The Four Kansas Constitutions: Wyandotte

The Four Kansas Constitutions: Wyandotte

The Four Kansas Constitutions: Wyandotte
The building where the Wyandotte convention met, as it looked in later years

Affairs in Kansas quieted considerably after the final failure of the Lecompton Constitution. The polls showed that the territory was clearly in the hands of the Free State Party and that the proslavery men from Missouri had lost the struggle. The more militant abolitionists had turned their attention to other matters, as well, since nothing to excite them occurred.

The territorial legislature now proceeded in a calm, regular manner to see Kansas through to statehood. On February 9, 1859, an act providing for the creation of one last constitution and the formation of a state government came to the new governor, Samuel Medary. He promptly signed the act. Under the provisions of the act, a vote was held on March 28 to determine if the residents of the territory were interested in writing a new constitution. The results showed 5,306 for the idea and 1,425 against it.

Delegates were elected on June 7 and, on July 5, met at Wyandotte, a town later absorbed into Kansas City. It was a foregone conclusion at this convention that Kansas would be a free state, but there were many other issues which caused debate, such as suffrage, temperance, and state boundaries. Although the convention worked diligently to resolve their differences on most of these issues, the boundary question proved to be the rock on which they split. On July 29, the Wyandotte Constitution was adopted, but it did not bear the signatures of the Democrats of the convention, who had lost the dispute.

On October 4, the Wyandotte Constitution was presented to the people of Kansas. It was approved by a vote of 10,421 to 5,530.  Copies were distributed to the President, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. The final struggle was just beginning.

 

Constitution Highlights

  • Slavery prohibited.
  • Free blacks allowed to live in the state.
  • Voting rights for white males only.
  • Women allowed to own property.
  • Present state lines adopted (former western boundary was the Continental Divide).
  • State capital was to be determined by voters, Topeka being the temporary capital.

 

The Constitution on the National Scene

The Wyandotte Constitution ran fairly smoothly through the United States House of Representatives. A bill to admit Kansas to the Union was introduced in February 1860, and passed 134 to 73 in April. Things stalled in the Senate, however. The bill was referred to the Committee on Territories, where it languished for three months. When it was finally reported in the Senate again, it was accompanied by a recommendation that it be voted down. Back-and-forth debate continued, but it was clear that nothing could be done until the upcoming presidential election was over.

Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election, and the Southern states responded with secession. With both House and Senate cleared of those who had opposed Kansas admission, the North eagerly took up the issue again and prepared to add another free state to its ranks. On January 21, 1861, the Senate finally voted to make Kansas a state under the Wyandotte Constitution by 36 to 16. A week later, the House voted 119 to 42.

The bill reached President Buchanan, who was still in office, on January 29. He signed it, making Kansas the 34th state in the Union. The Wyandotte Constitution has been amended many times since then, but it is still in effect today.

 

Helpful Resources

Wyandotte Constitution
View images of the original Wyandotte Constitution, or read the full text.

Constitution of the State of Kansas
The Wyandotte Constitution in its present form, complete with a history of its many revisions.