Twenty-three years after the session of the Convention (July 29, 1882), a
re-union of its members and officers was held in Wyandotte. On the occasion,
Hon. John A. Martin delivered the address which follows. It is, doubtless, the
most interesting, reliable and able account of the proceedings of that body
which has been, or ever will be, written, and as such is given entire, as a
history of the Convention:
MR. PRESIDENT: It is often charged that participants in assemblages of this
character are apt to exaggerate the importance of the occasion they
commemorate, and, after the manner of one of our poets, sing in chorus, "I
celebrate myself." Perhaps I can speak of the Wyandotte Convention and its
work without being accused of this self-congratulation; for I was more of an
observer of its proceedings than a participant in them. I recorded what was
done, but I had no part or lot in the doing. If its work had been crude or
weak, I could not fairly have been held responsible for the failure. As it was
strong, efficient and enduring, I can felicitate you, the survivors of those
who wrought this great service for Kansas, without a suspicion of self-praise.
Four conventions framed Constitutions for this State. The first assembled at
Topeka, on the 23d of October, 1855, and adjourned on the 11th of November,
after a session of twenty days. It was composed of forty-seven members, of
whom thirty-one signed the Constitution. On the 15th of December this
instrument was submitted to the people for ratification or rejection. Only
1,777 ballots were cast, all but 46 being favorable. One of its sections, a
provision excluding negroes and mulattoes from the State, was submitted as an
independent proposition, and adopted by an affirmative vote of 1,287 to 433
The second Convention was that held at Lecompton which met on the 7th of June
1857, and, after a session of four days, adjourned until the 19th of October,
a final adjournment being reached on the 3d of November. It was composed of
sixty-four members forty-five of whom signed the organic law it framed, and
its session continued twenty days. No direct vote on this constitution was
provided for. The schedule ordered two forms of ballot, one, the "Constitution
with Slavery," the other, "Constitution with no Slavery." It was the old
turkey and buzzard choice. The Free-State men refused to vote at the election
held on the 21st of December, and only 6,885 ballots were cast, 6,226 being
for slavery and 569 against slavery. The Free-State men had, however, elected
a majority of the Territorial Legislature in October, and at a special session
of that body, held in December, a law was passed providing for a direct vote
on the Constitution. This election was held on the 14th of January, 1858,
resulting: Against the Constitution, 10,266; for, 164 -- the Pro-slavery men
not voting. A third vote on the Lecompton instrument was taken August 2, 1858,
Congress having ordered its re-submission under the terms of the English bill.
Again it was rejected, the ballots in its favor being only 1,785, and those
against it, 11,300.
The Leavenworth Convention met at Minneola, March 23, 1858, and at once
adjourned to Leavenworth, where it re-assembled March 25. It was composed of
ninety-five members, was in session only eleven days, and the Constitution it
framed was signed by eighty-three persons. This instrument was adopted at an
election held May 11, by a very small vote, the Pro-slavery men taking no part
in the contest. It was never a popular organic law, and many Free-State men
who supported it did so under protest. An earnest effort was made, by the
Republicans, to secure the admission of Kansas under the Topeka Constitution,
and by the Democrats, with a few exceptions, to bring the Territory in under
the Lecompton Constitution. But no serious or determined contest was waged, in
Congress, for admission under the Leavenworth Constitution, and in less than
eight months the movement in its behalf was formally abandoned.
Early in February, 1859, the Territorial Legislature passed an act, submitting
to the people the question of calling a Constitutional Convention. This vote
was taken March 28 and resulted: For, 5,306; against, 1,425. On the 10th of
May, 1839, the Republican party of Kansas was organized, at Osawatomie, and at
the election held on the 7th of June, for delegates to the Wyandotte
Convention, the Republican and Democratic parties confronted each other in
Kansas for the first time. The Democrats carried the counties of Leavenworth,
Doniphan, Jefferson and Jackson, and elected one of the two delegates from
Johnson. The Republicans were successful in all the other counties voting. The
total vote polled was 14,000. The Republican membership was thirty-five,
The Convention then chosen assembled on the 5th day of July, 1859. In its
composition it was an unusual, not to say remarkable, Kansas assemblage.
Apparently the chiefs of the contending parties had grown weary of
Constitution making, or regarded this fourth endeavor in that line as a
predestined failure for they were conspicuous by their absence. In the Topeka
Convention nearly every prominent man of the Free-State party had a seat. Gen.
Lane was President, and Charles Conway, Marcus J. Parrott, William Y. Roberts,
George W. Smith, Phillip C. Schuyler, C. K. Holliday, Mark W. Delahay, and
many other prominent Free-State leaders were members. In the Leavenworth
Convention there was a similar gathering of widely known Free-State men.
