I have mentioned the fact that Mr. Winchell was the author of the section
providing that all bills should originate in the House. It should be stated
that Mr. Ingalls was the author of the provision that "in actions for libel,
the truth may he given in evidence to the jury, and if it shall appear that
the alleged libelous matter was published for justifiable ends, the accused
shall be acquitted." Another original provision of the Constitution is the
homestead section. This was first proposed by Mr. Foster, of Leavenworth
County, on the sixth day of the session, and reported by the committee on
miscellaneous and amendments on the thirteenth day. No other feature of the
Constitution, perhaps, elicited more animated and earnest debate. It was
discussed for several days, amended, referred and again submitted. As
originally reported, it provided for the exemption of "a homestead of 160
acres of land, or a house and lot not exceeding $2,000 in value, or real,
personal and mixed property not exceeding $2,000, to any family." This was
adopted by a vote of twenty-eight ayes to sixteen nays. Two days later the
vote was reconsidered, and President Winchell proposed the wording finally
adopted: "A homestead of 160 acres of farming land, or of one acre within the
limits of an incorporated town or city, occupied as a residence by the family
of the owner, together with all the improvements on the same, shall be
exempted from forced sale under any process of law, and shall not be alienated
without the joint consent of husband and wife, where the relation exists."
Thus perfected, it was adopted by a vote of thirty-three to seven.
I thought at the time, however, and a review of the proceedings and debates
has confirmed my impression, that favorable action on this provision was due
to the earnest and eloquent advocacy of Judge Kingman, who was its most
zealous, logical and courageous supporter. The homestead clause of the Kansas
Constitution has been severely criticised, but I believe the people of the
State generally regard it as a most beneficent provision of their organic law.
For nearly a quarter of a century it has been maintained, and it still stands,
as Judge Kingman said it would, guarding "the home, the hearthstone, the
fireside around which a man may gather his family with the certainty of
assurance that neither the hand of the law, nor any, nor all of the
uncertainties of life, can eject them from the possession of it."
The finance and taxation and the executive articles were adopted on the
fourteenth day, and the miscellaneous articles considered. This originally
provided for the election of a public printer, but that section was stricken
out, after a vigorous protest by Messrs. Ross and Ingalls. Nine years later
their idea was indorsed by the adoption of an amendment creating the office of
On the seventeenth day the temporary capital was located at Topeka, the second
ballot resulting: for Topeka, 29; for Lawrence, 14; for Atchison, 6.
On the same day a proposition was made by Mr. Preston, of Shawnee County, to
amend the miscellaneous article by adding the following section:
"The Legislature shall have power to regulate or prohibit the sale of
alcoholic liquors, except for mechanical and medicinal purposes."
A motion made to lay this amendment on the table was defeated by a vote of
eighteen ayes to thirty-nine nays. But the anxiety of the members to exclude
from the constitution any provision that might render its adoption doubtful or
prevent the admission of the State finally prevailed, and after a full
interchange of views, Mr. Preston withdrew his amendment. There is, it is
said, nothing new under the sun. Those who imagine that the prohibition
amendment adopted in 1880 was a new departure in constitution making, have
never examined the records of the Wyandotte convention.
On the nineteenth day occurred the last struggle over the slavery question in
Kansas. Section 6 of the bill of rights, prohibiting slavery or involuntary
servitude, came up for adoption, and it was resolved to add a proviso
suspending the operation of this section for the period of twelve months after
the admission of the State. This proviso received eleven votes, and
twenty-eight were recorded against it. A most exciting discussion occurred on
the same day over the apportionment article, which the Democrats denounced as
The work of the convention was practically completed on the twenty-first day.
