Letter/IconOVERNOR BURT. Francis Burt was already a man of mark in the nation when, at the age of forty-seven years, he was appointed by President Franklin Pierce, the first governor of Nebraska.1 His previous training and experience in political public service excelled that of any governor of the state. He was a lawyer by profession, but at an early age began to take an active part in politics. He was a member of the famous nullification convention of South Carolina -- his native state -- in 1832, and then, at the age of twenty-five, began a career of nearly continuous membership in the state legislature, until in 1844 he was elected state treasurer. From 1847 to 1851 he was editor of the Pendleton Messenger. In 1852 he sat as a member of the constitutional convention of his state, and was then again elected a member of the legislature. In 1853, soon after the inauguration of President Pierce, he was appointed third auditor of the treasury of the United States, and it is said that his executive services in that department until he was relieved by the appointment as governor were unusually efficient.
   A glance at the famous nullification convention and the conditions out of which it grew, reveals in an interesting way the political character of the first governor of Nebraska and political conditions in the country when the territory started on its organized career. Roughly speaking, the northern states in the first quarter of the nineteenth century were looking mainly to manufactures, while the southern states were looking to agriculture. As a growing sentiment against slavery became manifest in the North about this time, alarm for its safety had begun in the South. While the sentiment of the people of the South was, for economic reasons, naturally against a protective tariff which, while it taxed their importations, could not benefit them, since they had no expectations of developing manufactures, yet the doctrine of rigid construction of powers of the Constitution, which they began to advocate about this time, was intended primarily as a defense against congressional interference with slavery.
   But these economic conditions were the immediate occasion, if they were not the prime cause of the attempt to nullify the protective tariff acts of 1828 and 1832. South Carolina had cast her industrial fortunes upon agriculture alone, and upon a single branch of agriculture, namely, cotton growing. Cotton was therefore the only important domestic product which the people of South Carolina had to exchange for the manufactured necessaries and luxuries then imported from European countries, and they felt and resented the high tariff of 1828 and 1832 as a direct and heavy burden upon their means of subsistence. And so they then and there began the rebellion which ripened in 1860 and ended in 1865.
   In his message to the special session of the legislature which had been called to provide for the convention, Governor James Hamilton, Jr., insisted that the Union was "a confederacy composed of coequal and

   1 William 0. Butler of Kentucky had been previously appointed governor of Nebraska territory, but declined the office. Harper's Monthly, vol. ix, p. 398.



coordinate sovereigns." The resolutions which the convention adopted declared that the objectionable tariff laws "are unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States, and violate the true meaning and intent thereof, and are null, void and no law, not binding upon the state, its officers or citizens"; that it was the duty of the legislature to adopt measures to enforce the ordinance and prevent the enforcement and arrest the operation of the acts annulled; that no suits brought in the state courts involving the validity of the ordinance or legislative enactments to enforce it should be appealed to the United States Supreme


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From a photograph owned by the Nebraska State Historical Society


First governor of Nebraska territory

Court, and that any attempt by federal authority to enforce the tariff laws would absolve the state from the Union .2 Twenty-six members of the convention had the courage to vote against the adoption of the ordinance, but Governor Burt was not of them. He was one of the 136 voting aye.3 And yet when we consider times and conditions, this drastic and revolutionary act should not excite our wonder. We may not affirm that Massachusetts would not then have acted similarly under similar serious provocation. There was as yet no strong

