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Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life with Dr. Elizabeth Leonard

March 21 @ 6:30 pm 7:30 pm

$10 ACWM Members receive free admission.

This is an IN-PERSON event at ACWM-Tredegar

Before the start of the Civil War, Benjamin Franklin Butler was a well-known, ambitious, and successful lawyer in his adopted hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. He supported the idea of waged-labor, but he was not necessarily against slavery. He was also a husband, a father, a leader in his state’s militia, and a promising figure in the Democratic parties both at the state and national levels. He was even known to have voted for Jefferson Davis at the party’s 1860 convention in Charleston on more than fifty ballots.

Join us for an engaging discussion with Dr. Elizabeth Leonard, Colby College’s Gibson Professor of History, Emerita and ACWM President and CEO, Dr. Rob Havers exploring how Butler’s prewar identity, character, and views, as well as his skills and weaknesses, shaped the Union general he would become as the war got underway.
Elizabeth D. Leonard is Colby College’s Gibson Professor of History, Emerita. She earned her Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of California, Riverside, in 1992 and is the author of several articles and seven books on the Civil War-era including: Yankee Women: Gender Battles in the Civil War; All the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies; and Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky, which was named co-winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize in 2012. Her most recent book, Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life, which was also named a finalist for the 2023 Lincoln Prize, won the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War Studies 2023 book prize.
Benjamin Franklin Butler was one of the most important and controversial military and political leaders of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Remembered most often for his uncompromising administration of the Federal occupation of New Orleans during the war, Butler reemerges in this lively narrative as a man whose journey took him from childhood destitution to wealth and profound influence in state and national halls of power. Prize-winning biographer Elizabeth D. Leonard chronicles Butler’s successful career in the law defending the rights of the Lowell Mill girls and other workers, his achievements as one of Abraham Lincoln’s premier civilian generals, and his role in developing wartime policy in support of slavery’s fugitives as the nation advanced toward emancipation. Leonard also highlights Butler’s personal and political evolution, revealing how his limited understanding of racism and the horrors of slavery transformed over time, leading him into a postwar role as one of the nation’s foremost advocates for Black freedom and civil rights, and one of its notable opponents of white supremacy and neo-Confederate resurgence. Leonard’s nuanced portrait will help readers assess such claims, peeling away generations of previous assumptions and characterizations to provide a definitive life of a consequential man.

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Join us for our Spring Lecture Series as we delve into the causes, course, and consequences of the Civil War, from abolition through Reconstruction, as part of our extensive initiative “The Civil War & Remaking America” and prepare to open our newest exhibition, The Impending Crisis in Spring 2024!
480 Tredegar St.
Richmond, Virginia 23219 United States