Kansas Day delayed by voter fraud
By Susan Thacker 530News –
Sunday, Jan. 29, was Kansas Day, and this week, children in schools throughout Great Bend have been coloring sunflowers, singing “Home on the Range” and learning a bit of Kansas history. But Kansas Day would be celebrated in a different day if not for voter fraud in the 1850s.
My sixth grade teacher loved to teach Kansas history. I remember that we all learned to draw the State Seal, and we also drew a state map with major rivers: The Missouri River, Kansas River, Republican River, Neosho River, Smoky Hill River and Arkansas River.
Topeka is the capital, but my hometown, Lecompton, 28 miles east of Topeka, was the territorial capital and the city where the Lecompton Constitution was adopted in 1857. That document was reported on in newspapers throughout the country and overseas, because the world wanted to know if Kansas would be a pro-slavery state or a free state.
In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act which allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery. Before that, the Mason-Dixon Line surveyed in the 1760s divided the country into North and South, freedom and slavery. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 carried that further by prohibiting slavery north and west of latitude 36 degrees 30 minutes, the southwest corner of Missouri.
But the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise, setting the stage for free staters and “advocates of state’s rights” — that is, slave holders — to choose their destiny.
Lecompton was on the wrong side of history, and the pro-slavery men who adopted constitution known by that name were accused of voter fraud. Stephen A. Douglas, assisted by the work of noted Kansas Free State politician and lawyer Thomas Ewing Jr., led a legislative investigation to uncover the fraudulent ballots.
(Closer to home and in the present century, Larned attorney Ron Smith wrote a 2008 biography, “Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General.”)
The fourth and final constitutional convention for our state was in 1859, where the Wyandotte Constitution was adopted. It made Kansas a free state, set the modern rectangular boundary of our state and, according to the Kansas Historical Society, made some concessions to women’s rights. Although the right to vote was only granted to “Every white male person, of 21 years and upward,” women were allowed to participate in school district elections and to own property. The constitution stated that the Legislature was to “provide for their equal rights in the possession of their children.”
Kansas was admitted to the Union as the 34th state, a free state, on Jan. 29, 1861, and free-state leaders made Topeka the capital. The Civil War began on April 12, 1981.
Susan Thacker is news editor of the Great Bend Tribune. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.