Constitutional Conventions of Kansas

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.

Kansas Territory

Kansas Territory

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 the 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.

Constitutional Convention, Topeka, Frank Leslies Illistrated Newspaper, 1855

Constitutional Convention, Topeka, Frank Leslies Illustrated Newspaper, 1855

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.

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. This meeting called for an election of delegates to a Constitutional Convention to be held at Topeka on October 23, 1855.

Voting in Kansas

Voting in Kansas

An election was held on October 19, 1855, in which a full list of 47 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 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.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of Kansas, updated November 2020.

Also See:

Bleeding Kansas

Bogus Legislature

Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854

Territorial Kansas & the Struggle for Statehood

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