A Democrat with a high sense of honor. He opposed the Know Nothing Party's effort to disband the Irish companies in the Massachusetts Militia. He challenged the Governor citing the articles of the Massachusetts Acts relating to the militia. The Know Nothings backed down. They tried another tack dismissing him from his command. He sued and won again. The Know Nothings prevailed in reorganizing the militia. He was then elected Brigadier General.
He was the catalyst for the term contraband. Three Tidewater Virginia slaves ran to Fort Monroe. When Confederate authorities demanded their return under the Fugitive Slave Law, he stated that since Virginia was no longer a state they could not use Federal statues. He promulgated an order to his command to accept runaways as the slaves were being used to build fortifications. Since they were engaged in military service, they were contraband.
Butler's conduct in New Orleans sparked most of the animosity against him. His Woman order, the spoons incident, allegations of dealing in confiscated cotton, charges that were never fully proved.
His military acumen is subject to debate. His Bermuda Hundred Campaign, the canal scheme, and his mishandling of the first expedition to Fort Fisher led to his removal from command. His enemies and friends all agreed on one point; he had one of the finest legal minds in the nation.