Ovid  Butler

            Ovid Butler  was born on the 7th of February, 1801, in Augusta, N.Y., and died at Indianapolis, Ind., on the 12th of July, 1881.  His father, the  Rev. Chauncey Butler, was the first pastor of the Disciples' Church in this city.  He died in 1840.  His grandfather, Capt. Joel Butler, was a Revolutionary soldier, and served in the disastrous Quebec expedition.  He died in 1822.  In 1817 the family removed from the home in New York to Jennings County, in this State, where Ovid Butler resided until he arrived at the years of manhood.  Here he taught school for a few years and studied law.  In 1825 he settled at Shelbyville, where he practiced his profession until 1836, when he removed to Indianapolis, which became his permanent residence.  He continued in his practice here, having as partners at different time  Calvin Fletcher,  Simon Yandes,  and  Horatio C. Newcomb,  among the ablest and most prominent lawyers of the State.  His business was extensive and very lucrative, but owing to impaired health he retired from the bar in 1849.
            He was married in 1827 to  Cordelia Cole, who lived until the year 1838.  He was again married, to  Mrs. Elizabeth A. Elgin,  daughter of the late  Thomas McOuat, in 1840, who survived him one year.  No man was more fortunate in his domestic relations.  As a lawyer Mr. Butler excelled in the office.  In the argument of legal questions and the preparation of pleadings he was laborious and indefatigable.  With firmness, perseverance, clearness of purpose, and tenacity without a parallel he pushed his legal business through the courts.  With not many of the graces of the orator, he surpassed, by dint of great exertion in the preparation of his cases, those who relied upon persuasive eloquence or sudden strategy at the bar.  Plain, quiet, gentle, modest, but solid and immovable, he was a formidable antagonist in the greatest cases that were tried during his practice.  His style was strong and sententious; without ornament, without humor, without elegance, but logical and convincing.  His clients always got his best ability in the preparation and trial of their cases.  His legal knowledge was general and comprehensive, his judgment sound, and his reasoning powers vigorous.  He met few competitors at the bar combining so much industry, strength, perseverance, and culture.  He had the unbounded confidence of the community in his common sense, integrity, and general capability in his profession.
            After his retirement from the bar he devoted his life mainly to the interests of the Christian Church and of the Northwestern Christian University.  But for a few years after the close of the Mexican war, while the questions as to the extension of slavery into the territories acquired were being agitated, he took an active part in politics.  In 1848 he established a newspaper in Indianapolis called  The Free Soil Bannerwhich took radical ground against the extension of slavery and against slavery itself.  The motto was  "Free soil, free States, free men."  He had been previously a Democrat.  He served upon the Free Soil electoral ticket and upon important political committees, and took the stump in advocacy of his principles in the Presidential campaigns of 1848 and 1852.
            In 1852 he contributed the funds, in a great measure, to establish  The Free Soil Democrat,  a newspaper for the dissemination of his cherished views upon these questions.  This was finally merged in  The Indianapolis Journal  in the year 1854, Mr. Butler having purchased a controlling interest in that newspaper.  In the year 1854 the Republican party was organized out of the anti-slavery men of all parties, and took bold ground upon the subject, and the  Journal  became its organ.  The influence Mr. Butler exerted upon public sentiment was great and beneficent.  He ranged in the higher walks of politics, steadfastly and intelligently advancing the great ideas, then unpopular, which have since become the universal policy of the nation.  He lived to see his principles written upon the banners of our armies and gleaming in the lightning of a thousand battles, to see them embodied in the Constitution and hailed with delight wherever free government has an advocate.
            Mr. Butler gave further evidence of devotion to his principles by aiding in the establishment of a free-soil paper in Cincinnati, and taking a wider range when Kossuth came preaching the gospel of liberty for down-trodden Hungary, he again opened his liberal purse of humanity.
            But he sought quiet and retirement.  Many years ago he removed his residence from his old home in town to his farm north of and beyond its limits.  Here, among and in the shade of the great walnut-, ash-, sugar-, and elm-trees, he built his house, and here he spent the remainer of his years.  Here, walking or sitting beneath these grand representatives of the primeval forest, might be seen his venerable form fitly protected by their shadows.  Here he received his friends and welcomed them to his hospitable board.  Here his family assembled, his children and his children's children, to enjoy his society and to pay respect to his wishes.
