Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Cape Ann Granite Company, Part Four - The General, Congressman, and Governor

Major General Benjamin Butler founded the Cape Ann Granite Company on land where he first camped with his sons in 1863 while vacationing from Civil War campaigns. A few years later he incorporated local granite into his summer home overlooking the Ipswich Bay. He recognized the growing demand for architectural stone in public buildings as both he and the country projected a more vigorous identity. Quarrying operations around Bay View were then under-capitalized and experiencing leadership transitions, so he arranged to acquire them on favorable terms, with Colonel Jonas French at the helm while Butler pursued a larger political stage that also fed the corporation.

Benjamin Butler 1

In 1866 the citizens of Halibut Point discovered that their new neighbor intended to become their next Congressman. His reputation as a shrewd lawyer, politician, and military administrator preceded him. A flabbergasted local newspaper borrowed this editorial from the Newburyport Herald which foresaw Benjamin Butler's presidential ambitions: 2
"The only public man we have of the Bismarck style in this country, who in his way is a second Napoleon, is Gen. B. F. Butler; a tiger in action, of the most unbounded audacity and of enough real ability to fit him for any duties.... He dares--and when he dares people stand back thunderstruck at that very daring. We see this wherever he moves. He comes into this district, wanting to go to Congress, and declares himself a candidate; the day before there were thirty aspirants for that place; the day after, there is not a man who has determined to go into the convention. He goes to war; blood has been shed in Baltimore and the city is fuller of treason than an egg of meat, but when others were inquiring whether they were safe in their homes, he mounted his horse, rode alone through the streets, ordered his dinner at the hotel, sat on the piazza and smoked his cigar, where anybody could have a shot at him, and then rode back to quarters....The people gazed and he was their master.... He is not to our liking; we don't want him for representative or President, but when he is a candidate you might as well remember that he does not cave."
"I never wish to defend a man unless I know that he is guilty."
Benjamin Butler, quoted on the cover of Puck
Benjamin Butler the lifelong underdog aligned himself with progressive labor causes, Irish immigrants, and war veterans. He was adept at demagoguery in the courtroom and in the political arena. Cape Ann voters flocked to his feisty oratory. They relished this report from a New York Times correspondent: 3
"Just before he began his speech [to Congress] he took a lemon from his pocket, spent a little time in rolling it between his desk and hand, and borrowed a knife from his colleague, Mr. Brooks, of Massachusetts, with which to cut it. He then applied it to his lips that he might not fail in negativity of expression. In his speech he assailed the common enemy, the Democratic party and La Ku-Klux ramifications, and he did it most courageously and effectively. It was a characteristic incisive, scathing, terrific onslaught on the spirit of the democracy, as indicated by the outcroppings of assassination and incendiaries in the South. There was something almost melodramatic in his manner at the close, when he hurled denunciation at the other side, and lamented bitterly that he had not the power now he once had to protect the weak from the outrages of the strong. When he concluded he was promptly congratulated by many of the Republicans."
Benjamin Butler, candidate for Governor 4
Freshman Congressman Butler mustered unrelenting pugnacity as a lead prosecutor in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson. He became an intimate beneficiary of President Grant's patronage system. Resonating with the coming power of the blue collar industrial vote he welded a modern Party Machine that appalled the Brahmin managers of Massachusetts. When he announced his candidacy for the governorship in 1873 The Atlantic Monthly recoiled. "Will it be possible to defeat General Butler?...There is only one way in which it can be done, and that is by a union against him of the conservative forces throughout the State...a union of the capital, the intelligence, the morality, and what is left of religion in the State." 5 

Benjamin Butler hurled himself frequently at the Massachusetts political establishment, succeeding once to the governorship in 1882. His shrewd methods of mixing principle, power and mutual reward in a modern formula, spawned the word Butlerism into the media lexicon.6

Over 100,000 mourners passed by Benjamin Butler's bier during a three-day lying-in-state at Lowell's Huntington Hall. The Boston Globe noted the breadth and complexity of his impact. "Soldier, statesman, lawyer, patriot, the career of General Butler reads like a romance--he will rank among the famous and commanding figures of the 19th century--he was in truth, not merely part of the career of the nation, but in a peculiar sense a real maker of our history." 7 

1. Harper's Weekly, June 1, 1861.
2. Cape Ann Advertiser, September 21, 1866.
3. Cape Ann Telegraph, April 12, 1871.
4. Puck, August 1879.
5. The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 32, July 1873.
6. William D. Mallam, "Butlerism in Massachusetts," The New England Quarterly, June 1960.
7. Photo and quote from Harriet Robey, Bay View, 1979.

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