Monday, April 16, 2012

Archibald Butt and the 100th Anniversary of the Sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic

Photo courtesy of New Georgia Encyclopedia located at
There were five people on board the Titanic who had connections to Georgia.  Those were: Major Archibald Willingham Butt, Isidor Straus, his wife Ida Straus, Jacques Futrelle, and his wife Lilly May Peel Futrelle.  While the Strauss' are fairly well-known, especially for Isidor's contribution to American commerce, the Futrelles and Major Butt do not enjoy the same noteriety.  Jacques Futrelle might be the most interesting Georgian on board; however, Major Butt had a distinquished career in the United States Military and as a military aide to both Presidents Roosevelt and Taft.  I wrote an article on Major Butt for The New Georgia Encyclopedia back in 2007.  Here is the link to that article so that you can have some background on him.
What is more interesting about Major Butt being on the Titanic is how he got there.  Before boarding the ill-fated luxury liner, Butt was in Europe, supposedly on a diplomatic mission to Vatican City where he met with leaders of the Catholic Church on behalf of the President, William Howard Taft.  However, there is much rumor mill surrounding this mission.  For years, relatives of the Butt family, one of which is a personal friend of mine and fellow academian, were almost certain that Butt had been sent to Europe by President Taft to discuss rising tensions in Europe. While there was much tension there, especially given the past decades of colonial expansion by the Germans, British, French, Portuguese, and Italians, what role Butt played in conveying any messages on behalf of the Commander-in-Chief of the United States is unknown.  It should be noted, nevertheless, that not more than two years later, Europe was in full-scale war after the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Sarajevans who detested the Austrians hold on their homeland and saw Franz Ferdinand's visit and parade through the city as nothing more than colonial gloating and a thinly veiled attempt to reinforce the colonial hold that the Austrians had on the small Balkan colony.
Some in his family have said that Taft sent Butt to Europe to meet with various European leaders to alert them that if there was any war in Europe, that the United States would invariably support the side that had been attacked. 
So what do we make of this rumor?  Was Major Butt there to convey secret messages?  Or was it true that he indeed was just sent to meet with the Pope as a good will ambassador of Taft?  In light of good, solid primary source evidence, we may never know. For now, we can speculate, but not solidify.

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