"On my challenge... by the ancient laws of combat, we have met on this chosen ground... to settle for good and all... who hold sway over the Five Points. Us natives, born rightwise to this fine land... or the foreign hordes defiling it. ... And may the Christian Lord guide my hand! Against your Roman popery!
--- Bill's battle speech
"Thank God... I die a true American"
--- Bill's last words
William Bill "The Butcher" Cutting is the main antagonist of the film Gangs of New York. Bill is an extremely violent and dangerous native member and leader of Natives. Bill the Butcher is based on the real life gang member William Poole and is played by Daniel Day Lewis.
For many outside the United States, the shores of America represent opportunity and freedom. For William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, an American mobster, foreigners entering the USA are unwelcomed guests and are ought to be exterminated by the rightful owner of the place. As a "Nativist," Cutting - portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in an Oscar nominated performance - controlled the Five Points section of New York with an iron fist, and personally led a number of New York's worst Nativist gangs into battle against their Irish counterparts, led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). Fighting by the rules of the streets, the Natives won when Bill killed Priest. However, Bill decreed no one would desecrate Vallon's body, and that Vallon was an "honorable man" who "died a noble death."
Every year on the anniversary of the battle, The Butcher would celebrate this victory and invite a selected few. Many years later, the tradition would continue, and one mysterious young man would appear and hope for an invitation of his own. His name was Amsterdam (Leonardo DiCaprio) and he was the Preist's son, hell-bent on revenge.
Bill grows attached to Amsterdam, but upon learning his true identity, after Amsterdam attemps to kill him at a victory celebration, Bill tortures him in front of the crowd and "marks" him by burning a blade onto his cheek. Soon afterwards, Amsterdam earns respect and leadership among many Irish living in the Five Points. Cutting swears to kill Amsterdam just as he did his father.
Amsterdam attempts to beat Bill through politics. When corrupt political boss William Tweed courts Amsterdam's gang support, Amsterdam agrees to help him win the election if they back his father's old ally Monk McGinn as an Irish candidate for sheriff. Through muscle and voter fraud, Amsterdam helps Tweed win the election, hoping he will now be able to match Bill's power. But Bill gains the upper hand again when he publicly murders Monk, forcing Amsterdam to challenge him to direct combat to settle control of the Five Points.
Unfortunately, on the day of the fight, the Irish and other working-class people of New York begin a riot over the Civil War draft that soon destroys half the city. Bill and Amsterdam's attempt at an honorable fight is ruined by the riot. Ultimately, Bill dies at Amsterdam's hand, and is buried next to Priest Vallon.
Background and Personality
Bill's tremendous patriotism comes partly from his own father, who he mentions was killed by the British in a naval battle in the War of 1812. This gives him a tremendous urge to defend what he sees as the 'real' America. Publicly, he despises the Irish and other immigrants, believing them to be trespassers taking American jobs. Like many Americans at the time, he also despises Roman Catholics, and sees the Irish as a threat to Protestant America. He is also heard to make insulting remarks about African-Americans and Chinese, or anyone who does not fit with his vision of America.
However, he does show respect, and even affection for some Irish, such as the pickpocket Jenny Everdean, his sometime mistress. He has tremendous respect for his late rival Priest Vallon, and even after killing him, keeps a picture of him enshrined in his headquarters. He calls Vallon "The only man I ever killed worth remembering." It is strongly implied that even after discovering Amsterdam's true identity, he still sees him as the son he never had. While discussing the weapons for their upcoming battle, when Amsterdam says 'No guns,' Bill smiles warmly at him and says "Good boy."
In spite of his ruthlessness, he has a strong moral code and sense of honor. Although he continues to despise the Irish, it is revealed that he hates Tweed and his corrupt politicians more, for their dishonor and willingness to play both sides.
Skills and Attributes
Since Bill was a butcher, he had culinary and weaponry skills. Having one eye had not messed up his vision and had perfect aim such as hurling a knife at a poster of Abraham Lincoln and throwing his meat cleaver into Monk McGinn's back, both from good distances. He had no interest in pistols, only hand-to-hand combat and favoribly used his butcher tools such as knives and axes.
- His left eye is fake. Bill cut out the real one after being defeated by Priest Vallon. He felt ashamed that he couldn't look Vallon in the eye.
- Bill was based on Bill Poole, the leader of a real-life nativist gang the Bowery Boys, and a leader of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothing party in 1860s New York. He was idolized by the anti-immigrant movement, so much that plays were written about him after his death. Some of them ended with him saying "I die a true American," echoing Bill's last words in the film.