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Government Organizations

The following information was taken from State Governmental Organization in Kansas, 1865-1950, Citizen's Pamphlet 8, written by Jack F. McKay and Howard Hallman and published by the Bureau of Government Research, University of Kansas. Footnotes are indicated by a underlined numbers, e.g. 1. They have been converted to endnotes and appear at the end of the document and are linked to the text.

Brief Historical Sketch
First Years of Statehood, 1861-1865
Setting the Pattern, 1865-1885
At the Turn of the Century, 1885-1905
Paper Reorganizations, 1905-1925
Expanding Functions, 1925-1950

A Brief Historical Sketch

The history of government in Kansas as a Territory of the United States begins in March, 1804. Prior to that time, from September 14, 1712, until ceded by France to the United States April 30, 1803, the Civil Code, as modified by France and the regulations of Spain, was the law of the Territory. Then, in 1804, the Territory was divided by a line corresponding with the northern portion called the District of Louisiana. The executive power of the Governor and Judges of Indiana were authorized to establish inferior courts, prescribe their jurisdiction and duties, and make laws for the government of the people. In 1805 a Territorial Government was granted to the northern province, and it was called the Territory of Louisiana. Under this government, the legislative power was vested in a Governor, and three Judges. In 1812 this Territory was organized and named Missouri Territory, its legislative power consisting of a Governor's Council and House of Representatives. In 1820 Missouri was admitted into the Union, leaving Kansas without any organized government.

After Missouri became a state the situation in Kansas remained undetermined. Spain claimed part of the unorganized territory including the Oklahoma panhandle and the southwest corner of the present State of Kansas. However, the United States, taking its right to the territory from France, set aside Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, and all of the Dakotas west of the Missouri river and this land was named Indian Territory in 1830. As such it had no central capital and no governor, although military reservations were established at several places. Mexico had gained independence from Spain and taken her claim to the disputed territory. After the war with Mexico the United States came into undisputed possession of all of the present State of Kansas. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Bill was passed creating the Territory of Kansas.

Under the provisions of the Organic Act the legislative power was vested in a governor and a legislative assembly, which consisted of a Council of thirteen members and a House of Representatives with twenty-six members.1 In addition to the Governor, a Secretary, an Attorney, and a Marshal of the Territory were appointed by the President. The judiciary, appointed by the President, consisted of three Justices of the Supreme Court. Each Justice performed the duties of district judge for one of the three judicial districts in addition to his Supreme Court duties. The first legislature convened in 1855 to pass laws governing the Territory. The Statutes adopted by the Pro-Slavery legislature of 1855 were later known as the Bogus Statutes by the Free-State party members who refused to obey the laws or to pay taxes established under the statutes of 1855.

The period from 1855 to 1859 was one of turmoil for the settlers of the Territory. Pro-Slavery groups and Free-State groups both attempted to write a constitution under which Kansas might be admitted into the Union. Neither party recognized the efforts of the other until in 1859 delegates from both parties assembled at Wyandotte and produced a document which later became the Constitution of the State of Kansas. However, the Democratic members of the Wyandotte Convention refused to sign the Constitution because Free-State party members had predominated and insisted on a constitution which abolished slavery. Nevertheless, Kansas was admitted into the Union under this Constitution and the document, as amended from time to time, remains as the fundamental law of Kansas.

First Years of Statehood, 1861-1865

The Wyandotte Constitution provided for a legislative assembly of one hundred members, 25 in the Senate and 75 in the House of Representatives. Also, there were provisions for a judicial system which included a Chief Justice and two Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Kansas. The executive branch consisted of seven elected officers: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Treasurer, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Auditor, and Superintendent of Public Instruction. This plan for a multiple executive was in line with the practice in other states at that time. Each of these executive officers was elected and was, therefore, not directly controlled by or responsible to the chief executive.

The first state legislature assembled in 1861 and established a State Library and the Auditor of State was named State Librarian. The Governor was authorized to appoint an Adjutant General who was head of the State Militia. Other administrative tasks were assigned to ex officio bodies consisting of three, and in one case five, of the constitutional officers. In 1862 the State Militia was increased -- due to Kansas' increasing participation in the Civil War -- and provision was made for the appointment by the Governor of a Quartermaster General, Paymaster General, and Judge Advocate General. The latter two officers were appointed by the Governor by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

By 1864 some of the projected educational and correctional institutions were established. The Governor appointed a three-member Board of Directors of the State Penitentiary, and this Board was directed to make arrangements for the confinement of criminals until a penitentiary could be built. They were also directed to supervise the erection of a state penitentiary and appoint a warden and other prison officers. Boards of Regents were appointed for each of the three state schools: University of Kansas, State Normal School, and State Agricultural College. Also, a Bureau of Immigration consisting of the Governor, ex officio, and two members appointed by him, was created to encourage settlement in Kansas.

