Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Earl L. Butz (1971–1974): Secretary of Agriculture

Earl Lauer Butz was born near Albion, Indiana, on July 3, 1909. He received a B.S. in agriculture (1932) and a Ph.D. in agricultural economics (1937) from Purdue University. At one time, he headed the Purdue Department of Agriculture. Butz was vice president of what has become the American Agricultural Economics Association (1948), and he was also vice president of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (1951).

President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected him to be an assistant secretary of agriculture in 1954, and Butz also served as chairman of the United States Delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He returned to Purdue as dean of agriculture in 1957 before being appointed both dean of continuing education and vice president of the Purdue Research Foundation in 1968.

In the administration of Richard Nixon, he served as secretary of the Department of Agriculture from 1971 to 1974. He continued in that position in Gerald Ford's administration, where his major accomplishment was negotiating a grain deal with the Soviet Union. In 1976, Butz became an instant liability to President Ford after telling a racist joke that was overheard by several reporters. On October 4, 1976, he resigned.

Butz resumed his professorship at Purdue University, but in May 1981, he pled guilty to charges of tax evasion-all but thirty days of his five year sentence was suspended. Butz died on February 2, 2008, in Washington, D.C.