Nicholas Butler
Butler c. 1902
12th President of Columbia University
In office
January 6, 1902 – October 1, 1945
Preceded bySeth Low
Succeeded byFrank 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 partyRepublican
  • Susanna Edwards Schuyler
  • Kate La Montagne
EducationColumbia University (BA, MA, PhD)
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, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the late James S. Sherman's replacement as William Howard Taft’s running mate in the 1912 United States presidential election. He was so well-known and respected that The New York Times printed his Christmas greeting to the nation for many years during the 1920s and 1930s.[2][3][4][5]

Early life and education

Butler, great-grandson of Morgan John Rhys,[6] 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.

In 1887, he co-founded with Grace Hoadley Dodge,[7] 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.[8] 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. During the 1890s Butler edited The Great Educators book series for Charles Scribner's Sons.[9]

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.

In 1919, Butler amended the admissions process to Columbia in order to limit the number of Jewish students (it became the first American institution of higher learning to establish an anti-Jewish quota). Butler's policy was successful and the number of students hailing from New York City dropped from 54% to 23% stemming "the invasion of the Jewish student".[10][11] This is one of the reasons why Butler has been called an anti-semite.[12]

In 1937, he was admitted as an honorary member of the New York Society of the Cincinnati.[13]

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.[14]

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 honor, as was a major prize in philosophy.

A polemical attack on Butler's time at Columbia University appeared 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, after Vice President James S. Sherman died eight 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 also sought the nomination for himself in 1920, without success.[15]

Butler believed that Prohibition was a mistake, with negative effects on the country. He became active in the successful effort for repeal Prohibition in 1933.[16]

He credited John W. Burgess along with Alexander Hamilton for providing the philosophical basis of his Republican principles.[17]

In June 1936, Butler traveled to the Carnegie Endowment Peace Conference in London where, at the meeting, fundamental problems of money and finance were explored.[18]

Attitude towards Fascism and Nazism

According to historian Stephen H. Norwood, Butler failed to "grasp the nature and implications of Nazism...influenced both by his antisemitism, privately expressed, and his economic conservatism and hostility to trade unionism".[19] Butler was a longtime admirer of Benito Mussolini. He compared the Italian Fascist leader to Oliver Cromwell[20] and, in the 1920s, he noted "the stupendous improvement which Fascism has brought".[21]

In November 1933, months after the Nazi book burnings began, he welcomed Hans Luther, the German ambassador to the United States, to Columbia and refused to appear with a notable German dissident when the latter visited the university. Butler was criticized for his "remarkable silence" and complicity towards Hitler's regime until the late 1930s.[12][22]

Autochrome portrait by Auguste Léon, 1921


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 Kellogg-Briand 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,[23][24] which was managed by Chanler's ex-wife, Beatrice Ashley Chanler.[25][26]

Butler was President of the Pilgrims Society, which promotes Anglo-American friendship.[27] He served as President of the Pilgrims from 1928 to 1946.[28] Butler was president of The American Academy of Arts and Letters from 1928 to 1941[citation needed][29] and was an early member of the academy.[30]

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.[31]

In 1940, Butler completed his autobiography with the publication of the second volume of Across the Busy Years.[32]

Butler became almost completely blind in 1945 at age 83. He resigned from the posts he held and died two years later.[33] He is interred at Cedar Lawn Cemetery, in Paterson, New Jersey.[citation needed]

Butler was not universally liked. In 1939, a former student of Butler, 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.[34] Randolph Bourne lampooned Butler as "Alexander Macintosh Butcher" in "One of our Conquerors", a 1915 essay he published in The New Republic.[35]

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".[36]



