Nicholas Murray Butler

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Nicholas Butler
Portrait of Nicholas Murray Butler.jpg
12th President of Columbia University
In office
Preceded by Seth Low
Succeeded by Frank D. Fackenthal (Acting)
Personal details
Born(1862-04-02)April 2, 1862
Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedDecember 7, 1947(1947-12-07) (aged 85)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s)Susanna Edwards Schuyler
Kate La Montagne
Education Columbia University (BA, MA, PhD)
Signature Nicholas Murray Butler signature.svg
Butler in 1916 Nicholas Murray Butler in 1916.jpg
Butler in 1916

Nicholas Murray Butler (April 2, 1862 – December 7, 1947) was an American philosopher, diplomat, and educator. Butler was president of Columbia University, [1] president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He became so well known and respected that The New York Times printed his Christmas greeting to the nation every year.

Columbia University Private Ivy League research university in New York City

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, seven of which belong to the Ivy League. It has been ranked by numerous major education publications as among the top ten universities in the world.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) is a foreign-policy think tank with centers in Washington D.C., Moscow, Beirut, Beijing, Brussels, and New Delhi. The organization describes itself as being dedicated to advancing cooperation between nations and promoting active international engagement by the United States. Founded in 1910 by Andrew Carnegie, its work is not formally associated with any political party of the United States.

Nobel Peace Prize One of five Nobel Prizes established by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer Alfred Nobel, along with the prizes in Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, and Literature. Since March 1901, it has been awarded annually to those who have "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".


Early life and education

Butler, great-grandson of Morgan John Rhys, [2] was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey to Mary Butler and manufacturing worker Henry Butler. He enrolled in Columbia College (later Columbia University) and joined the Peithologian Society. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1882, his master's degree in 1883 and his doctorate in 1884. Butler's academic and other achievements led Theodore Roosevelt to call him "Nicholas Miraculous." In 1885, Butler studied in Paris and Berlin and became a lifelong friend of future Secretary of State Elihu Root. Through Root he also met Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In the fall of 1885, Butler joined the staff of Columbia's philosophy department.

Morgan John Rhys, also Rhees was a Welsh radical evangelical Baptist minister. He preached the principles of the French Revolution, against slavery, and in favour of the reform of parliament.

Elizabeth, New Jersey City in Union County, New Jersey, U.S.

Elizabeth is both the largest city and the county seat of Union County, in New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city had a total population of 124,969, retaining its ranking as New Jersey's fourth most populous city, behind Paterson. The population increased by 4,401 (3.7%) from the 120,568 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 10,566 (+9.6%) from the 110,002 counted in the 1990 Census. For 2018, the Census Bureau's Population Estimates Program calculated a population of 128,885, an increase of 3.1% from the 2010 enumeration, ranking the city the 215th-most-populous in the nation.

The Peithologian Society was an undergraduate debate society at Columbia University. It was founded in 1806, four years after Columbia's first literary society, the Philolexian Society, by freshmen who were disenfranchised by Philolexian's requirement that its members be upperclassmen. Its emphasis on debate, composition, and rhetoric was similar to Philo's literary aims, and the two societies shared other superficial characteristics as well. Philo adopted light blue as its official color, while Peithologian adopted white. Whereas Philolexian's symbol was a rising sun, Peithologian's was a star. Its Latin motto was "Vitam Impendere Vero" meaning, roughly, "To devote one's life to truth."

In 1887, he co-founded with Grace Hoadley Dodge, [3] and became president of, the New York School for the Training of Teachers, which later affiliated with Columbia University and was renamed Teachers College, Columbia University, and from which a co-educational experimental and developmental unit became Horace Mann School. [4] From 1890 to 1891, Butler was a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Throughout the 1890s Butler served on the New Jersey Board of Education and helped form the College Entrance Examination Board.

Grace Hoadley Dodge was an American philanthropist who was the first woman appointed a member of the New York Board of Education.

Teachers College, Columbia University graduate school in Columbia University

Teachers College, Columbia University is a graduate school of education, health and psychology in New York City. Founded in 1887, it has served as the Faculty and Department of Education of Columbia University since its affiliation in 1898. Teachers College is the oldest and largest graduate school of education in the United States.

Horace Mann School private school in New York City

Horace Mann School is an independent college preparatory school in the Bronx, founded in 1887. Horace Mann is a member of the Ivy Preparatory School League, educating students from the New York metropolitan area from nursery school to the twelfth grade. The Upper, Middle, and Lower Divisions are located in Riverdale, a neighborhood of the Bronx, while the Nursery School is located in Manhattan. The John Dorr Nature Laboratory, a 275 acres (111 ha) campus in Washington Depot, Connecticut, serves as the school's outdoor and community education center. Tuition for the 2014–15 school year was $43,300 from nursery through twelfth grade, making it the second most expensive private school in New York City. Tuition for the 2018–2019 school year from pre-kindergarten through grade twelve is $51,000. Niche, a website where students review their own schools, places Horace Mann at #4 in its list of 2018 Best Private High Schools in New York.