The various articles had each been considered and adopted, first in committee
of the whole, then in convention, then referred to the committee on
Phraseology and Arrangement, and, after report of the committee, again
considered by sections and adopted. But so anxious were the members that
every word used should be the right word, expressing the idea intended most
clearly and directly, that when the reading of the completed constitution was
finished on the morning of the twenty-first day, it was decided to refer it to
a special committee, consisting of Messrs. Ingalls, Winchell, Ross and Slough,
for further revision and verification. This committee reported the same
afternoon, and again the constitution was read by sections, for final
revision, with the same painstaking carefulness and attention to the minutest
details. All that afternoon, and all the next day, with brief interruptions
for action on the closing work, this revision went on, and it was 5 o'clock in
the afternoon of the 29th before the last section was perfected. Then occurred
one of the most dramatic scenes of the convention. Mr. Hutchinson submitted a
resolution declaring that "we do now adopt and proceed to sign the
At once Mr. Slough addressed the chair, and after warmly eulogizing the
general features of the constitution, pronouncing it "a model instrument" he
formally announced that political objections impelled himself and his
Democratic associates to decline attaching their signatures to it. These
objections he stated at length. They were, briefly: The curtailment of the
boundaries of the State; the large Legislative body provided for, the
exclusion of Indians made citizens of the United States from the privilege of
voting; the registry of voters at the election on the constitution; the
refusal to exclude free negroes from the State and the apportionment.
This action of the Democratic members had been foreshadowed for several days,
but it was, nevertheless, something of a surprise. The Republicans understood
that several of the Democrats had earnestly opposed such a course, and hoped
that some of them would be governed by their own convictions, rather than by
the mandate of their caucus. For a few moments after Mr. Slough concluded, the
convention sat, hushed and expectant. But no other Democratic member rose. It
was evident that the caucus ruled. Then Judge Thacher, the President pro tem.,
addressed the chair, and in a speech of remarkable vigor and eloquence,
accepted the gauge of battle thrown down. "Upon this constitution," he
declared "we will meet our opponents in the popular arena. It is a better, a
nobler issue than ever the old Free-State issue. They have thrown down the
gauntlet: we joyfully take it up." He then proceeded to defend, with great
earnestness and power, the features of the constitution objected to by Mr.
Slough. "The members of the convention," he asserted, "have perfected a work
that will be enduring. "The constitution, he affirmed, would "commend itself
to the true and good everywhere, because through every line and syllable there
glows the generous sunshine of liberty." It was and should be, be declared:
"Like some tall cliff, that lifts it's awful form,
Swells from the vale and midway leaves the storm;
Though round its breast, the rolling clouds shall spread
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."
Read in the light of subsequent history these declarations appear almost
prophetic. The twilights shadows were gathering about Wyandotte when this
debate closed, and the convention proceeded to vote on Mr. Hutchinson's
resolution, which was adopted by thirty-four ayes to thirteen nays -- one
Republican and four Democrats being absent. The roll was then called, and the
constitution was signed by all the Republican members except one, Mr. Wright,
of Nemaha, who was absent, sick. The work of the convention was completed and
after voting thanks to its officers, it adjourned without date.
Each party, I think, was guilty of one blunder it afterward seriously
regretted -- the Republicans in refusing to include the South Platte country
within the boundaries of Kansas; the Democrats in refusing to sign the
constitution they had labored diligently to perfect. I speak of what I
consider the great mistake of the Republicans with all the more frankness
because I was, at the time, in hearty sympathy with their action; but I feel
confident that no Republican member is living today who does not deplore that
decision. And I am equally confident that within a brief time after the
convention adjourned, there were few Democratic members who did not seriously
regret their refusal to sign the constitution.
On the 4th of October, 1859, the constitution was submitted to the people for
ratification or rejection, and, for the first time in the history of Kansas,
all parties cast a full, free and unintimidated vote. The Republicans favored,
and the Democrats generally opposed its adoption. Nearly 16,000 votes were
polled, of which 10,421 were for, and 5,530 against the constitution. The
homestead clause, submitted as an independent proposition, was ratified by a
vote of 8,788 for, to 4,772 against it. Every county in the Territory except
two, Johnson and Morris, gave a majority for the constitution.