Conway was its President, and Lane, Roberts, Thomas Ewing, Jr., Henry J.
Adams, H. P. Johnson, S. N. Wood, T. Dwight Thacher, P. B. Plum, Joel K.
Goodin, A. Larzelere, W. F. M. Arny, Charles H. Branscomb, John Ritchie, and
many other influential Free-State chiefs or partisans, were among its members.
In the Wyandotte Convention all the noted Free-State leaders were
conspicuously absent. Its roll-call was made up of names generally new in
Kansas affairs, and largely unknown in either the Free-State or Pro-slavery
councils. Its President, James M. Winchell, and his colleagues, William
McCullough and John Ritchie, of Shawnee, had been members of the Leavenworth
Convention; Col. Caleb May, of Atchison, and W. R. Griffith, of Bourbon, had
been members of both the Topeka and Leavenworth Conventions; and James M.
Arthur, of Linn, had been a member of the Topeka Convention. But their
prominence was largely local. On the Democratic side, too, appeared men before
unnoted in the annals of the stirring and tremendous conflict that had for
years made the young Territory the cynosure of a continent's interest. None of
the Pro-slavery men who sat in the Lecompton Convention or the Pro-slavery
legislatures -- Calhoun, Stringfellow, Henderson, Elmore, Wilson, Carr and
others -- appeared in this body.
Perhaps the absence of these party leaders was a fortunate thing for the
convention and the incipient State. For in discriminating intelligence, in
considerate zeal for the welfare of the people, in catholic grasp of
principles, and in capacity for defining theories clearly and compactly, the
members of this body were not wanting. On the other hand there were fewer
jealousies and far less wrangling than would have been possible had the
envious and aspiring party leaders been present. I think it is certain that
the work was better done -- done with more sobriety, sincerity, prudence and
real ability than would have resulted had the recognized chiefs of the rival
parties been on the floor of the convention. The pioneers -- the John Baptists
-- of the Free-State cause were all at Topeka, and the constitution they
framed is disfigured by some blotches and much useless verbiage. The leaders
were all at Leavenworth, where they schemed for precedence, and spread traps
to catch one another, and quarreled over non-essentials and did everything but
make a popular constitution. Lecompton was the last expression of a beaten,
desperate and wrong-headed, but intellectually vigorous faction, and was
really, barring the method of its submission and its attempt to perpetuate
slavery, an admirable organic law.
The younger men of the Territory constituted the convention at Wyandotte. They
came upon the field fresh, enthusiastic, and with a place in the world of
thought and action to conquer. They recognized the fact that they must do
extremely well to secure popular favor, and they set about their task with
industry, intelligence and prudence. They were not martyrs or reformers, as
many of those at Topeka were; nor jealous politicians or factionists, as most
of those at Leavenworth were. They had no old battles to fight over again, no
personal feuds to distract them, no recollections of former defeats or
victories to reverse or maintain. They were their own prophets. They had no
experience in constitution making, and hence did not look backward. They were
not specialists. A few had hobbies but the vast majority had no bees buzzing
in their bonnets. A few were dogmatic, but the many were anxious to discuss
and willing to be convinced. A few were loquacious, but the majority were
thinkers and workers. Some were accomplished scholars, but the majority were
men of ordinary education, whose faculties had been sharpened and trained by
the hard experience of an active and earnest life. Many were vigorous, direct,
intelligent speakers, several were really eloquent; and a few may justly be
ranked with the most versatile and brilliant men Kansas has ever numbered
amongst her citizens.
Very few were old men. Only fifteen of the fifty-two members were over forty.
Over one-third were under thirty, and nearly two-thirds under thirty-three.
Very few, as I have said, had previously appeared as representatives of the
people in any Territorial assemblage, and this was especially true of the men
whose talents, industry and force soon approved them leaders. Samuel A.
Kingman had been in the Territory only about eighteen mouths and was unknown
outside of Brown County until he appeared at Wyandotte. Solon O. Thacher was a
young lawyer of Lawrence, never before prominent in public affairs. John J.
Ingalls had served, the previous winter, as Engrossing Clerk of the
Territorial Council. Samuel A. Stinson was a young attorney, recently from
Maine. William C. McDowell had never been heard outside of Leavenworth.
Benjamin F. Simpson was a boyish-looking lawyer from Miami County, and John T.
Harris had been practicing, for a year or two, before Justices' courts in
Johnson County. John P. Slough had been a member of the Ohio Legislature, but
was a new-comer in Kansas, and E. G. Ross was the publisher of a weekly
newspaper at Topeka.
