History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs

Constitutional Conventions of Kansas - Page 2
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Topeka, Kansas, 1856 But, shortly thereafter Governor Charles Robinson and other Free-State leaders were indicted and arrested on the charge of treason. When the Free-State Legislature convened again on July 4, 1856, at Topeka, it was dispersed, at the mouth of loaded cannon, by Colonel Edwin Sumner under instructions of the President.


In the meantime, on June 15th, the First National Republican Convention declared "that Kansas should be immediately admitted as a state of the Union, with her present free Constitution." On June 25th Galusha A. Grow, of Pennsylvania, introduced a bill in Congress to admit Kansas under the Topeka Constitution. This bill passed the House on July 3, 1856, by a vote of 99 to 97 but when it reached the Senate, they suggested that that the people of Kansas should frame a new constitution. To this the House refused to accede.


The Topeka Constitution epitomized the vital issue of the day. For nearly three years of bloody conflict it was the rallying banner around which the Free-State men gathered. Under its folds they stood in the Wakarusa War, the Sacking of Lawrence, the Battles of Hickory Point, Franklin, and Black Jack. The constitution was called by James H. Lane, "the old blood stained banner" and so it was. It became the chief issue in the National Campaign of 1856 and as the story became known across the nation, it induced a wave of immigration to Kansas in the spring of 1857.


The Free-State Legislature met again in January, 1857, and memorialized Congress to admit Kansas under it. Again, in June, the Legislature petitioned Congress to the same effect but without result. The Topeka movement was soon abandoned and the Topeka Constitution became only "a scrap of paper."

Lecompton Constitutional Convention

The majority of Free-State men was becoming larger every day and their heroic struggle for a free government was becoming better known throughout the nation. Soon, the pro-slavery advocates in Washington concluded to force a pro-slavery constitution in Kansas at once. Under its direction, on February 19, 1857, the Bogus Legislature called a Constitutional Convention at Lecompton.


The bill made no provision for submitting the constitution, when drafted, to a vote of the people. Governor Geary vetoed the bill for that reason, but it was passed over his veto. The election of delegates was held on June 15, 1857, with the Free-State men refusing to participate. The convention met September 7, 1857, and concluded its proceedings November 7, 1857.


When the convention assembled it was organized with the John Calhoun as President and Thomas C. Hughes as Secretary. Hughes was subsequently succeeded by Charles J. McIlvaine. Over the next several weeks, the constitution was written and adopted by the president, secretary, and 44 delegates.


Forcing slavery down the throat of a Free-soiler,The constitution was a lengthy document but its primary provisions of interest related to slavery, providing: 


"The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction, and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and its increase is the same and as inviolate as the right of the owner of any property whatever. The legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves without the consent of the owners."


"Free negroes shall not be permitted to live in this State under any circumstances."


The schedule provided that after 1864 the constitution might be amended by a special convention "but no alteration shall be made to affect the rights of property in the ownership of slaves."


The constitution was a lengthy document but its primary provisions of interest related to slavery, providing: 




"The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanction, and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and its increase is the same and as inviolate as the right of the owner of any property whatever. The legislature shall have no power to pass laws for the emancipation of slaves without the consent of the owners."


If this constitution could be once fastened legally upon the people it was believed they would be permanently tied to slavery. It was the original plan to have the constitution adopted by the convention which drafted it and to forward it immediately to Congress, who would then admit Kansas as a state under it. But Governor John Geary's veto had exposed the conspiracy so that the convention conceived a thin subterfuge for the sake of appearances. The schedule provided for a popular vote under the supervision of three commissioners in each county to be appointed by the president of the convention. On the ballots were endorsed "Constitution with slavery" and "Constitution with no slavery," so that everyone who voted must vote for the constitution, his only choice being with or without slavery. It was further provided that if a majority voted for the constitution with no slavery then "slavery shall no longer exist in the state of Kansas, except that the right of property in slaves now in this Territory shall in no manner be interfered with."


Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kansas.

Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kansas.


Freed African-americansOn December 21, 1856 an election was held under this call, the Free-State men not voting, with the result of 6,266 for the constitution with slavery and 569 for the constitution with no slavery. In the meantime, Governor John Geary had resigned on March 4, 1857. Governor Robert Walker, who was appointed by President James Buchanan on March 10, 1857, and Secretary Stanton united in asking the Free-State men to participate in the election and guaranteed them a fair vote and honest counts. These fair promises and the great influx of northerners, induced the Free-State men to change their whole policy. They went into the election of the territorial legislators on October 5, 1857, and elected a substantial majority of both Houses.


