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Kansas Territorial Legislature

State: Kansas Territory

The nature and location of the Kansas Territorial Legislature was a subject of controversy almost immediately after the Kansas-Nebraska Act created the territory in 1854. Following the act, pro-slavery and anti-slavery advocates immediately fell into conflict over the state’s future slaveholding status and effectively formed two entirely separate governments. Kansas’ first territorial election in 1855 resulted in an overwhelming victory for pro-slavery candidates, mainly due to thousands of Missourians crossing the border to vote. The new pro-slavery legislature assembled at the Shawnee Manual Labor School very close to the Missouri border and began establishing a pro-slavery body of law for the territory. Free-soilers responded by electing their own legislature later that same year, which convened in Topeka. The Buchanan administration never recognized the Topeka legislature. Nevertheless, that body eventually drafted the free-soil “Topeka Constitution.” The official legislature responded in 1857 by meeting in Lecompton and drafted the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution. New state elections were also held that year, giving the legislature a new free-soil majority. That new body met in Leavenworth, where it drafted the “Leavenworth Constitution,” which not only made Kansas a free state but also recognized the rights of women, Native Americans, and African-Americans. It passed a territorial vote in 1858 but the U.S. Congress rejected it, as Buchanan and the Democrats still favored the Lecompton Constitution. In 1858, the legislature met at Wyandotte and drafted yet another constitution, which was still anti-slavery but removed some of the Leavenworth Constitution’s more progressive elements. The constitution was ratified in 1861 and the legislature became permanently located in Topeka.

Nicole Etcheson, Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004); David M. Potter and Don E. Fehrenbacher, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 199-355.