LEGENDS OF KANSAS

 

History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs

 
Constitutional Conventions of Kansas
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Kansas was organized as a territory of the United States by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was approved by President Franklin Pierce on May 30, 1854. Scarcely had the echoes of the Congressional debates on that measure died away, when an agitation was started for the admission of Kansas as a state. The primary issue at hand was whether Kansas should become a free or a slave state, and in the first efforts for statehood the Free-State men were the aggressors.

 

The "Bogus Legislature," elected on March 30, 1855 might have called a Constitutional Convention at its first session in July, 1855, but, it did not do so. One house passed a resolution to that effect, but the other, fearing the result of the election, declined to concur. From the pro-slavery standpoint, this was a fatal mistake.

 

Never again was the pro-slavery  interest so strongly entrenched in the territory. The governor, the courts, the army and the President and his cabinet and Congress all were with them, and the Legislature might have called a convention with the assurance that the election could be carried by the same methods by which it was elected and that those methods would be approved at Washington. In all probability if this had been done, Kansas would have been admitted in 1855 with a pro-slavery constitution.

 

 

 

United States Map, 1856

1856 map shows slave states in gray, free states in red, US territories in

 green, and undecided Kansas in center  with no color.

 

 

 

Instead, the pro-slavery men chose to make the fight against admission at this time because so long as the Federal Government was behind them they could control the Territorial Government and they believed that by implementing pro-slavery laws, they could drive the Free-State men out of the territory. This was especially true if they could make the charge of treason stick against the promoters of the Topeka Movement.

The Free-State men; however, were determined and though the so-called "Bogus Legislature" was "officially" in charge, a meeting of Free-State men was held at Topeka on September 19, 1855 that called for an election of delegates to a Constitutional Convention to be held at Topeka on October 23, 1855.

An election was held on October 19, 1855, in which a full list of forty-seven delegates was determined. The pro-slavery people did not participate in the election, the breach already being too wide between the parties. They also contended that a Constitutional Convention could only be called by the the Legislature (Bogus Legislature) and ridiculed the whole movement. The Free-State men, on the other hand, contended that a constitution might be drafted by any convention, however informally called; that the vital question was its ultimate adoption or rejection by the legal voters at an election held for that purpose. To support their contention they had the precedent of California, whose constitution was drafted by a convention held under a popular call.

Topeka Convention

The Constitutional Convention met at Topeka on October 23, 1855. It consisted of 47 delegates, including eighteen Democrats, six Whigs, four republicans, two Free-Soilers, one Free-State man and one Independent. The group elected James H. Lane as president and Samuel C. Smith as secretary.

 

Several of the delegates elected failed to attend the sessions of the convention. The following list of the men who framed the constitution was compiled from the manuscript records of the convention.

 

James M. Arthur, Thomas Bell, Frederick Brown, Orville C. Brown, Harrison Burson, Martin F. Conway, Rufus H. Crosby, A. Curtiss, George A. Cutler, Mark W. Delahay, David Dodge, J. S. Emery, D. M. Field, Matt France, J. K. Goodin, William Graham, William R. Griffith, W. H. Hicks, G. S. Hillyer, Cyrus K. Holliday, Morris Hunt, Amory Hunting, Robert Klotz, Richard Knight, John Landis, James H. Lane, S. N. Latta, Sanford McDaniel, Caleb May, Samuel Mewhinney, J. H. Nesbitt, M. J. Parrott, James Phenis, Josiah H. Pillsbury, Robert Riddle, W. Y. Roberts, Charles L. Robinson, James L. Sayle, Phillip C. Schuyler, George W. Smith, H. Smith, C. W. Stewart, J. C. Thompson, J. M. Turner, J. M. Tuton, N. Vandever, and J. A. Wakefield.

 

The Topeka Constitutional Convention, 1855

The Topeka Constitutional Convention, Frank Leslie's

 Illustrated Newspaper, 1855.

 

The convention completed its labors on November 11, 1855 and provisions were made for the submission of the constitution to the people on December 15th. In the event the constitution was ratified by popular vote at that time, the chairman of the Free-State Executive Committee of the territory was directed to issue a proclamation ordering an election for state officers and members of the legislature on the third Monday of January, 1856, and the legislature then chosen should meet on March 4, 1856. 

 

In the December 15th election, Charles L. Robinson was elected governor and the first Free-State Legislature met at Topeka on March 4, 1856. It elected ex-Governor Andrew Reeder (who had been appointed by President Franklin Pierce in June, 1854) and James H. Lane as United States Senators.

 

The adoption of the constitution and the election of these state officers caused no small commotion in the political circles at Washington. The Bogus Legislature was still in existence and recognized by the Government at Washington as the only legislative authority in Kansas and the Territorial Governor appointed by the President was in full charge of the executive branch with the United States Army at his command and the Federal judiciary submissive to his desires. The whole Topeka movement was regarded as treasonable. President Franklin Pierce in a special message to Congress on January 24, 1856, said:  

 

"No principle of public law, no practice or precedent under the Constitution of the United States, no rule of reason, right, or common sense, confers any such power as that now claimed by a mere party in the territory. In fact, what has been done is of a revolutionary character. It will become treasonable insurrection if it reaches the length of organized resistance by force to the fundamental or any other federal law. "

The Free-State Legislature adjourned on March 15th, planning to meet again on July 4, 1856. A U.S. Congressional Committee, consisting of John Sherman, William A. Howard and Mordecai Oliver, was appointed to inquire into the validity of the Bogus Legislature and the election of John Whitfield as governor. It arrived in Kansas on April 18, 1856, and the new "Free-State" officers sought the advice of Sherman and Howard, the republican members. After a discussion of the whole situation, the Free-State men decided to stand by the Topeka Government against the Federal Authority even by force if necessary.

His action forced him to leave the state on November 16th, and to hand in his resignation a month later. Secretary Stanton, acting governor, called a special session of the new Legislature and that body submitted the Lecompton Constitution to a vote of the people on January 4, 1858, with the following result. (Free-State men participating - pro-slavery men not participating.)

 

      Against the constitution ............ 10,226
      For the constitution with slavery ...... 138
      For the constitution without slavery ...  23
 

In the meantime, on December 24, 1857, a Democratic Convention held at Leavenworth utterly repudiated the Lecompton Constitution and petitioned Congress to reject it. John H. Stringfellow, ex-speaker of the Bogus Legislature, protested against the admission of Kansas under it on January 7, 1858 and said "to do so will break down the Democratic Party at the North and seriously endanger the peace and interests of Missouri and Kansas if not of the whole Union. The slavery question in Kansas is settled against the South by immigration." Governor Denver sent Rush Elmore to Washington with a confidential message to Buchanan not to present the Lecompton Constitution to Congress at all.

Others were trying to resurrect the Topeka Constitution, which President Buchanan denounced. On April 23, 1858, a compromise bill was introduced in Congress, passed both Houses on April 30th, and was signed by Buchanan on May 4, 1858. Under it the Lecompton Constitution was again submitted to a vote with the disastrous results of 1,788 for the proposition and 11,300 against it, a majority of 9,512. This was the last stand of the pro-slavery party in Kansas. Every election held in Kansas thereafter was carried either by the Free-State party or the republicans until 1882 when Glick, a democrat, was elected governor.

 

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