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Wyandotte Constitution

the constitution under which Kansas was admitted as a state

Wyandotte Constitution

On February 9, 1859 Territorial Governor Samuel Medary approved the calling of the territory's fourth constitutional convention. Delegates were elected on June 17th, and on July 5th the fifty-two delegates (35 Republicans, 17 Democrats) assembled at Wyandotte (now part of Kansas City). Unlike the previous three conventions, this one was not divided between pro- and anti-slavery forces, as the vast majority of Kansans were by now free-staters and few of the delegates had been in the territory during the "Bleeding Kansas" years. Although the issue of slavery had for all intents and purposes been settled, the convention still had some major issues to consider -- the right of women and minorities to vote, women's rights, the northern and western borders, and temperance, among others. The Wyandotte Convention dealt with the issue of temperance fairly quickly, voting not to forbid the manufacture or sale of alcohol, fearing that a prohibition on alcohol would keep potential settlers away. The other issues, however, required much more debate.

As of 1859, no U.S. state had given women or minorities (primarily Blacks and Indians) the right to vote, but some Wyandotte delegates wanted Kansas to set a precedent. Although the woman suffrage movement did have a notable presence at the convention, the final document only gave the vote to white males. Thanks to the efforts of Clarina Nichols and other leaders of the suffrage movement, however, women were given the right to vote in school district elections; blacks and other minorities were excluded from even these elections, however. Nichols was also largely responsible for women being given the constitutional right to own property and equal rights in divorces and child custody disputes.

The border issues proved a little harder to resolve. At the time of the convention, Kansas extended from the western border of Missouri to the Continental Divide and incorporated much of present-day Colorado; the southern border with what was then Indian Territory had already been set by the U.S. Congress, but the border between Kansas and Nebraska had not yet been set. While keeping the western border at the Continental Divide would have kept the Pike's Peak gold fields in Kansas, the Republican delegates feared that the settlers of that region would be Democrats and, therefore, voted to move the border east and exclude the gold fields. Since Republicans outnumbered Democrats 2-to-1, they got their way and the western boundary was set at 102 degrees west longitude. As for the northern border, Nebraska offered to set it at the Platte River, since it provided a natural boundary between the two states. Once again, however, the Republicans feared potential Democratic control, and the northern boundary was set at 40 degrees North.

The final draft of the Wyandotte Constitution was adopted by the convention on July 29, 1859, but all of the Democratic delegates refused to sign it. The subsequent ratification campaign was often bitter and heavily partisan, but voters approved the constitution on October 4, 1859, by a vote of 10,421 to 5,330.

The bill to admit Kansas to the Union was submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives on February 12, 1860, and was passed by a vote of 134 to 73 on April 11th. William Seward introduced a similar bill in the Senate on February 21, 1860, but the Senate voted to carry the bill over to the next session. Southern states began seceding from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln as President, and the last six Senators gave up their seats on January 21, 1861; the Senate voted to admit Kansas that same day, by a vote of 36 to 16. President James Buchanan signed the bill into law on January 29th.

Samuel Medary
Clarina Nichols
William Seward
Abraham Lincoln
President James Buchanan

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> The West >> Kansas >> History

This page was last updated on September 24, 2017.