One-half of the members had been in the Territory less than two years. Six
came in 1854, four in 1855, and twelve in 1856, while Mr. Forman, of Doniphan,
dated his residence from 1853; Mr. Palmer, of Pottawatomie, from 1854, and Mr.
Houston, of Riley, from 1853. Forty-one were from Northern States, seven the
South, and four were of foreign birth, England, Scotland, Ireland and Germany
each contributing one. It appears singular that only one of the Western
States, Indiana, was represented in the membership, that State furnished six
delegates. Twelve hailed from New England, Ohio contributed twelve,
Pennsylvania six, and New York four. Only eighteen belonged to the legal
profession -- an unusually small number of lawyers in such a body. Sixteen
wore farmers, eight merchants, three physicians, three manufacturers, one a
mechanic, one a printer, one a land agent, and one a surveyor. The oldest
member was Robert Graham, of Atchison, who was fifty-five; the youngest,
Benjamin F. Simpson, of Lykins County (now Miami), who was twenty-three.
It was a working body from the first hour of its session until the last. There
is a tradition that the Continental Congress which promulgated the Declaration
of Independence was materially hastened in its deliberations over that
immortal document by swarms of flies that invaded the hall where it sat, and
made the life of its members a burden. Perhaps the intense heat of the
rough-plastered room where the convention met, or the knowledge that
Territorial scrip would be received by importunate landlords only at a
usurious discount, had something to do with urging dispatch in business. But
certainly the convention went to work with an energy and industry I have never
seen paralleled in a Kansas deliberative body since that time. it perfected
its organization, adopted rules for its government, discussed the best mode of
procedure in framing a constitution, and appointed a committee to report upon
that subject during the first day's session, all the standing committees were
announced on the third day; and by the close of the fifth day it had disposed
of two very troublesome contested election cases, decided that the Ohio
constitution should be the model for that of Kansas, perfected arrangements
for reporting and printing its debates, and instructed its committees upon a
number of disputed questions. The vote on selecting a model for the
constitution was, on the second ballot: For the Ohio constitution 25 votes;
Indiana, 23, and Kentucky, 1. So our Kansas constitution was modeled after
that of Ohio -- something, I think, as the farmer's new house was designed
after his old one; it was built upon the old site.
The chairmanships of the different committees were assigned as follows:
Preamble and Bill of Rights -- William Hutchinson, of Lawrence. Executive
Department -- John P. Greer, of Shawnee. Legislative Department -- Solon O.
Thacher, of Lawrence. Judicial Department -- Samuel A. Kingman, of Brown
County. Military -- James G. Blunt, of Anderson County. Electors and Elections
-- P. H. Townsend, of Douglas. Schedule -- John T. Burris of Johnson.
Apportionment -- D. H. D. Preston, of Shawnee. Corporations and Banking --
Robert Graham, of Atchison. Education and Public Institutions -- W. R.
Griffith, of Bourbon County. County and Township Organizations -- John
Ritchie, of Topeka. Ordinance and Public Debt -- James Blood, of Lawrence.
Finance and Taxation -- Benjamin F. Simpson, of Lykins. Amendments and
Miscellaneous -- S. D. Houston, of Riley County. Federal Relations -- T. S.
Wright, of Nemaha County. Phraseology and Arrangements -- John J. Ingalls, of
I have studied the composition of these committees with some interest,
reviewing the work of their members in the convention, and recalling their
subsequent careers. And it appears to me that in making them up, President
Winchell exhibited phenomenally quick and accurate judgment of men. He was,
indeed, one of the best presiding officers I have ever known. His
imperturbable coolness, never for an instant ruffled by the most sudden and
passionate outbreaks of excitement in the convention; his mastery of all the
niceties of parliamentary law, his uniform courtesy and tact, his promptness
and clearness in stating his decisions; and above all, the mingled grace and
kindness with which he announced to an indignant member an adverse decision,
was to us really wonderful. But what shall be said of that still more
wonderful prescience with which he made up the committees. What induced this
calm, gray-eyed observing little man, whose brass-buttoned blue coat was first
seen by two-thirds of the convention on the morning of the 5th of July -- what
impelled him within twenty-four hours, to select an obscure dull looking,
shock-headed country doctor as Chairman of the Military Committee, and thus
name in connection with military affairs, for the first time, the only Kansas
soldier who reached a full Major-Generalship? How did he happen to pass by
half a dozen more widely known lawyers, and appoint as Chairman of the
Judiciary Committee, A man who, during more than fifteen years thereafter,
occupied a place on the Supreme Bench of the State, for the greater portion of
this time as the Chief Justice? How came he to recognize so quickly in the
Engrossing Clerk of the Territorial Legislature, the ripest scholar and the
fittest man in the body for the chairmanship of the committee to which every
article of the Constitution was referred for final revision and amendment. In
the youngest and most boyish looking member he found the man who was to form,
for this State, a code of finance and taxation whose clear directions and
wholesome restrictions have guarded Kansas against the wasteful extravagance
of Legislatures and the curse of a burdensome public debt, during all the
tempting and perilous affairs of its first quarter century. And he named, as
head of the Committee on Education the first State Superintendent of Public
Instruction. All of his appointments were made with rare judgment, but those
mentioned appear notably discerning.
