength and power of endurance for one of his weight. He had a high and ample forehead, a thoughtful and serene brow, a bright searching eye, a mouth of inflexible decision, a serious face and general aspect of features which marked him as a man of purpose and resolution. His fine presence and his whole manner in business and social intercourse showed the individuality of his character, which, with his habitual self-respect and self-possession at all times, whether in the ordinary walks of life or in great emergencies, made him a noted man. He was endowed with great mental and physical courage; prompt in forming and resolute in
carrying out any purpose or plan of action on which he had decided. He never sought to be conspicuous, hated shams and despised hypocrisy. He never pretended to be what he was not; not at all credulous, but rather inclined to be distrustful of human nature, yet when any one had once gained his respect and confidence, he was to them a true, faithful and steadfast friend - to be ever relied on in the hour of peril or adversity." He died January 11, 1876, in Springfield, and his remains lie interred in Oak Ridge cemetery.