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works of charity, and is known all over Georgia ás "Sister Katherine,” the head of an Episcopal home for orphaned girls, originally founded for daughters of Confederate veterans.
After practicing law in Pickens for five years, Burt returned to Pendleton, a beautifully situated town to which he was most tenderly attached by his early recollections. Burt seems to have been a natural leader of men. While in Pickens, he was chosen a member of the famous convention of 1832, and took an active part in formulating that short-lived doctrine of nullification, which created so much of a sensation at the time. He then was but twenty-five years of age, and for twenty years served almost uninterruptedly as a member of one branch or other of the state assembly. From 1847 to 1851, he edited the Pendleton Messenger, one of the old time Democratic weeklies, and his journalistic life doubtless widened his acquaintance and gave him much prominence and influence. In 1844, the legislature in joint session elected him state treasurer for a term of four years. He received eighty-eight votes out of a hundred on joint ballot, and four years after the termination of his occupancy of this office he sat as a delegate in the constitutional convention of 1852. This convention and its duties ended, his home district once more elected him representative; and it was while serving in this capacity that President Pierce, a month after his inauguration in 1853, offered Mr. Burt the position of Third Auditor of the Treasury. The proffer was accepted, and Burt's long official life in his native state was ended.
As Third Auditor of the Treasury, he was a decided success. The contemporary journals united in praising him alike for his efficiency, and for the frank fearlessness he displayed in the discharge of his duties. When he assumed the office, he found the department in a demoralized condition. The work had been badly neglected, and it was predicted that five years would be necessary to complete what his predecessors had left unfinished. Although head of the bureau for less than a year and a half, at the time of his resignation to take up the duties of Governor of Nebraska Territory, he had accomplished all that those who preceded him had left undone. He had over a hundred clerks in his office, many of them his political opponents, but the energy he infused into his department made all his subordinates devotedly attached to him.
Auditor Burt's decisions on a number of fine legal questions presented to him while in the Treasury are said to have saved the government hundreds of thousands of dollars. One instance of his vigilance is recorded. In 1839, the Legislature of the Territory of Florida issued one hundred bonds of the value of $1,000 each, attested by the signature of the governor, the secretary, and the treasurer of the Territory. Five of these were stolen by an assistant quartermaster, and the Territorial officials issued five additional bonds to replace the ones feloniously taken. The thief forged the name of the Governor to the bonds, and negotiated them, the secretary and treasurer having already signed the stolen securities. Three years later, in 1842, the fact of the theft was made known to the Treasury department at Washington, and a close watch kept for the bonds for some time after Congress ordered the redemption of the issue, but gradually they were forgotten. Twelve years later, in the beginning of Burt's service as Auditor, a Banking house at New Orleans presented one of the bonds for payment. It was paid without question. Later, two more were offered, and when referred to the Third Auditor for approval, his suspicions were aroused. Correspondence with the Governor of Florida showed that the bonds in question actually were the ones stolen by Colonel Armstrong fifteen years before; their payment was refused, and the $2,000 principal and interest of the one previously redeemed were recovered of the Louisiana bank.
On the 2d of August, 1854, Burt was commissioned Governor of the newly organized Territory of Nebraska, and at once left for Pendleton to arrange his affairs for his absence in the West. Governor Burt was assigned a task which might have appalled a less resolute man, but it was with the highest feelings of hope that he left for his new post. At that time, the Territory of Nebraska comprised all of the present state of Nebraska, the western part of North Dakota, and South Dakota, the eastern part of Montana and Wyoming, and a small corner of Colorado: an immense jurisdiction, containing almost as many square miles as the two largest states in the Union. This vast expanse of territory was practically uninhabited save by Indians; less than three thousand whites living in the extreme southeastern corner. Of its interior, but little was known; a few explorers and hardy trappers and traders had traveled along the banks of the larger rivers, and had traced them to their mountain sources, but even they knew little of the resources of the prairies which stretched for hundreds of miles on either side of the rivers of this terra incognita. Travellers followed those who had gone before them, and relied on the frontier military stations for protection from dangers they hardly knew, hurried along across the mountains where brighter prospects allured them.
Governor Burt was placed in a politically delicate position. A southerner, a strong states rights Democrat, sent to represent the general government in a northern Territory whose organization brought the two sections to the verge of a civil war, populated almost entirely by emigrants from those sections of the North where the triumph of the South in the Kansas and Nebraska Bill had annihilated the Democratic party, in a situation like this a man of less ability and tact would prove utterly incompetent.
As early as 1844, attempts had been made to secure the organization of the "Territory of the Platte" to contain a large part of the Lousiana purchase northwest of Missouri and Iowa. The petitions to Congress were ignored solely on the ground of the insufficient population and the almost unexplored condition of the country which it was thus proposed to form into a Territory. After the wild, westward rush of '49, the developement of this section was given a wonderful impetus, and settlers multiplied along the rivers and on the prairies, whose soil the discouraged gold-seekers for the first time discovered to be capable of a certain degree of cultivation. Then the demands for the organization of a Trans-Missouri territory met with a slightly better reception. The country was better known and more thickly settled, although with truth it was alleged that the Indian laws of the time prohibited any but licensed traders from venturing on the reservations.
In December, 1852, Representative Willard P. Hall of Missouri introduced a bill for the organization of the "Territory of the Platte," which was referred to the Committee on Territories. In February of the following year, Representative William A. Richardson of the committee reported a substitute, a bill for the organization of the Territory of "Nebraska," the change in the bill being mainly in the name. For the first time, the question of slavery was dragged into the discussion of the Trans-Missouri country; a stormy session of the whole house closed with a recommendation that the bill be rejected, but by some means its friends rallied sufficiently to save the bill from defeat at that stage. Despite the bitter opposition of the Southern members, the bill passed the house by a vote of more than two to one. In the Senate, it met a different fate. After being referred to the Committee on Territories, it was not again brought before the Senate for discussion. A futile attempt was made on the last day of the session but one, to take up the measure for consideration and action, and on the succeeding day, the one preceding the inauguration of Franklin Pierce as President, the bill was tabled and killed for the few hours that remained of the thirty-second Congress.
Congress did not assemble for the thirty-third session until the following December. In the interim the Nebraska question grew into a problem of national importance, and one which threatened to dissolve the Union before a peaceable settlement could be made. President Pierce in his message to Congress expressed the hope that the compromise measures of 1850 might have forever quieted the slavery discussion. But Senator Augustus Dodge of Iowa had already introduced a bill for the organization of the Territory of Nebraska, and this measure was destined to keep alive and make more bitter the struggle which Pierce had hoped and determined should cease. A month later the bad feeling was intensified by a special report so amending the bill that no doubt was left that the administration looked upon the Missouri compromise as having been superseded by the acts of 1850 relative to the terms of admission of California into the Union.
the Union. A general sensation followed. The conditions were suddenly changed, and many who had championed the measure now became its most implacable foes. The proposition was so audacious, so utterly repugnant to the convictions of the almost unanimous North, that it soon widened the already dangerous breach between that section and the South. But the bill was passed, or rather a House Bill identical with the Senate measure, and the indignation of the North which followed was only equaled by the exultation of the South. The popular feeling is almost incredible to one not an actual cotemporary. "Conventions, town-meetings, state legislatures, denounced the repeal of the Missouri compromise.” The roster of the congressmen who voted on the prevailing side was printed in Northern papers surrounded by black mourning borders. Douglas had hoped that the Kansas-Nebraska bill might win him enough popularity to elevate him to the Presidency; now he had