Topeka Constitution

Last updated

The Topeka Constitutional Convention met from October 23 to Nov 11, 1855 in Topeka, Kansas Territory, in a building afterwards called Constitution Hall. It drafted the Topeka Constitution, which banned slavery in Kansas. The convention was organized by Free-Staters to counter the pro-slavery Territorial legislature elected March 5, 1855, in polling tainted significantly by electoral fraud and the intimidation of Free State voters.


The Topeka Constitution marked the first effort to form a Kansas governmental structure and define its basis in law. Free-State delegates passed the constitution on December 15, 1855. The Territory-wide election for officers and approval of the constitution on January 15, 1856 was boycotted by most pro-slavery men. Among those elected was Charles L. Robinson as governor. The constitution was forwarded to Washington with a plea to the U.S. Congress for admitting Kansas as a free state, under this constitution. President Pierce condemned the document.[ why? ] It was presented in the Senate by Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan and in the House by Representative Daniel of Indiana. It passed the House by two votes on July 2, but was held in committee by the Senate. On July 8, Senator Stephen A. Douglas took up the Topeka Constitution in a bill counter to Senator Cass, which threw the issue back upon the people of Kansas in accordance with the provisions of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

Following the model of Oregon, citizens of the 2nd Territorial District petitioned the 1855 Free State convention to incorporate a "black exclusion" clause in the Topeka Constitution. This would have prevented not only the enslaved, but also free African Americans from residing in the state. It was rejected by convention president James H. Lane and others, who allowed the issue to be voted on separately in the January 1856 referendum; the results favored exclusion.

With renewed determination, the Free State legislature reconvened in Constitution Hall on January 5, 1858. Governor Robinson urged keeping the State government intact, and laws were passed. The Topeka Constitution was again sent to the Congress, but no action was taken. The South controlled Congress, and it was not going to admit Kansas as a free state if it could help it. It was not so much that slavery was benign, as most of them believed, it was that a new free state would change the balance of power in the polarized Senate.

The Topeka Constitution was followed by the equally unsuccessful, pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution of 1857 and the Free-State Leavenworth Constitution of 1858. Finally the Wyandotte Constitution (1859) led to Kansas being admitted into the Union as a free state in 1861, five years after it first applied, the Southern legislators blocking it having departed en masse. The Civil War began four months later.

The conflict by separate Free State and Territorial legislatures, each seeking control of Kansas' destiny, was carried out with guns and the ballot box. These conditions and surrounding national implications inspired the term Bleeding Kansas. Following the Free State elections, in a lengthy address on January 24, 1856, President Franklin Pierce proclaimed the Topeka government to be revolutionary and ordered the arrest of its leaders: [1] Despite this proclamation, the Topeka Legislature convened on March 4, 1856 and again on the Fourth of July to ask the Congress for admittance of the state. The legislature was dispersed on July 4, 1856 by three squadrons of federal troops under the command of Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner. Sumner later called this the most painful duty of his career. Never before had a body of U.S. citizens, meeting to exercise their right to vote, been broken up by federal forces.

See also

Related Research Articles

David Rice Atchison

David Rice Atchison was a mid-19th century Democratic United States Senator from Missouri. He served as President pro tempore of the United States Senate for six years. Atchison served as a major general in the Missouri State Militia in 1838 during Missouri's Mormon War and as a Confederate brigadier general during the American Civil War under Major General Sterling Price in the Missouri Home Guard. He is best known for the claim that for 24 hours—Sunday, March 4, 1849 through noon on Monday—he may have been Acting President of the United States. This belief, however, is dismissed by nearly all historians, scholars, and biographers.

Kansas–Nebraska Act 1854 United States legislation promoted by Stephen A. Douglas which repealed the Missouri Compromise line and disrupted the Compromise of 1850

The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 was a territorial organic act that created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It was drafted by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas, passed by the 33rd United States Congress, and signed into law by President Franklin Pierce. Douglas introduced the bill with the goal of opening up new lands to development and facilitating construction of a transcontinental railroad, but the Kansas–Nebraska Act is most notable for effectively repealing the Missouri Compromise, stoking national tensions over slavery, and contributing to a series of armed conflicts known as "Bleeding Kansas".

1856 United States presidential election

The 1856 United States presidential election was the 18th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 4, 1856. In a three-way election, Democrat James Buchanan defeated Republican nominee John C. Frémont, and Know Nothing nominee Millard Fillmore.

Free Soil Party Precursor to the US Republican Party

The Free Soil Party was a short-lived coalition political party in the United States active from 1848 to 1854, when it merged into the Republican Party. The party was largely focused on the single issue of opposing the expansion of slavery into the western territories of the United States.