Two months later, December 6, State and county officers and members of the
Legislature were elected, and the people of Kansas, having exhausted their
authority in State building, patiently awaited the action of Congress. On the
11th of April, 1860 the House of Representatives voted, 134 to 73, to admit
Kansas as a State, under the Wyandotte Constitution. Twice, during the next
eight months, the Senate defeated motions to consider the Kansas bill, but on
the 21st of January, 1861, several Southern Senators having seceded, Mr.
Seward "took a pinch of snuff" and called it up again. It passed by a vote of
36 to 16, and on the 29th of the same month President Buchanan approved it.
Thus young Kansas through many difficulties and turmoils, was "added to the
During nearly twenty-two of the most eventful and exciting years of American
history, the Constitution thus framed and ratified, has defined the powers and
regulated the duties of the government of Kansas. Three Legislatures have
voted down propositions to call a new Constitutional Convention. Twelve or
fifteen amendments have been submitted, but only eight have been approved by
the people. Finally, in 1880, the Legislature voted to submit a proposal for a
new convention, and at the regular election held in November of that year,
this ballot was taken. The result was an indorcement of the old Wyandotte
Constitution by a majority far more emphatic and overwhelming than that by
which it was originally adopted, the vote standing 22,870 for, and 146,279
against the proposed convention, or nearly seven to one.
It is doubtful whether the organic law of any other State in the Union has
more successfully survived the mutations of time and inconstant public
sentiment, and the no less fluctuating necessities of a swiftly developing
commonwealth. Of its seventeen articles, only four, and of its one hundred and
seventy-eight sections, only eight, have been amended. And of the eight
amendments adopted, only five have revoked or modified the principles of
policy originally formulated, the others being changes demanded by the growth
of the State, or by the events of the civil war. The first amendment, ratified
in 1861, provides that no banking institution shall issue circulating notes of
a less denomination than $1 -- the original limitation being $5. In 1864, the
proration requiring all bills to originate in the House of Representatives was
repealed, and a section intended to prevent United States soldiers from
voting, but which was so worded that it deprived our volunteers of that right,
was also repealed. In 1867, an amendment was adopted disfranchising all
persons who aided the "Lost Cause," or who were dishonorably discharged from
the army of the United States, or who had defrauded the United States, or any
State during the war. In 1868, the State Printer amendment was ratified. In
1873, the number of Senators and Representatives, originally limited to 33 and
100 respectively, was increased to 40 and 125. In 1875, three propositions,
each having in view biennial, instead of annual sessions of the Legislature,
were adopted. And in 1880 the prohibition amendment was ratified. These are
all the changes that have been made in our organic law during nearly a quarter
of a century.
It would violate the proprieties of such an occasion to comment on the
personal feuds or partisan broils which once or twice marred the general
harmony and orderly progress of the proceedings. These were very few, indeed,
and none of them, I think, outlasted the convention. The members parted, when
the final adjournment came, with mutual respect and good will, and the
friendships formed during the session have been unusually warm and enduring.
It seems fitting that, in concluding this sketch of the convention and its
labors, I should briefly narrate the subsequent history of its members. It was
a small company, that which parted here twenty-three years ago today, and it
was made up, as I have said, largely of young and vigorous men. But when this
reunion was first suggested, and I came to look over the familiar names I had
so often called during the long, hot days of that far away July it was painful
to note the havoc death had made. It impressed me something as did a roll-call
I once witnessed, in the red glare of bivouac fires after one of the great
battles of the war, when surviving comrades answered "killed," or "wounded,"
to one-half the names of a regiment. Ten of the fifty two members composing
the convention, I have not heard of for many years. Of the remaining
forty-two, twenty rest quietly in --
"The reconciling grave
Where all alike lie down in peace together."
