Pierce Butler, South Carolina

Pierce Butler, South CarolinaBorn on July 11, 1744, Pierce Butler made his mark on history as being a soldier, farmer and statesman who is recognized as one of the premier Founding Fathers of American independence. As a representative of South Carolina in the Continental Congress as well as the Constitutional Convention and the Senate, Butler defended slavery for personal and political reasons although he harbored personal doubts about the African slave trade, specifically. He is said to have introduced a Fugitive Slave Clause in the constitution, but later the authorship came under question.

A first generation immigrant from Ireland, Butler came to America originally as a British officer. Remaining an officer in the British army as late as 1772, Butler was charged with keeping the growing colonial resistance in check, even with his unit firing shots in the infamous Boston Massacre which intensified the confrontation between British and Colonial troops. By 1779, Butler was an officer for the rebels, and was confronted by a price on his head for treason by his former British comrades. Butler held ownership of over 500 African slaves who toiled on both of his plantations located on Butler Island and St Simon's Island, and he spoke for reconciliation with the loyalists that he had worked so hard previously to defeat.


Butler exhibited an almost contradictory view of nationalism throughout his career which clashed with his loyalties first to the British Army, and then with the Continental Militia, in both of which he held officer ranks. He firmly maintained throughout his career that a strong government centrally located was the mandatory expression of a strong political and economic state.

Although labeled by his confederates as an enigma and "eccentric" due to his sometimes-divided loyalties, Butler followed a steady road to produce liberty and basic civil rights for those he considered to be equal citizens. He focused primarily on the role of the "common man" in politics and saw the big picture far more clearly than some of his other close patriot allies.

Butler maintained both a strong nationalist yet state-centric political platform which confused his fellow delegates, similarly to how his other contradictory ideas would follow him for the entirety of his political career. He served three terms in the Senate, but he often changed his political alliances, usually abruptly. Starting out as a Federalist, he switched to the Jeffersonian party in 1795, and then abruptly became an independent candidate 9 years later. Although the voters continued to re-elect him at the state level, they rejected his bids for higher public office repeatedly.

Retiring from political life in 1805, Butler spent the large majority of his time in Philadelphia where his summer home was located. Holding large land grants in multiple states, Butler became one of the wealthiest men in early US history, and continually supported slavery in the newly-formed United States. Keeping with his position of contradiction, however, he still defended the rights of the poor common man, all while maintaining slavery's importance for economic and political reasons.

Pierce Butler died on February 15, 1822 and is buried with much of his family and descendants at Christ Church Philadelphia with many of his descendants.

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