Nicholas Murray Butler


Nicholas Murray Butler

Nicholas Murray Butler (April 2, 1862-December 7, 1947) was an educator and university president; an adviser to seven presidents and friend of statesmen in foreign nations; recipient of decorations from fifteen foreign governments and of honorary degrees from thirty-seven colleges and universities; a member of more than fifty learned societies and twenty clubs; the author of a small library of books, pamphlets, reports, and speeches; an international traveler who crossed the Atlantic at least a hundred times; a national leader of the Republican Party; an advocate of peace and the embodiment of the «international mind» that he frequently spoke about. He was called Nicholas Miraculous Butler by his good friend Theodore Roosevelt; the epithet was so perfect that, once uttered, it could not be forgotten.

Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, this son of Henry L. Butler, a manufacturer, and Mary Murray Butler, daughter of Nicholas Murray, a clergyman and author, began his career with a brilliant record as a student. In 1882, at the age of twenty, he received his bachelor’s degree, in 1883, a master’s degree, in 1884, a doctorate – all from Columbia College; in 1885 he studied in Paris and in Berlin where he began a lifelong friendship with Elihu Root, who was also destined to become a Nobel peace laureate. In the fall of 1885, he accepted an appointment on the staff of the Department of Philosophy at Columbia College, which in 1896 became Columbia University. And so began a professional association that was to last for sixty years.

From the first, Butler distinguished himself as an educational administrator. Within four years he gave administrative form to his philosophical theory of pedagogy by establishing an institute which, later affiliated with Columbia, became known as Teachers College. He founded the Educational Review and edited it for thirty years, wrote reports on state and local educational systems, served as a member of the New Jersey Board of Education from 1887 to 1895, participated in the formation of the College Entrance Examination Board. He was named acting president of Columbia University in 1901 and president in 1902, retaining that position until retirement in October, 1945.

Under his presidency, Columbia University made phenomenal growth. It became a major university. All graduate studies were enormously expanded; the scope of professional training was enlarged to include new schools such as those of journalism and dentistry; the student body was increased from 4,000 to 34,000 and the faculty by a like ratio; the plant was enlarged by a construction program that averaged a new building each year, and the endowment kept pace; the professorial salaries were increased enough to attract many of the world’s leading scholars to the teaching and research staff.

Butler moved in the realm of politics as easily as he did in that of education. He was a delegate to the Republican convention for the first time in 1888 and for the last in 1936. Butler, Root, William Howard Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt constituted a powerful political quartet in the early years of the century. Breaking with the others in 1912, Roosevelt ran for the presidency as the candidate of the Progressive Party, which drew most of its strength from Republicans, against the nominees of the constituted party: Taft for the presidency and Butler for the vice-presidency. By splitting the national vote, they permitted the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, to win the election. In 1916 Butler failed in his attempt to secure the Republican presidential nomination for Root and in 1920 and 1928 failed to secure it for himself

Meanwhile, Butler sought to unite the world of education and that of politics in a struggle to achieve world peace through international cooperation. He was chairman of the Lake Mohonk Conferences on International Arbitration, which met periodically from 1907 to 1912, and was appointed president of the American branch of International Conciliation, an organization founded by another Nobel peace laureate, d’Estournelles de Constant. His association with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was a fruitful one of thirty-five years. Influential in persuading Andrew Carnegie to establish the Endowment in 1910 with a gift of $ 10,000,000, he served as head of the Endowment’s section on international education and communication, founded the European branch of the Endowment, with headquarters in Paris, and held the presidency of the parent Endowment from 1925 to 1945.

Butler married twice. His first wife, whom he married in 1887 and by whom he had one daughter, died in 1903; he remarried in 1907. When Butler became almost totally blind in 1945 at the age of eighty-three, he resigned the demanding posts he still held. He died two years later.

In 1940, Butler completed his autobiography with the publication of the second volume of Across the Busy Years. Both in size and in title it is peculiarly appropriate.

Selected Bibliography
Butler, Nicholas Murray. The Butler papers are deposited in the library of Columbia University.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Across the Busy Years: Recollections and Reflections. 2 vols. New York, Scribner, 1939-1940. Contains a bibliography.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Between Two Worlds: Interpretations of the Age in Which We Live. New York, ScriEner, 1934.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Building the American Nation: An Essay of Interpretation. New York, Scribner, 1923.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, The Faith of a Liberal: Essays and Addresses on Political Principles and Public Policies. New York, Scribner, 1924.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, The Family of Nations: Its Need and its Problems. Essays and Addresses. New York, Scribner, 1938.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, The International Mind: An Argument for the Judicial Settlement of International Disputes. New York, Scribner, 1912.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Is America Worth Saving? Addresses on National Problems and Party Policies. New York, Scribner, 1920.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Liberty-Equality-Fraternity: Essays and Addresses on the Problems of Today and Tomorrow. New York, Scribner, 1942.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Looking Forward: What Will the American People Do about It? Essays and Addresses on Matters National and International. New York, Scribner, 1932.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, The Path to Peace: Essays and Addresses on Peace and its Making. New York, Scribner, 1930.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Scholarship and Service: The Policies and Ideals of a National University in a Modern Democracy. New York, Scribner, 1921.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, Why War? Essays and Addresses on War and Peace. New York, Scribner, 1940.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, A World in Ferment: Interpretations of the War for a New World. New York, Scribner, 1918.
Butler, Nicholas Murray, The World Today: Essays and Addresses. New York, Scribner, 1946.
Dinner to Nicholas Murray Butler. New York, Columbia University Press, 1932.
Thomas, Milton H., Bibliography of Nicholas Murray Butler, 1872-1932. New York, Columbia University Press, 1934.
From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1926-1950, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

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