The largest delegation was that from Leavenworth County, and only one of the
ten gentlemen comprising it, R. C. Foster, certainly survives. Rare Sam
Stinson, whose genial wit and brilliant accomplishments won all hearts, was
elected Attorney General in 1861, by a unanimous vote, and died in his old
Maine home in February, 1856 (sic). William C. McDowell was chosen Judge of
the First Judicial District, at the first election under the Constitution;
served four years; was killed in a fall from an omnibus in St. Louis, July 16,
1866. John P. Slough removed to Colorado, was Colonel of a regiment raised in
that State, and later a Brigadier General; was appointed, after the war, Chief
Justice of New Mexico, and was killed at Santa Fe. Samuel Hipple removed to
Atchison County; served as Quartermaster during the war; was elected State
Senator in 1867; and died in January, 1876. William Perry removed to Colorado,
where he died. P. S. Parks returned to Indiana, and engaged in journalism and
the law, until his death, three years ago. Fred Brown died in St. Joseph, Mo.,
and John Wright at his house in Leavenworth County. Robert Graham, of
Atchison County, the oldest member, died in 1868. Three of the members from
Doniphan County, Robert J. Porter, Benjamin Wrigley, John Stairwalt, are dead.
The members from Linn, James M. Arthur and Josiah Lamb, are both dead, as are
also N. C. Blood, of Douglas, and T. S. Wright of Nemaha. W. H. Griffith, of
Bourbon, was elected the first State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and
died February 12, 1862, before the completion of his term. James G. Blunt, of
Anderson, who became a Major General during the war, and won renown as a brave
and skillful soldier, died in Washington a year or more ago. James Hanway, of
Franklin, after a long life of usefulness, died at his old home, only a brief
while ago. President James M. Winchell returned to New York shortly alter the
outbreak of the rebellion and resumed his connection with the Times,
first as war correspondent and afterward as an editorial writer. Until his
death, a few years since, he was employed upon that great journal.
Of the surviving members, many have attained the highest distinctions of the
State and all, I believe, are useful and honored citizens. At the first
election under the Constitution, Samuel A. Kingman was chosen as Associate
Justice of the Supreme Court. In 1866, he was elected Chief Justice, and
re-elected in 1872.
Benjamin F. Simpson was elected the first Attorney General of the State, but
resigned the position to enter the army, in which he served throughout the
war. He has since been Speaker of the House of Representatives; several times
a State Senator, and is now serving his second term as United States Marshal.
Solon O. Thacher was chosen District Judge at the first election under the
Constitution and has since occupied many positions of honor and
responsibility, and is a member of the present State Senate.
J. C. Burnett, S. D. Houston and S. E. Hoffman were members of the first State
Senate, and George H. Lillie was a member of the first House of
E. G. Ross was appointed United States Senator in 1866, and elected in 1867,
serving until 1871.
John J. Ingalls was chosen as State Senator in 1861; was elected as United
States Senator in 1873, and re-elected in 1879, and is still occupying that
John T. Burris was Lieutenant Colonel of the Tenth Kansas Volunteer Infantry,
and subsequently District Judge.
William P. Dutton, James Blood, L. R. Palmer, John P. Greer and John Ritchie,
have filled many positions of local trust and prominence, with credit and
R. C. Foster and John W. Forman are residing in Texas, William Hutchinson
lives in Washington, and C. B. McClellan, E. Moore and E. M. Hubbard are
still prominent and honored citizens of the counties they represented.
My old friend, Col. Caleb May, sole surviving member of the three Free-State
Constitutional Conventions, lives in Montgomery County. If Dean Swift was
right in saying, that "Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of
grass, to grow on a spot of ground where one grew before, would deserve better
of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race
of politicians," what honor is due this sturdy Kansas farmer, who, during a
residence of twenty-eight years in the State, has never, not even in the
disastrous seasons of 1860 and 1874, failed to raise a good crop? Even the
heroic service he rendered the cause of Freedom -- during the darkest days of
the struggle in Kansas -- was less valuable to the State than this practical
and triumphant vindication of its soil and climate.
Stalwart, quiet William McCullough, I have not heard of for many years.