At three of the precincts, Oxford, Shawnee Mission and Kickapoo, nearly 3,000 illegal votes were cast and Governor Robert Walker, true to his promise, set aside returns from the Oxford and McGhee precincts.

The action of Buchanan and his advisors in trying to force the Lecompton Constitution alienated the northern democrats, split the party at the election of 1860, and resulted in Abraham Lincoln being elected as president.


Leavenworth Convention

Leavenworth, Kansas in 1860.The third Constitutional Convention was the Leavenworth Convention which was authorized by the act of February 10, 1858. On the 13th, before the governor had been given the three full days allowed by law for the consideration of the measure, the legislature adjourned. Governor James Denver therefore claimed that the act was not entitled to recognition as a law of the territory. However, under its provisions, an election for delegates was held on March 9th and on the 23rd,  the convention assembled at Minneola, Kansas. The convention was organized with James H. Lane as president and Samuel F. Tappan as clerk.


The following day the convention voted to adjourn to meet at Leavenworth on March  25th. After appointing the committees, Lane resigned the presidency of the convention and Martin F. Conway was elected as his successor.


The convention worked diligently and reached a final adjournment on April 3, when the constitution was adopted, and signed by the officers and delegates including:

Franklin G. Adams, Henry J. Adams, J. D. Allen, A. B. Anderson, W. F. M. Arny, M. L. Ashmore, R. Austin, H. S. Baker, W. V. Barr, W. D. Beeler, F. N. Blake, W. E. Bowker, Charles H. Branscomb, J. L. Brown, T. H. Butler, W. H. Coffin, G. A. Colton, Uriah Cook, A. Danford, James Davis, J. C. Douglass, J. M. Elliott, J. S. Emery, H. J. Espy, Robert Ewing, Thomas Ewing, Jr .., Lucian Fish, R. M. Fish, James Fletcher, Charles A. Foster, G. M. Fuller, J. K. Goodin, I. T. Goodnow, W. R. Griffith, J. F. Hampson, Henry Harvey, J. P. Hatterscheidt, G. W. Higinbotham, G. D. Humphrey, H. P. Johnson, R. A. Kinzie, Alburtus Knapp, James H. Lane, Alfred Larzelere, Edward Lynde, William McCullough, A. W. McCauslin, Caleb May, Charles Mayo, R. B. Mitchell, James Monroe, W. R. Monteith, B. B. Newton, C. S. Perham, D. Pickering, J. H. Pillsbury, Preston B. Plumb, J. G. Rees, John Ritchie, W. Y. Roberts, Hugh Robertson, Orville Root, W. W. Ross, E. S. Scudder, J. M. Shepherd, A. H. Shurtleff, Amasa Soule, William Spriggs, Samuel Stewart, J. R. Swallow, James Telfer, Timothy D. Thacher, J. C. Todd, R. U. Torry, Thomas Trower, G. W. K. Twombly. J. M. Walden, W. L. Webster, A. W. Williams, A. L. Winans, James M. Winchell, Samuel N. Wood, C. A. Woodworth.

If the Lecompton Constitutional Convention had been under the control of the pro-slavery element, the Leavenworth Convention was no less under the control of the Free-State men. Of the delegates, M. F. Conway, J. S. Emery, J. K. Goodin, W. R. Griffith, James H. Lane, Caleb May, Charles A. Foster, W. Y. Roberts and J. H. Pillsbury had served as members of the Topeka Convention. Several of the members of the Leavenworth Convention afterward became prominent in the affairs of Kansas and the nation. Thomas Ewing, Jr., was the first Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court; William Y. Roberts, Edward Lynde and H. P. Johnson commanded Kansas regiments in the Civil War; James H. Lane was one of the first United States Senators from Kansas; Preston B. Plumb served in the United States Senate at a later date; William R. Griffith was the first Superintendent of Public Instruction; Robert B. Mitchell rose to the rank of Brigadier-General in the Civil War and was subsequently governor of New Mexico; Addison Danford was Attorney-General of the state; Franklin G. Adams was for years, the secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, and a number of others served in the legislature.

Finally Free-Staters were in control of the legislature and passed a radical anti-slavery constitution granting voting rights to African Americans. The constitution was ratified by Kansas voters but not approved by the U.S. Congress, which was at the time controlled by pro-slavery leaders controlled the Congress, where they ensured its failure at the national level.



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