   2 Niles' Register, vol. x1iii, p. 219.
   3 Ibid., p. 277.



or distinct comprehension of the importance or sacredness or inviolability of the union; and an adequate sentiment of this sort could only be awakened by a shock. The first awakening shock came with the clash of Jackson's imperious championship of a real union against this very South Carolina doctrine of the rope of sand -- of nullification. The final shock did not come till the day of Appomattox. In 1854, as in 1832, the South dominated the Union, South Carolina dominated the South, and the Burt family were to the South Carolina manner born, and were of influential standing in that turbulent, intractable, and irrepressible commonwealth.
   Armistead Burt was even more prominent in public affairs than his younger brother, our Nebraska governor. He was a member of the House of Representatives for five consecutive terms, from 1843 to 1853, and was temporary speaker of the Thirtieth Congress for a short time during the illness of the speaker. He survived the Civil war, politically as well as physically, and was a member of the South Carolina legislature of 1865 which enacted the "black code," and in 1876 assisted General Wade Hampton in the revolutionary political movement which rid the state of the carpetbag régime. Episodes in his career in Congress, at the time when Douglas was first undertaking the political organization of the vast northwest territory known as Nebraska, indicate the short-sighted, imperious presumption and narrow provincialism of the pro-slavery sentiment, which was to overreach itself in the repeal of the Missouri Compromise by the Nebraska bill -- the first step toward its self-destruction, secession being the second, and war the third and last. On the 21st Of February, 1844, there was a sharp debate in the House over an attempt on the part of anti-slavery members to ignore or set aside the rule made by the Twenty-fifth Congress excluding petitions for the abolition of slavery, and Mr. Burt, answering Beardsley of New York, uttered the following fiery speech:

    Language is impotent to express the intensity of scorn and contempt with which South Carolina regards the miserable, upstart morality of the North which attempts to hold up her domestic institutions to the odium of the world . . . The gentleman from Maine (Severance) has told the House that that class of petitions will never cease until Congress does its duty by abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia; but I beg permission to say that whenever that discussion is raised in this hall it will be the last subject that an American Congress will ever discuss here. The South would regard it as a declaration of war, and she would act accordingly. She would not allow that government to which she had surrendered certain attributes of her sovereignty for the protection of this property to be permitted in any form to invade it.4

   It must have been obvious at the time that the settlers of Nebraska would be strongly anti-slavery in sentiment, and it is indicative of the subservient spirit of Mr. Pierce's administration that a man so widely distant in both sentiment and location should be sent to rule over them. Our wonder is increased by the reflection that the great hardships incident to traversing the vast physical distance cost the first governor his life.
   With the exception of the short beginning of the Milwaukee & Mississippi railroad from Milwaukee, the Chicago & Rock Island to the Mississippi, and a few spurs or beginnings in Illinois, no railways had been built west of a line drawn north and south through Chicago. Most of the railways of the country were confined to southern Michigan, Ohio, and the northeastern and southeastern states.
   Governor Burt was commissioned August 2, 1854, and on the 11th of September following he left his home -- Pendleton, South Carolina -- for Nebraska, accompanied by his young son, Armistead, and several neighbors who intended to settle in the new territory. The party traveled by frequent alternations of private conveyance, "stage," railway, and steamboat. The extreme isolation of Nebraska and the progress of railways toward the west at that time are illustrated in an interesting man-

   4 Cong. Globe, vol. xiii, pp. 303-304.



ner by the account of this journey given in a recent letter to the editor from Dr. Armistead Burt at his home in New Mexico.
   From Chicago they might have gone by the Chicago and Rock Island railroad, which had been completed to the Mississippi river earlier in the year 1854, but since they could go part of the way to St. Louis by railroad and the rest of the journey by steamboat they preferred that route rather than to cross the unsettled plains of Iowa by wagon.
   This very complicated and difficult gubernatorial journey was suggestive of the contemporary condition of politics and of the hard road over which Douglas, with his new whip of popular sovereignty, as embodied in the Nebraska bill, was attempting to drive the democratic, party. And yet, though the course of the governor and that of the intrepid leader of the democracy alike led to tragic disaster, it is doubtful that either could have chosen a better or wiser one. Comparison of the material and political condition of the country at that time, as illustrated by these aims and struggles of Burt and of Douglas, with present conditions reveals the miracle that has been wrought within the memory of living men.
   Governor Burt was very ill when he reached St. Louis and was obliged to stop over there several days, confined to his bed. By the time he reached Bellevue, on the 7th of October, he had grown still worse, and he continued to sink until his death, which occurred October 18th. He took the oath of office on the 16th, before Chief justice Ferguson, and so was governor two days.
   Correspondence between Mrs. Burt and her husband shows that she repined over his absence at his post in Washington, and when he submitted to her the question of his acceptance of the governorship of Nebraska she replied eagerly that she would go anywhere if they could only be together. These letters show that it was the governor's intention to live permanently in Nebraska, and his wife urged tenderly that he deserved a wider field for his abilities than was afforded by the little isolated town of Pendleton. It appears also that before the Nebraska appointment came they bitterly resented the failure of President Pierce to appoint Mr. Burt governor of Kansas according to a promise which they understood he had made. The story of the governor's funeral journey back to Pendleton and to the wife is in pathetic contrast to the eager hope and solicitude she had expressed for a permanent family home, though in an unknown and immeasurably distant country.
   On the 19th of October, Acting Governor Cuming appointed Barton Green, Col. Ward B. Howard, James Doyle, and W. R. Jones as an escort for the body of Governor Burt to his South Carolina home. They were allowed from the contingent fund $2 a day and actual traveling expenses, and the boy, Armistead Burt, was allowed traveling expenses to Pendleton.
   It has already been pointed out that western border Iowans were the self-constituted but logical "next friends" of prospective Nebraska, and the following picture of conditions and prospects of the coming territory drawn by Mr. Henn, representative from western Iowa, in a speech in the House of Representatives, March 3, 1854, already quoted from, should be regarded as fairly true to nature:

