Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stephen Austin and Anthony Butler


Anthony Butler (1787–1849) was a lawyer, a politician, a diplomat, the ward and friend of Brother Andrew Jackson and, yes, a Freemason. Brother Jackson, when President, thought highly enough of Butler to appoint him United States chargé d'affaires in Mexico City. He also appointed him his secret agent in a surreptitious plan to purchase Texas for the United States.

Some say Butler was dedicated to the point of ruthlessness in carrying out this plan.

Brother Sam Houston, who had more than one encounter with Butler in the United States' effort to purchase Texas, was not an admirer. "Such men as he is," said Houston, "would destroy a country, but take my word for it, he will never gain one!"

Stephen F. Austin (1793-1836) had known Butler in the US and, although Masonic Brothers, they were far from friends. Many, including Austin, felt President Jackson's plan to purchase Texas was nothing more than a scheme to secure Texas' public lands at a pittance, without regard to the well-being or future of the territory. Austin refused to go along with the deal. Butler, in return, offered Austin a one million dollar incentive (some might call it a bribe) to change his mind, but Austin would have no part in it.

Butler remained in the area attempting to gain Texas for the US despite Austin's opposition. While there, he became interested in and began courting the daughter of a prominent Mexican family. Austin was a friend of the family. Upon hearing what Butler was up to, he exposed him as a man who had a wife and three children back in the US.

Exposing Butler no doubt won the gratitude of his friends but it also sealed Butler's animosity. Butler was delighted when the Mexican government imprisoned Austin for sedition in 1833. Andrew Jackson, however, was not at all pleased when he learned of Austin's arrest. He wrote letters to Butler asking him to act as a United States agent and to use his influence to secure Austin's release.

Rather than ignore Jackson's letters, Butler so despised Austin he made the perilous journey to Mexico City to visit Austin in jail and taunt him with them. During that visit Butler read the letters to Austin and told him the only way he would work for his release would be if Austin gave him large land grants back in Texas. Austin refused and Butler, ignoring President Jackson's request, left him to rot in the Mexican prison. Austin gained his own release eight months later.

The men remained adversaries for life. Austin's place in history is well-known. Although he died at a young age he is revered in Texas for his pioneering efforts... but whatever became of Anthony Butler?

Although he definitely engaged in some questionable behavior, Butler may not have been quite the scoundrel some claimed; or, at least he may have in some measure redeemed himself. As a Freemason he was well-regarded enough to serve as Grand Master of two states, Kentucky (1812 - 13) and, indeed, Texas (1840 - 41). Then, in 1849, the 62-year-old Butler was a passenger on an ill-fated riverboat that exploded and sank on the Mississippi River. Butler died as he swam into the burning wreckage in an attempt to save fellow passengers.

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