Born the grandson of a Baptist preacher and governor of Vermont, George Butler became the fifth president of the Seventh-day Adventist church. At age nine, he went through the 1844 disappointment with his family. He was converted at the age of 22 through the efforts of J. N. Andrews. In 1859 he settled on a farm near Waukon, Iowa. Upon the defection of Snook and Brinkerhoff, president and treasurer, respectively, of the Iowa Conference, Butler was chosen president in 1865. Two years later he was ordained to the ministry. In 1871 Butler was elected as president of the General Conference. He was active in raising funds for the first college at Battle Creek, Michigan, and in establishing Pacific Press in Oakland, California, in 1874. He served a second time as president of the General Conference from 1880-1888.
Butler replaced James White as president of the General Conference in 1871. In 1873 he wrote a paper that advocated that the president of the General Conference should be in the same position as Moses was in Old Testament Israel. Ellen White did not agree with his strong authoritarian approach to the presidency, and wrote a response to his position in Testimonies for the Church, volume 3, titled “Leadership.” Butler was a strong advocate of Ellen White’s visions, and wrote in their favor several times. James White returned to the presidency from 1874-1880.
Butler resumed the office from 1880 to 1888. This period of his presidency was especially eventful. In 1882 he was involved with the closing of Battle Creek College, because the president, A. C. McLearn, was not following Adventist principles of education. Butler then saw it reopened the next year, along with two other schools of higher education, South Lancaster Academy in Massachusetts (which later developed into Atlantic Union College), and an academy at Healdsburg, California (later giving birth to Pacific Union College). Ellen White established her home at Healdsburg, giving valuable counsel at the beginning of the school. In 1887 Butler also dealt with the apostasy of D. M. Canright.
At the 1888 General Conference session, Butler opposed the message of righteousness by faith presented by A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner. Butler was ill, and did not attend, but sent a 39-page letter blaming his illness, in part, on Ellen White’s opposition to him. Five years later, he wrote a letter of confession that he had been wrong. It was published in the Review of June 13, 1893.
After he was not reelected at the 1888 session, Butler retired to Florida and took up farming. When his wife suffered a stroke, he cared for her ten years until her death. He later became president of the Florida Conference, and also president of the Southern Union.
Ellen White kept in correspondence with Butler during the years she spent in Australia. She sent him a copy of The Desire of Ages to read and comment on, which greatly encouraged him. He knew that she had not forsaken him, even during the years that followed his opposition to her at the 1888 General Conference session.
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