Phillip W. Magness

U.S. Economic & Political History

New York Times, 8/20/1884

The most famous account of Benjamin F. Butler’s controversial “colonization interview” with Abraham Lincoln in 1865 appears in the general’s autobiography, published in 1892. The account in Butler’s Book suffers noticeably from its distance in time from the actual event, including its recollected date which Butler misplaced by about two weeks (this mistake in his recollection is discussed at length here).

It was not, however, the first time Butler revealed this story to the public. He also wrote about it some six years earlier in a chapter of Allen Thorndike Rice’s Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time (1886), using a timeline that actually reflects the now-known date of April 11, 1865. The story was not new when he first penned it though, as Butler had apparently shared it on prior occasions. One earlier recorded instance appeared as biographical material about the general in the following article from the New York Times, published in 1884:

TRANSCRIPT:

“At the close of the civil war [General Butler] seriously proposed to Lincoln that the United States should immediately begin construction of an interoceanic canal across the isthmus. He submitted his scheme to Mr. Lincoln a few days before Booth’s bullet did its fatal work. In brief, it was to transport to Central America 50,000 freedmen and begin the work. That work in the bold Butler’s comprehensive mind meant not only the digging of the canal but the speedy domination of the country”

SOURCE: “Spain to Abandon Cuba,” New York Times, August 20, 1884

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