The territorial legislature of 1859, which was controlled by freestaters, approved a fourth and final constitutional convention, and in early June delegates were elected to gather at Wyandotte on July 5. Thirty-five Republicans and 17 Democrats were chosen to attend the convention. By this time the issue of slavery was all but decided in the territory, so the decision to make Kansas "free" was no surprise.
The convention had to resolve some other controversial issues. The first three constitutions written in Kansas adopted the existing boundary lines for the Kansas Territory. The eastern, southern, and northern borders were the same as they are today. The western border, however, extended as far west as the Continental Divide and included the Pikes Peak gold fields. Many delegates saw this huge territory as a disadvantage. The western border was fixed at 102 degrees west longitude (the 25th Meridian). Kansas emerged from the convention with its present rectangular shape.
There was some support among the male delegates for granting equal voting rights to Kansas women. The majority, however, would not accept this "radical" idea, and suffrage was granted only to "Every white male person, of twenty-one years and upward." By this clause, blacks and Indians also were denied the vote. Largely because of the efforts of Clarina Nichols, however, the Wyandotte Constitution did not totally ignore women's rights. Women were allowed to participate in school district elections and to own property. The constitution stated that the legislature was to "provide for their equal rights in the possession of their children."
On July 29 a new free-state document was adopted and signed. Because they objected to several key provisions, all seventeen Democrats refused to sign, and the subsequent campaign for ratification of the Wyandotte Constitution was a bitter partisan contest. On October 4, 1859, however, supporters won by nearly a 2 to 1 margin-10,421 to 5,530. On December 6, an election for state offices was held. In the gubernatorial contest, Dr. Charles Robinson of Lawrence defeated the incumbent territorial governor, Samuel Medary. Republicans also won 86 of 100 seats in the legislature.
After the October vote, official copies of the proposed constitution were prepared and sent to the President of the United States, the president of the U. S. Senate, and the speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives. The House acted first. A bill for Kansas’s admission was introduced on February 12, 1860. Within two months, the congressmen voted 134 to 73 to admit Kansas under the Wyandotte Constitution. William H. Seward of New York introduced a separate bill in the Senate on February 21, 1860. A long-time champion of the free-state cause in Kansas, Seward appealed for immediate action, but the admission bill was carried over to the next session.
With the election of Abraham Lincoln, southern states began to leave the Union and opposition to Kansas admission decreased. The last six southern senators left their seats on January 21, 1861, and later that same day the Senate passed the Kansas bill. A week later the House passed the bill as amended and sent it to the president for his signature. Most free-state settlers in Kansas despised President James Buchanan. Ironically, it was he who signed the bill making Kansas the 34th state on January 29, 1861.
Kansans were overjoyed with the news, but there was little time for celebration. Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861, as Southern states continued to secede. The first Kansas State Legislature convened on March 26. South Carolina troops fired on Fort Sumter on April 12. The battle for Kansas was finally over. But the conflict, which for the past six years had caused the shedding of Kansas blood, now engulfed an entire nation.
Entry: Wyandotte Constitution
Author: Mandi Barnard
Date Created: April 2010
Date Modified: August 2012
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.