Butler B. Strang stands out as one of the Commonwealth’s accomplished legislative leaders. A Pennsylvania senator regarded by Alexander K. McClure as the “Ablest leader in the body,” but whose life ended tragically. Born in Greenwood, Steuben County, New York, March 16, 1829, Senator Strang was the son of the Reverend Francis and Elizabeth Strang, his father a founder of Greenwood County, New York; a town clerk from 1830 to 1832; and justice of the peace in the latter year. Moving to Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania in the mid-1830s, Butler’s father became one of the North Country’s prominent Methodist clergymen, later permanently settling the family in Westfield, Tioga County, where he organized the Wesleyan Methodist Church and became the township’s first merchant in 1840. Butler, in turn, operated the first mercantile establishment in Sabinsville and served as the first burgess of Westfield Borough. He married the former Salina Douglas, whose family also migrated to Tioga from New York’s Southern Tier. Receiving half of his early schooling in New York and the balance in Tioga, Butler excelled in his studies at the “classical and mathematical academies” of the state, eventually reading law with A.J. Monroe of Knoxville. Paying his way as a small businessman, Strang retired from the merchant’s trade, successfully seeking admittance to the Tioga bar in 1852. He quickly developed a keen interest in Republican politics, receiving a governor’s appointment as district attorney and a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He also served as a Tioga County school director and justice of the peace. Tioga sent Butler to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1860 for seven years, where he chaired the Judiciary and Ways and Means committees and became the 1870 Speaker. After his final House term, he received a seat in the Senate, assigned the chairs of Finance (1872) and Judiciary (1873). He secured the Senate Speakership in 1874, earning the distinction as the last state legislative executive to serve a full session under the 1838 Constitution, and only one of seven to serve as Speaker of the House and Speaker (or president pro tempore) of the Senate.
In the Senate, Strang facilitated almost effortless passage of the 1873 constitutional revisions recommended by the convention, using for the first time in the upper house, a sub-committee system. The Speaker led passage of an election fraud and bribery bill, defining limited instances in which a candidate might receive financial help in pursuit of office. The 1874 law explicitly forbade the purchase of any elector’s vote, whether at “primary, township, general or special elections, nominating conventions, or for any corrupt purposes whatever incident to an election.” He advocated legislation empowering local school boards to set tax rates relevant to district assessments, based on property values. The senator led passage of legislation penalizing rail companies for violating any of the Commonwealth’s regulatory laws; wherein, the legislature reserved the right to revoke the offending party’s corporate charter if found guilty of illegal conduct. He led passage of the anti-collusion “Common Carrier Freight and Passenger bill,” also supporting the enactment of the state’s first major change of venue measure, allaying minority fears of gerrymandered judicial districts. He was a delegate to the 1875 Lancaster Republican State Convention, Gov. Hartranft’s appointee to chair the 1876 Pennsylvania Centennial Committee; framed the first attempt at municipal home rule; was a railroad investor and officer; and received a federal appointment as U.S. Marshall of the Dakota Territory in 1881. Within less than a year he resigned his post due to failing health, returned to Tioga County, and after suffering two years from intolerable pain, the Honorable Butler B. Strang committed suicide on May 10, 1884. Strang received note as “the acknowledged Republican leader of the House and Senate during his time,” and was “considered one of the brightest, most aggressive and brilliant of the many adopted sons of Tioga.”