On the sixth day, a resolution favoring biennial sessions of the Legislature
-- adopted sixteen years afterward -- was submitted and referred. The first of
a long series of resolutions or proposed sections of the Constitution,
prohibiting the settlement of negroes or mulattoes within the limits of the
State, was also introduced. This question with others of a kindred nature,
such as propositions to prohibit colored children attending the schools, or to
exclude them from the university, or to forbid the appropriation of any funds
for their education, and last, and meanest of all, to deny to negroes the
shelter of county poor houses when poor and helpless, was voted upon again and
again, first in one form and then in another, and to the enduring honor of the
majority, always defeated. It seems singular, in this day and generation, that
such theories found persistent and earnest advocates. First it should be
remembered that all this happened before the war, when slavery was still an
"institution" in nearly half the States of the Union. The Pro-slavery party
was, of course, solidly in favor of excluding free negroes from the State, and
less than four years prior to the meeting of the convention, the Free-State
party, in voting on the Topeka Constitution had given a decided majority in
favor of such exclusion. It therefore required genuine courage and principle
to go upon record against each and every proposition of this character. For
very few members who so voted felt absolutely certain of the indorsement of
The first article of the Constitution reported, that on corporations and
banks, was submitted on the sixth day and considered. It was stated, by the
President, that many other committees had their reports in the hands of the
printer, and during the next few days they began to come in very rapidly. The
convention, to expedite work, adopted a resolution requiring all committees to
report on or before Saturday, the eleventh day of the session.
On the seventh day the annexation of that portion of Nebraska lying south of
the Platte River, was fully considered. The then organized Nebraska Counties
included in that section of our sister State had elected delegates to the
convention who were present, earnestly advocating annexation. This proposition
was discussed during several days, and the debates took a wide range. The
Nebraska delegates were admitted to seats as honorary members, with the
privilege of speaking on this subject. The final determination, however, was
to preserve the original northern line. Two influences induced this decision,
one political the other local and material. Many Republicans feared that the
South Platte country was, or would be likely to become, Democratic. Lawrence
and Topeka both aspired to be the State Capital, and their influence was
against annexation, because they feared it would throw the center of
population far north of the Kaw.
The preamble and bill of rights was reported on the tenth, and opened the
whole question of the State's boundaries. The committee proposed the
twenty-third meridian as the western line, and the fortieth parallel as the
line on the north. This would have excluded about ninety miles of territory
within the present limits of the State. The committee's recommendation was,
however, adopted, and stood as the determination of the convention until the
day before the final adjournment, when Col. May, of Atchison, secured a
reconsideration, and on his motion the twenty-fifth meridian was substituted
for the twenty-third. The northern boundary question was finally settled on
the fifteenth day, when, by a vote of nineteen ayes to twenty-nine nays, the
convention refused to memorialize Congress to include the South Platte country
within the limits of Kansas.
On the seventh day, the Legislative and Judicial Committees reported. The
Legislative article was considered next day. The committee proposed that bills
might originate in either House, but Mr. Winchell submitted a novel amendment,
which required all laws to originate in the House of Representatives. This was
adopted, notwithstanding the vigorous opposition of Mr. Thacher, the chairman
of the committee, by a vote of thirty-seven to thirteen. It survived the
admission of the State only three years, being amended in 1864.
On the eighth day the militia article was adopted, on the ninth day the
judicial article was perfected, and the article on education and public
institutions reported and discussed and on the tenth day the committees on
county and township organizations, and schedule reported. The deathless
pertinacity of a "claim," is illustrated by a petition presented that day,
from one Samuel A. Lowe, a clerk of the so-called "Bogus Legislature," who
wanted pay for certain work he alleged he had performed. Only a year ago Mr.
Lowe presented the same claim to Congress, and it was, I believe, allowed by
the House. But the Kansas Senators made such determined war on it that Mr.
Lowe can still sing, "A claim to keep I have."