Thus, by 1865 the new state was starting to provide services needed by the people. There were nineteen separate offices and boards, six ex officio boards, and one officially recognized society, the Agriculture Society. The largest expenditure item was that paid for the expenses of the legislature. Another large item for printing was either directly or indirectly related to the legislative session. However, by present day standards the expenditures were very small. There was no reason for establishing a comprehensive organizational plan because state employees were able to maintain close personal contact. But this was just the early beginning of the growth of government in Kansas.

Setting the Pattern, 1865-1885

During the twenty-year period from 1865 to 1885 the number of state agencies almost doubled. A State Printing Office was established and a State Printer, who was selected by the Legislature, was named to take charge of public printing. By 1885 the problem of assessing railroad corporation property had been assigned to an ex officio state board because of the problems encountered by local assessors in assessing this class of property. In addition to the increase in number of agencies concerned with general governmental functions, the state had begun to move into the area of business regulation. Two agencies, the Superintendent of Insurance and the Board of Railroad Commissioners, were established to regulate these businesses. Insurance regulation and taxation had been troublesome because the property tax assessment of insurance corporation property failed to indicate clearly the financial capacity of these institutions to pay taxes. Thus a regulating agency was established with a twofold purpose: (1) to regulate the insurance corporations in order to protect Kansas investors and (2) to collect a new tax on gross premiums of insurance sales. Although railroad corporations had been threatened with regulation during territorial days it was not until 1883 that the Board of Railroad Commissioners was established and assigned the duties of settling claims arising under the railways regulation laws.

During this period, also, provisions were made for the creation of agencies which were responsible for protecting the natural resources of the state. Four offices or agencies were established for this general purpose: Mine Inspector, Commissioner of Fisheries, Livestock Sanitary Commission, and State Veterinarian. New correctional and eleemosynary institutions were established: insane asylums at Topeka and Osawatomie, an Asylum for Idiotic and Imbecilic Youth, an Asylum for the Blind, a School for the Deaf, and a State Reform School. As an outgrowth of the Civil War the Board of Commissioners for the Care of the Destitute Orphans and Children of State Soldiers was established in 1867.

Total expenditures of the state government jumped from $138 thousand in 1865 to $1.1 million in 1885. More important, perhaps, there was a shifting of the emphasis in costs of the different functions. In 1885 the cost of maintaining the state's institutions represented nearly 60% of the total expenditures of the state and general government accounted for 32.7% of the total. These figures for 1865 were 22 % and 51.3% respectively. The costs of protection to persons and property, natural resources, public welfare, and miscellaneous expenditures were only about 7.3% of the total expenditures of the state for 1885 and 26.7% in 1865. In 1885 there were no expenditures for health or highways and transportation, excepting, of course, the costs of regulating railroad companies, which are here listed under the functional head of protection to persons and property.

At the Turn of the Century, 1885-1905

During the period 1885 to 1905 the political situation in Kansas changed several times. This was the period of the rise and decline of the Populist movement. One writer at the turn of the century noticed that there still existed in Kansas a kind of radicalism and frontier spirit not apparent in the older sections of the country. Also a definite trend towards urbanization and industrialization was beginning to be noticeable. Topeka doubled in population between 1880 and 1890 and the population of Kansas City, Kansas increased ten times during the same period. However, agriculture was still the chief industry of the state and the organization of governments in Kansas maintained a large degree of dependence upon the county units.

Economic and political conditions of the period wrought changes in the functions and organization of state government. The expanding functions of government made necessary some system of financial control and, in 1895, the Office of State Accountant was created. In 1897 an ex officio Board of Appraisers and Assessors was established for the purpose of assessing the property of inter-county public service corporations. The problem of housing the governmental units had reached such proportions that an Office of State Architect was deemed necessary as early as 1891. The increased industrialization of the state led to the establishment of a Bureau of Labor and Industry. Likewise an ex officio Charter Board and a full-time Bank Commissioner were provided for in 1891.