Presidency of Columbia University

In 1901, Butler became acting president of Columbia University, and in 1902 formally became president. Among the many dignitaries in attendance at his investiture was President Roosevelt. Butler was president of Columbia for 43 years, the longest tenure in the university's history, retiring in 1945. As president, Butler carried out a major expansion of the campus, adding many new buildings, schools, and departments. These additions included Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, the first academic medical center in the world.

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Theodore Roosevelt 26th president of the United States

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was an American statesman, politician, conservationist, naturalist, and writer who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. He previously served as the 25th vice president of the United States from March to September 1901 and as the 33rd governor of New York from 1899 to 1900. As a leader of the Republican Party during this time, he became a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century. His face is depicted on Mount Rushmore, alongside those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. In polls of historians and political scientists, Roosevelt is generally ranked as one of the five best presidents.

In 1937 he was admitted as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati. [5]

Society of the Cincinnati Nonprofit organization

The Society of the Cincinnati is a hereditary society with branches in the United States and France, founded in 1783, to preserve the ideals and fellowship of officers of the Continental Army who served in the Revolutionary War. Now in its third century, the Society promotes the public interest in the Revolution through its library and museum collections, publications, and other activities. It is the oldest hereditary society in the United States. The Society does not allow women to join, though there is a partnership society called Daughters of the Cincinnati which permits all female descendants of Continental officers.

In 1941, the Pulitzer Prize fiction jury selected Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls . The Pulitzer Board initially agreed with that judgment, but Butler, ex officio head of the Pulitzer board, found the novel offensive and persuaded the board to reverse its determination, so that no novel received the prize that year. [6]

Pulitzer Prize U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature, and musical composition

The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition in the United States. It was established in 1917 by provisions in the will of American (Hungarian-born) Joseph Pulitzer who had made his fortune as a newspaper publisher, and is administered by Columbia University in New York City. Prizes are awarded yearly in twenty-one categories. In twenty of the categories, each winner receives a certificate and a US$15,000 cash award. The winner in the public service category of the journalism competition is awarded a gold medal.

Ernest Hemingway American author and journalist

Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and sportsman. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his adventurous lifestyle and his public image brought him admiration from later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. He published seven novels, six short-story collections, and two non-fiction works. Three of his novels, four short-story collections, and three non-fiction works were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered classics of American literature.

<i>For Whom the Bell Tolls</i> novel by Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls is a novel by Ernest Hemingway published in 1940. It tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to a republican guerrilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. As a dynamiter, he is assigned to blow up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia.

During his lifetime, Columbia named its philosophy library for him; after he died, its main academic library, previously known as South Hall, was rechristened Butler Library. A faculty apartment building on 119th Street and Morningside Drive was also renamed in Butler's honour, as was a major prize in philosophy.

An in-depth look at Butler's time at Columbia University also can be found in The Goose-Step: a Study of American Education, by Upton Sinclair.

Political activity

Butler was a delegate to each Republican National Convention from 1888 to 1936. In 1912, when Vice President James S. Sherman died a few days before the presidential election, Butler was designated to receive the electoral votes that Sherman would have received. (The Republican ticket won only 8 electoral votes from Utah and Vermont, finishing third behind the Democrats and the Progressives.)

In 1916, Butler tried to secure the Republican presidential nomination for Elihu Root. Butler sought the nomination for himself in 1920 and 1928, without success.

Butler believed that Prohibition was a mistake, with negative effects on the country. He became active in the successful effort for Repeal in 1933.

He credited John W. Burgess along with Alexander Hamilton for providing the philosophical basis of his Republican principles. [7]

In June 1936 Butler traveled to the Carnegie Endowment Peace Conference in London where, at the meeting, the question of gold being used internationally was considered.


Butler was the chair of the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration that met periodically from 1907 to 1912. In this time he was appointed president of the American branch of International Conciliation. Butler was also instrumental in persuading Andrew Carnegie to provide the initial $10 million funding for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Butler became head of international education and communication, founded the European branch of the Endowment headquartered in Paris, and was President of the Endowment from 1925 to 1945. For his work in this field, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for 1931 (shared with Jane Addams) "[For his promotion] of the Briand-Kellogg pact" and for his work as the "leader of the more establishment-oriented part of the American peace movement".

In December 1916 Butler, Roosevelt and other philanthropists including Scottish-born industrialist John C. Moffat, William Astor Chanler, Joseph Choate, Clarence Mackay, George von Lengerke Meyer, and John Grier Hibben purchased the Château de Chavaniac, birthplace of the Marquis de Lafayette in Auvergne, to serve as a headquarters for the French Heroes Lafayette Memorial Fund, [8] which was managed by Chanler's ex-wife Beatrice Ashley Chanler. [9] [10]

Butler was President of the Pilgrims Society, which promotes Anglo-American friendship. [11] He served as President of the Pilgrims from 1928 to 1946. Butler was president of The American Academy of Arts and Letters from 1928 to 1941.