          The appearance of Mr. Butler was not striking.  Of about the average height, as he walked he leaned forward, as if in thought.  His eye was bright and cheerful, and the expression of his countenance was sedate, indicative of sound judgment, strong common sense, an unruffled temper, a fixedness of purpose, and kindness of heart.  His voice was not powerful or clear, his delivery was slow and somewhat hesitating; but such was the matter of his speech, so clear, cogent, apt, and striking, that he compelled the attention of his hearers.  The weight of his character, the power of his example, the charm of a life of rectitude and purity gave a force to his words which, coming from an ordinary man might not have been so carefully heeded.  Emerson says, "it makes a great difference to the sentence whether there be a man behind it or not."  He was a little shy and unobtrusive in his manners, especially among strangers, but to his old friends cordial, winning, and confiding.  He avoided controversies, kept quiet when they were impending, and conciliated by his decorous forbearance those who, by active opposition, would have been roused to hostility.
            Stronger than all other features of his character was his unaffected piety.  For many years of his life he was an humble and devoted Christian, illustrating in his daily walk and conversation the principles he professed.  Devout without display, zealous and charitable, he placed before and above all other personal objects and considerations his own spiritual culture; looking to that true and ultimate refinement which, begun on earth, is completed in heaven.
            The great and memorable work of Mr. Butler was connected with the Northwestern Christian University, now called "Butler University."  He, with many friends, had for some years contemplated the establishment of this institution, and in the winter of 1849-50 obtained the passage of a charter through the Legislature of this State.  Mr. Butler drafter it, and had the credit of giving expression it it to the peculiar objects of the University.  The language of the section defining them is as follows:  "An institution of learning of the highest class for the education of the youth of all parts of the United States and of the Northwest; to establish in said institution departments or colleges for the instruction of the students in every branch of liberal and professional education; to educate and prepare suitable teachers for the common schools of the country; to teach and inculcate the Christian faith and Christian morality as taught in the sacred Scriptures, discarding as uninspired and without authority all writing, formulas, creeds, and articles of faith subsequent thereto, and for the promotion of the sciences and arts."  As to intellectual training, this calls for a high standard.  As to religious teaching, it is radically liberal.
            But Mr. Butler was not an aggressive reformer.  His gentle nature had no taint of acrimony or intolerance in it.  While he entertained, announced, and adhered to his own views with unalterable tenacity, he exercised toward all who disagreed with him an ample Christian charity.  He was not a sectarian in the narrow and offensive sense.  He was willing to wait patiently for the gradual and slow changes of public opinion as truth was developed.
            For twenty years he served as president of the board of directors of the University, and in 1871, at the age of seventy, he retired from the office, saying in his letter of resignation,  "I have given to the institution what I had to offer of care, of counsel, of labor, and of means, for the purpose of building up not merely a literary institution, but for the purpose of building up a collegiate institution of the highest class, in which the divine character and the supreme Lordship of Jesus, the Christ, should be fully recognized and carefully taught to all the students, together with the science of Christian morality, as taught in the Christian Scriptures, and to place such an institution in the front ranks of human progress and Christian civilization as the advocate and exponent of the common and equal rights of humanity, without distinction of sex, race or color."
            He fought the good fight, he had adhered to his purpose, he had not labored in vain.  But for ten years more, and until his death, he gave the University his attention and his best thought.  He had devoted so many years of his life and so much of his energy to this purpose that it had become the habit of his being to promote and protect the interests of the University.  His influence and his spirit are still as powerful as ever there.  Absence, silence, and death have no power over them.
            He did not run to the mountains, or the seaside, or Saratoga for happiness.  His residence, his carriage, and his dress were plain.  He gratified his taste, but it was an exalted one.  The campus of a college, his gift to men, was to him a finer show than deer-arks or pleasure-grounds.  The solid walls of the University were more pleasing than a palace carved and polished and decorated for his own comfort.  He delighted to look upon well-trained men and women rather than pictures and statuary.  He preferred to gather the young and docile of the human race, and put them on exhibition, rather than short-horns or Morgan horses, and yet he did not despise or underrate these other good things.  He gratified a refined and ennobled taste when he selected the man for culture and not the animal.  But it was not all a matter of taste; he looked much farther than that.  He loved cultivated men and women for their uses; for their power and capability to do good; to teach the truth, to set examples; to lead men from vice and ignorance; and to give them strength and encouragement.  And so he put forth, for many of the best years of his life, his constant exertions to build up a great institution of learning, in which the principles of human freedom and of Christianity should be taught forever.  He did not die without the sight.  He inspired many to unite with him in the work, and has laid a foundation in a place and in a way that, so far as can be seen, will be perpetual for great good.
History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, by B. R. Sulgrove, Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & Co., 1884,  page 175-77.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming

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