The problem of proper utilization of the natural resources of the state led to the establishment of a Grain Inspection Commission. Fort Hays Experiment Station, Poultry Association and Commissioner of Forestry and Irrigation. The emphasis upon aids to agriculture may be seen in the latter provisions. Also, examining boards were established to set standards for professions affecting public health, such as the dental, medical, and pharmaceutical professions. Directly related to the problem of public health was the creation of a State Board of Health in 1885. During these same years new educational, charitable, and correctional institutions were being added to the governmental structure. This growth of activities led to the establishment of a special board of trustees who were to be responsible for the operation of all charitable and correctional institutions. The educational institutions, however, remained under the supervision of separate Boards of Regents.

The whole period shows a rapid growth of state functions and by 1905 there were eighty-three offices, agencies and institutions in the state organization. For the most part this growth was unplanned. When the legislature determined that a new function should be undertaken, a new agency or office was created to administer the particular function. The only noteworthy attempts to control this growth were the creation of a consolidated board to supervise charitable and correctional institutions and the establishment of an Office of State Accountant who was to establish a uniform system of accounts in all state departments.

Paper Reorganizations, 1905-1925

From 1905 to 1925 many experiments in organizing for the administration of state business were tried. A permanent State Tax Commission was established in 1907 in an attempt to achieve a coordinated system of property assessment and taxation throughout the state. A new Board of Administration was created to supervise administration of the correctional, charitable, and educational institutions in the state. The increasing industrialization led to further attempts at regulation, and a Public Service Commission, a Court of Industrial Relations, and offices of Fire Marshal, and Hotel Commissioner were established by 1925. A Highway Commission and a State Aircraft Board were charged with the regulation of two areas of transportation. New agricultural experiment stations were established at Garden City, Tribune, and Colby.

Public health and welfare were receiving an increasing amount of attention and five new examining boards were set up to regulate professions having to do with medical and related activities. The Larned State Hospital and the Tuberculosis Sanitorium at Norton were provided in 1911. A Board of Vocational Education was established in 1917 and a Commission for the Blind in 1923.

The changing emphases of government are highlighted when we notice that approximately two-thirds of the expenditures of state government in 1925 were for hospitals and instructions for the handicapped, correctional institutions, and educational agencies and institutions. General control, which in 1865 and taken 51.3% of the total expenditures, represented in 1925 only 9.3% of the total cost of operating the state government.

It is noteworthy that the number of state offices and agencies charged with supervision of the state governmental functions increased only from sixty-nine in 1905 to seventy-three in 1925. This does not mean, however, that new functions were not undertaken. The low net increase in the number of agencies was a result of consolidations of agencies which handled similar functions. For example the Tax Commission replaced three ex officio boards. Also creation of the Board of Administration consolidated supervision of all institutions under one central agency.

Expanding Functions, 1925-1950

The last twenty-five years of government in Kansas are noteworthy because of numerous experiments in consolidations of agencies, development of new functions of government, and a tremendous increase in the amount of money and the number of persons engaged in governmental operations. Fifteen new offices and agencies were created for the purpose of general control of the state government organization. These new agencies were largely staff departments and offices, such as the Legislative Council Research Department, Revisor of Statutes, Interstater Cooperation Commission, and the Civil Service Board. Also, by 1950, there were sixteen new agencies and offices charged with protection to persons and property. Most of these latter agencies were concerned with regulating businesses and professions, but the Bureau of Investigation is a noteworthy exception. The Highway Commission had increased in size and the expense of maintaining a highway system accounted for 31% of the total state expenditures in 1948.

After a short experiment with the consolidated Board of Administration, supervision of the functions of hospitals for the handicapped, educational institutions, and correctional institutions was again placed under separate bodies. The severe depression of the thirties led to an extension of the system of social welfare and by 1948 social welfare costs represented 16% of the total state expenditures. Also state aid to local governments and other miscellaneous represented 21% of the state expenditures so that these functions plus welfare, education, and highways represented 88% of the state expenditures in 1948 as contrasted with 55% in 1925. Highways, welfare and miscellaneous expenditures each showed a relative increase, but education showed a decrease from 42.1% of the total in 1925 to about 19.7% in 1948.

The changed institutional picture of government in 1950 as contrasted with 1865 indicates a tremendous difference in functions undertaken as well as an increase in the size of the state organization. Government has changed from an institution primarily regulatory in character to one which provides a positive program of services for the people. Upon the basis of past experience, it is improbable that the state government will abandon a function once undertaken. Yet, the ever-changing functions of government will be expanded or contracted depending upon social and economic demands. In a democratic state government the ebb and flow of services and regulations will depend upon the interests of the people and their desires to improve state government.


1. It was further provided that the number of representatives might be increased by the legislature provided that the number should not exceed thirty-nine.

Entry: Government Organizations

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2010

Date Modified: December 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.