Bleeding Kansas Violent political confrontations in the United States centered around slavery

Bleeding Kansas, Bloody Kansas, or the Border War was a series of violent civil confrontations in Kansas Territory, United States, between 1854 and 1859 which emerged from a political and ideological debate over the legality of slavery in the proposed state of Kansas. The conflict was characterized by years of electoral fraud, raids, assaults, and murders carried out in Kansas and neighboring Missouri by pro-slavery "Border Ruffians" and anti-slavery "Free-Staters". It was a one-state civil war, and has been called a Tragic Prelude, an overture, to the horrible American Civil War which immediately followed it. About 200 people were killed.

Kansas Territory Territory of the United States between 1854 and 1861

The Territory of Kansas was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from May 30, 1854, until January 29, 1861, when the eastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the free state of Kansas.

Lecompton Constitution

The Lecompton Constitution (1857) was the second of four proposed constitutions for the state of Kansas. It never went into effect.

The Wyandotte Constitution is the constitution of the U.S. state of Kansas.

34th United States Congress

The 34th United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D.C., from March 4, 1855, to March 4, 1857, during the last two years of Franklin Pierce's presidency. The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the Seventh Census of the United States in 1850. The Whig Party, one of the two major parties of the era, had largely collapsed, although many former Whigs ran as Republicans or as members of the "Opposition Party." The Senate had a Democratic majority, and the House was controlled by a coalition of Representatives led by Nathaniel P. Banks, a member of the American Party.

Martin Franklin Conway was a U.S. congressman, consul to France, abolitionist, and advocate of the Free-State movement in Kansas.

The Leavenworth Constitution was one of four Kansas state constitutions proposed during the era of Bleeding Kansas. The Leavenworth Constitution was drafted by a convention of Free-Staters, and was the most progressive of the four proposed constitutions. The conspicuous aspects of this Constitution were a Bill of Rights that referred to "all men", the banning of slavery from the state, and a basic framework for the rights of women.

Kansas Legislature

The Kansas Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Kansas. It is a bicameral assembly, composed of the lower Kansas House of Representatives, with 125 state representatives, and the upper Kansas Senate, with 40 state senators. Representatives are elected for two-year terms, senators for four-year terms.

Presidency of Franklin Pierce

The presidency of Franklin Pierce began on March 4, 1853, when Franklin Pierce was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1857. Pierce, a Democrat from New Hampshire, took office as the 14th United States president after routing Whig Party nominee Winfield Scott in the 1852 presidential election. Seen by fellow Democrats as pleasant and accommodating to all the party's factions, Pierce, then a little-known politician, won the presidential nomination on the 49th ballot of the 1852 Democratic National Convention.

Presidency of James Buchanan

The presidency of James Buchanan began on March 4, 1857, when James Buchanan was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1861. Buchanan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, took office as the 15th United States president after defeating former President Millard Fillmore of the American Party, and John C. Frémont of the Republican Party in the 1856 presidential election.

Constitution Hall (Lecompton, Kansas) United States historic place

Lecompton Constitution Hall, also known as Constitution Hall, is a building in Lecompton, Kansas, that played an important role in the long-running Bleeding Kansas crisis over slavery in Kansas. It is operated by the Kansas Historical Society as Constitution Hall State Historic Site.

1856 United States presidential election in California

The 1856 United States presidential election in California took place on November 4, 1856 as part of the 1856 United States presidential election. Voters chose four representatives, or electors to the Electoral College, who voted for president and vice president.

Stephen A. Douglas American politician/Senator

Stephen Arnold Douglas was an American politician and lawyer from Illinois. He was one of two Democratic Party nominees for president in the 1860 presidential election, which was won by Republican Abraham Lincoln. Douglas had previously defeated Lincoln in the 1858 United States Senate election in Illinois, known for the Lincoln–Douglas debates. During the 1850s, Douglas was one of the foremost advocates of popular sovereignty, which held that each territory should be allowed to determine whether to permit slavery within its borders. Douglas was nicknamed the "Little Giant" because he was short in physical stature but a forceful and dominant figure in politics.

1856 in the United States included some significant events that pushed the nation closer towards civil war.

Constitution Hall (Topeka, Kansas)

Constitution Hall, in Topeka, Kansas, is one of the most famous surviving buildings of early Kansas. It is a two-story building of native limestone with a flat roof, constructed by brothers Loring and John Farnsworth between April and October 1855; at the time, it was at the center of the city. On October 23, 1855, free-state settlers, opposed to allowing slavery in Kansas Territory, met in what became the Topeka Constitutional Convention, which opened October 23, 1855.

Under U.S. law, a state requires a constitution. A main order of business for Territorial Kansas was the creation of a constitution, under which Kansas would become a state. Whether it would be a slave state or a free state, allowing or prohibiting slavery, was a national issue. Because of tensions over slavery, four quite different constitutions of Kansas were drafted.


  1. James, Richardson. "A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents". Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2006-12-07.