See also


  1. ^ Pringle, Henry F. (October 17, 1928). Bellamy, Francis Rufus (ed.). "Publicist or Politician? A Portrait of Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler". The Outlook. Vol. 150, no. 7. New York City. p. 971. ISSN 2690-1811. OCLC 5361126. Retrieved March 23, 2022 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ "TimesMachine: Saturday December 24, 1927 -". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  3. ^ "Dr. Butler's Christmas Message". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  4. ^ "DR. BUTLER URGES FAITH.; Christmas Message Asks Courage in Face of World Ills". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  5. ^ "DR. BUTLER'S HOLIDAY CARD; His Christmas Message Defines Five Fundamental Human Institutions". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  6. ^ "Morgan J. Rhees papers, 1794–1968". Columbia University Libraries. Archived from the original on November 27, 2020. 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.
  7. ^ "A Tribute to Grace Hoadley Dodge". Teachers College, Columbia University. Archived from the original on September 17, 2021. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  8. ^ "A Long Tradition". Horace Mann School. Archived from the original on June 25, 2021. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  9. ^ Thomas Davidson, Aristotle and Ancient Educational Ideals, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1892, title page. Retrieved February 8, 2024.
  10. ^ Ballon, Hillary (January 2002). "The Architecture of Columbia: Educational Visions in Conflict". Columbia College Today. Vol. 28, no. 3. p. 14. ISSN 0572-7820. OCLC 12357245. Retrieved March 23, 2022 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ Kingston, Paul W.; Lewis, Lionel S. (January 1, 1990). High Status Track, The: Studies of Elite Schools and Stratification. State University of New York Press. ISBN 978-1-4384-0912-2.
  12. ^ a b Wills, Matthew (December 10, 2021). "Silence in the Face of Intellectual Conflagration". JSTOR. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  13. ^ "Honorary Members". New York State Society of the Cincinnati. Archived from the original on June 2, 2021. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  14. ^ McDowell, Edwin (May 11, 1984). "Publishing: Pulitzer Controversies". The New York Times. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  15. ^ Shapiro, Gary (December 29, 2015). "Ask Alma's Owl: Butler for President". Columbia University. Archived from the original on June 9, 2021. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  16. ^ "DRY LAW CHANGE NEAR, SAYS BUTLER; Thinks Senate Debate Initiates Movement Which Must End in Prohibition Reform. CALLS FAILURE COLOSSAL Columbia Head Holds Attempt Was Immoral -- Contends the Tide Has Now Turned. DRY LAW CHANGE NEAR, SAYS BUTLER". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  17. ^ Butler, Nicholas Murray (1939). Across the busy years: recollections and reflections. New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 363. LCCN 39027850. OCLC 568730477. OL 13530857M – via Internet Archive.
  18. ^ "DR. BUTLER URGES ECONOMIC PARLEY; Calls for World Meeting on Fundamental Problems of Money and Finance. SEES DANGER OF WARFARE Borrowing Power of Many Nations May Be Exhausted Next Year, He Declares". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  19. ^ Wills, Matthew (December 10, 2021). "Silence in the Face of Intellectual Conflagration". JSTOR Daily. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  20. ^ Elon, Amos (February 23, 2006). "A Shrine to Mussolini". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  21. ^ "FOREIGN NEWS, ITALY: Axis (1936-1943)". Time Magazine. September 20, 1943. Retrieved June 2, 2022.
  22. ^ Stephen H. Norwood, “The Expulsion of Robert Burke: Suppressing Campus Anti-Nazi Protest in the 1930s,” Journal for the Study of Antisemitism 4:1 (2012): 89-114.
  23. ^ "Lafayette Memorial". Lafayette - Château Musée. Archived from the original on May 9, 2021. Retrieved March 22, 2022.
  24. ^ "Americans buy Lafayette's Home". The Sacred Heart Review. Vol. 57, no. 4. January 6, 1917. p. 3. Archived from the original on April 20, 2021.
  25. ^ Hart, Albert Bushnell, ed. (1920). Harper's Pictorial Library of the World War. Vol. 7. New York City: Harper. p. 110. LCCN 20007999. OCLC 1180489 – via Google Books.
  26. ^ Written at New York City. "Americans Aid War Refugees in Paris". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Vol. 179, no. 35. Philadelphia. August 4, 1918 [1918-08-03]. p. 11. Retrieved March 23, 2022 – via
  27. ^ Seabury, Paul (May 29, 1966). "The Establishment Game: Nicholas Murray Butler Rides Again". The Reporter. Vol. 34, no. 10. p. 24. Retrieved March 23, 2022 – via Internet Archive.
  28. ^ "DR. BUTLER RESIGNS POST; To Be Succeeded by J.W. Davis as Pilgrims' President". The New York Times. Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  29. ^ "Nicholas Murray Butler". C250 (Columbia University celebration 250 years after its founding in 1754;
  30. ^ "American Academy of Arts and Letters". World Almanac and Encyclopedia 1919. New York: The Press Publishing Co. (The New York World). January 5, 2024. p. 216.
  31. ^ "Dr Butler wed Miss La Montagne" (PDF). The New York Times. March 6, 1907. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 30, 2021. Retrieved March 16, 2015.
  32. ^ Butler, Nicholas Murray (1940). Across the Busy Years: Recollections and Reflections. Vol. 2 (1st ed.). New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons. OCLC 568730477. Retrieved July 6, 2017 – via Internet Archive.
  33. ^ "The Nobel Peace Prize 1931". Retrieved August 8, 2023.
  34. ^ Gamaliel. "Nicholas Murray Butler". Everything2. Archived from the original on May 15, 2021. Retrieved September 3, 2011.
  35. ^ Juvenis (September 4, 1915). "One of Our Conquerors". The New Republic. Vol. 4, no. 44. p. 121. ISSN 0028-6583 – via Internet Archive.
  36. ^ Bromley, Dorothy Dunbar (1935). "Nicholas Murray Butler—Portrait of a Reactionary". The American Mercury. Vol. 34, no. 135. p. 298. ISSN 0002-998X. Retrieved March 23, 2022 – via Internet Archive.
  37. ^ Coon, Horace (1990) [1938]. Money to Burn: Great American Foundations and Their Money. New York City: Longmans Green. ISBN 0887383343. LCCN 89020465. OL 2199648M – via OpenLibrary.
  38. ^ "Československý řád Bílého lva 1923–1990" [Czechoslovak Order of the White Lion 1923–1990] (PDF). President of the Czech Republic (in Czech). Archived (PDF) from the original on March 23, 2022. Retrieved March 23, 2022.
  39. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved May 18, 2023.

Further reading

Academic offices Preceded bySeth Low President of Columbia University 1902–1945 Succeeded byFrank D. FackenthalActing Party political offices Preceded byJames S. Sherman Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States 1912 Succeeded byCharles W. Fairbanks