Personal life

Butler married Susanna Edwards Schuyler (1863–1903) in 1887 and had one daughter from that marriage. Susanna was the daughter of Jacob Rutsen Schuyler (1816–1887) and Susannah Haigh Edwards (born 1830). His wife died in 1903 and he married again in 1907 to Kate La Montagne, granddaughter of New York property developer Thomas E. Davis. [12] In 1940, Butler completed his autobiography with the publication of the second volume of Across the Busy Years. [13] When Butler became almost blind in 1945 at the age of eighty-three, he resigned from the posts he held and died two years later. Butler is buried at Cedar Lawn Cemetery, in Paterson, New Jersey.

Despite Butler's accomplishments, many people regarded him as arrogant. He autocratically dismissed faculty members who displeased him, such as the great classical scholar Harry Thurston Peck, and others who dared to question his dismissals, such as the civil rights pioneer Joel Elias Spingarn. He had little respect for Columbia's fine arts faculty, and stripped them of academic affairs voting rights in 1903, accelerating his deteriorating relationship with music professor Edward MacDowell; he went so far as to accuse MacDowell of unprofessional conduct and sloppy teaching, prompting MacDowell's abrupt resignation from Columbia in February 1904. In 1939, a former student of Butler's, Rolfe Humphries, published in the pages of Poetry an effort titled "Draft Ode for a Phi Beta Kappa Occasion" that followed a classical format of unrhymed blank verse in iambic pentameter with one classical reference per line. The first letters of each line of the resulting acrostic spelled out the message: "Nicholas Murray Butler is a horses [sic] ass." Upon discovering the "hidden" message, the irate editors ran a formal apology. [14] Randolph Silliman Bourne lampooned him as "Alexander Macintosh Butcher" in "One of our Conquerers", a 1915 essay he published in The New Republic .

Butler wrote and spoke voluminously on all manner of subjects ranging from education to world peace. Although marked by erudition and great learning, his work tended toward the portentous and overblown. In The American Mercury , the critic Dorothy Dunbar Bromley referred to Butler's pronouncements as "those interminable miasmas of guff." [15]

One notable critic of Butler was Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. While attending Columbia, Ginsberg scrawled the phrases "Butler Has No Balls" and "Fuck The Jews" in the grime on his dirty dorm window in Hartley Hall. (The dorm maid reported the graffiti to College dean Herbert Hawkes, who summoned Ginsberg and told him, "I hope you realize the enormity of what you've done". This incident was among the reasons that Ginsberg was suspended from Columbia.)[ citation needed ]



See also


  1. Pringle, Henry F. (1928). "Publicist or Politician? A Portrait of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler," The Outlook, Vol. CL, No. 7.
  2. "Morgan J. Rhees papers, 1794-1968". Retrieved May 22, 2019. Abolitionist, Welsh republican radical, publisher, Baptist minister, pioneer and adventurer Morgan J. Rhees ... was the great grandfather of Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University.
  3. "A Tribute to Grace Hoadley Dodge". Teachers College, Columbia University. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  4. "History of Horace Mann School". Horace Mann School. Archived from the original on July 12, 2007. Retrieved November 21, 2007.
  5. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 22, 2013. Retrieved January 8, 2013.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. McDowell, Edwin. "Publishing: Pulitzer Controversies." New York Times, May 11, 1984
  7. Butler, Nicholas Murray (1939). Across the busy years: recollections and reflections. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 363.
  8. "Americans buy Layette's Home," The Sacred Heart Review, Volume 57, Number 4, 6 January 1917, p. 3.
  9. Albert Bushnell Hart, Harper's Pictorial Library of the World War, Volume 7, Harper, 1920; p. 110.
  10. "Americans Aid War Refugees in Paris Mrs. William Astor Chanler Tells of Work Done Through Lafayette Fund;" The Philadelphia Inquirer; 8-04-1918; Vol. 179, Issue: 35; p. 11, Philadelphia, PA.
  11. Seabury, Paul (1966). "The Establishment Game: Nicholas Murray Butler Rides Again," The Reporter, Vol. XXXIV, No. 10.
  12. "Dr Butler wed Miss La Montagne" (PDF). New York Times. March 6, 1907. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  13. Butler, Nicholas Murray (1940). Across the Busy Years: Recollections and Reflections. II (1 ed.). New York & London: The Charles Scribner's Sons. Retrieved July 6, 2017 via Internet Archive.
  14. Nicholas Murray Butler, Everything2, Retrieved September 3, 2011
  15. Bromley, Dorothy Dunbar (1935). "Nicholas Murray Butler—Portrait of a Reactionary," The American Mercury, Vol. XXXIV, No. 135, p. 298.
  16. Money to Burn: Great American Foundations and Their Money

Further reading

Academic offices
Preceded by
Seth Low
President of Columbia University
Succeeded by
Frank D. Fackenthal
Party political offices
Preceded by
James S. Sherman
Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by
Charles W. Fairbanks

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