John A. Middleton, of Marshall County, was a soldier in the Seventh Kansas
Volunteer Infantry; removed to Montana in 1864, and I have learned nothing of
H. D. Preston, of Shawnee; R. L. Williams, P. H. Townsend and Ed. Stokes, of
Douglas; Allen Crocker, of Woodson; A. D. McCune, of Leavenworth, J. H.
Signor, of Allen, and J. T. Barton, of Johnson, have all disappeared, and
left no sign. I know not whether they are living or dead.
Of the officers of the Convention -- queer old George Warren, Sergeant-at Arms
of nearly all the early Kansas Legislatures and Conventions?
died many years ago.
Edward S. Nash -- the Journal Clerk -- was Adjutant of the First Kansas
Volunteer Infantry, and died some years since in Chicago.
Robert St. Clair Graham, one of the Enrolling Clerks, was elected Judge of the
Second Judicial District in 1866, and died in 1880.
Richard J. Hinton, also an Enrolling Clerk, is the editor of the Washington
(D. C.) Gazette and a widely known journalist.
Werter R. Davis -- the Chaplain -- was a member of the First State
Legislature; was Chaplain of the Twelfth, and Colonel of the Sixteenth Kansas
Regiments during the war, and is one of the most prominent clergymen of his
denomination in the State.
S. D. McDonald, printer to the Convention, is still engaged in journalism.
J. M. Funk -- the Doorkeeper -- and J. L. Blanchard -- the Assistant Secretary
-- I have not heard from or of for many years.
I wish I could sketch more in detail the work and history of the members of
the Convention, but this paper is, I know, already too long. I have tried to
tell how our Constitution was made. I could not narrate, within reasonable
"What workman wrought its ribs of steel;
Who made each mast, and sail, and rope;
What anvils rang -- what hammers beat --
In what a forge, and what a heat,
Were shaped the anchors of its Hope".
It is enough to say, that the work has proved strong and enduring. Through the
groping inexperience of our State's childhood, and the still more perilous
ambitions of its youth, through the storm of civil war, and the calm of
prosperous peace, the Wyandotte Convention has justified the confident hopes
of its early friends. The most marvelous changes have been wrought in this
country since it was framed. The huge brick building, in which the Convention
held its sessions, long ago crumbled and fell. The distracted dependent and
turbulent Territory, has grown to be a peaceful, powerful and prosperous
State. Its hundred thousand people have multiplied to a million. Upon its vast
and solitary prairies, where then bloomed a wild and unprofitable vegetation,
"wherewith the mower filleth not his hand nor he that bindeth sheaves his
bosom." miles of green meadows now glisten with the morning dew, and thousands
of golden wheat-fields shimmer in the noonday sun, and millions of acres of
tasseling corn, rustling in the sweet, twilight air, tell of harvests so
bountiful that they would feed a continent. Every quiet valley and prairie
swell is dotted with pleasant homes where happy children laugh and play, and
men and women go their busy ways in prosperous content. Eager learners throng
8,000 schoolhouses. Church bells ring in nearly every county, from the
Missouri to the Colorado line. More than 4,000 miles of railway bind town and
country, factory, and farm, and store, into one community. And over all the
institutions and activities of this great, intelligent and orderly
Commonwealth broods the genius and the spirit of the Wyandotte Constitution.
Under its ample authority and direction, just and generous laws have
maintained the rights of citizenship; given protection to labor and property;
stimulated enterprise; multiplied industries; opened to every child and youth
the door of school and college; encouraged morality; fostered temperance;
protected the weak; restrained the strong; and sternly punished outbreaking
crime. And still the sunshine of popular confidence and favor falls upon the
Constitution. It has outlived half of its framers; and when, a quarter of a
century hence, the last surviving member of the Convention awaits the
inevitable hour, the Wyandotte Constitution may yet be the chart and compass
ordering and guiding the destinies of a State, whose imperial manhood is
foreshadowed by its stalwart and stately youth.*
* The Wyandotte Constitution, with the amendments thereto since adopted,
appears in the Appendix to the State History.