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Butler’s Compensation Claim

David Butler, Nebraska’s first state governor, was one of the most controversial figures ever to hold the office. Faced with the problems of transition from a territorial to a state government, he got into difficulties with the Legislature at the start of his third term in the spring of 1871. Eleven articles of impeachment were preferred against him, the first being that he had appropriated to his own use some $16,000 of the school fund given the state by the federal government. He was convicted on that charge (although acquitted on the other ten), and removed from office. Lieutenant Governor William H. James filled out the remainder of the term. In 1877 the Legislature reviewed its action and adopted a resolution expunging the impeachment proceedings from the record.

After ten years of retirement from public life, Butler was elected to the State Senate as an Independent in 1882. He ran unsuccessfully for governor on the Union Labor ticket in 1888. In the spring of 1889, Butler urged the state of Nebraska to pay him $50,000 as compensation for claims arising out of his earlier removal from office. Edward Rosewater, then editor of the Omaha Bee, had played a role in the impeachment proceedings in 1871 and opposed Butler’s claim. Rosewater, on March 12, 1889, said in the Bee: “I hate to be in any way mixed up in this matter for the reason that eighteen years ago, I was one of the leaders in the legislature that impeached him and introduced the first resolution requesting Governor Butler to explain what had become of the school money which he had collected from the government.”

Nevertheless, Rosewater took a stand against compensation for Butler, denying the validity of the 1877 expunging of the impeachment proceedings: “The bill which Butler has caused to be introduced [in the Legislature in 1889 to pay him compensation] is a fraud on its face for it asserts that the later [1877] legislature after a thorough rehearing and investigation declared him guiltless. There has never been any reinvestigation of the charges. Butler went before the legislature and appealed to its sympathy on account of his family. He brought his wife and family to Lincoln and begged for their sake that a resolution should be adopted that would take the stain from his name and indirectly from theirs, and as a matter of sympathy purely, and not for any other purpose, the legislature adopted the resolution; but there never has been any expunging done, there could not be, and the records of the state are as they have been.”

The Bee reported on March 13 that Rosewater’s article was “read and freely commented on by the members [of the Legislature]. A strong sentiment against paying a dollar of this claim has set in.” Butler did not succeed in collecting the $50,000 that he believed the state owed him. He died at his home in Pawnee City several years later, on May 25, 1891. 

From Portrait and Biographical Album of Otoe and Cass Counties, Nebraska (1889).

 

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