   Ten years ago we looked for a further west, and for a time when Iowa was to be a frontier state no longer. Step by step that emigrating spirit, which first breathed American air on Plymouth Rock, was looking forward to the beautiful valleys of the Platte and the Kansas. Nebraska, a name familiar only to Indian ears, was in a few short months becoming a watchword for the frontier settlers. The year 1846 found not a few on the banks of the Missouri awaiting legal authority to cross and occupy "those green meadows prepared by nature's hand." In the summer of 1853 not less than 3,000 souls had assembled on the frontiers of Iowa ready to make their future home on that soil.5

   5 Appendix Cong. Globe, vol. xxix, p. 885.



   He then goes on to say that he had voted against the measure for territorial organization a year ago to save the rights of the Indians, but in favor of appropriations for securing treaties since made. According to reliable estimates, he said, there were now in Nebraska 9,000,000 acres of land obtained from the Indians by purchase and treaty, and 12,133,120 acres heretofore owned by the United States -- in all, 21,133,120 acres open for settlement.
   Replying to the objection raised by opponents of the bill that "there are no people in the country proposed to be organized except Indians, half-breeds, traders, soldiers, and those in the employ of the Indian bureau," Mr. Henn said that a few months ago this was no doubt the case, because the people of the frontier were law-abiding and unwilling to interfere with the regulations of the government which forbade their occupancy of the country. Yet an intelligent citizen had informed him that two months since there were between five hundred and six hundred whites within that territory by permission of officers of the government -- three hundred at Fort Laramie, two hundred at Fort Kernel, and seventy-five scattered at other points. Within three days after the passage of the bill, he asserted, there would be not less than three thousand people in Nebraska; and the same conditions existed in Kansas.


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From drawing by Geo. Simons, in the frontier sketch book of N. P. Dodge


Built by Daniel Norton, between Omaha and Bellevue, in 1853

   RIVAL TOWNS. But in numbers, aspirations, and hopes the carpet-bag politicians and other promoters of the infant territory were as great as its actual population was small, and the townsites did not fall below them in any of the qualities named. The first number of the Arrow makes a roundup of those worthy of notice.
   These pioneers attached great importance to the esthetic quality of the sites of the future cities, and it was exploited to the utmost in the acrimonious controversies over the respective merits of Omaha and Bellevue. To the Palladium's observation that "Belleview is admitted by every important observer to be the most commanding and beautiful location," the Arrow replies that Omaha "is nevertheless a handsome place"; and in detail: "It occupies a beautiful plateau, sloping well to the river. . . The view is extensive and picturesque, taking in a long reach of the river both up and down, the broad, rich bottom lands dotted over with fields, houses and cattle, and a strange, romantic, and bewildering background of indented and variously formed bluffs."
   Nor was the industrious promulgation of this early "Iowa idea" confined to the local field. In the same issue of the Arrow is copied correspondence of the old Ohio State Journal which tells the old, old story:
   But the site which seems to me to contain

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