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Rush Elmore

Territorial Kansas Supreme Court Justice. 1819-1864

Born in Autauga County, Alabama, on February 27, 1819, the future associate justice on the territorial supreme court of Kansas attend primary and secondary school in the county of his birth and then studied law at the University of Alabama. Upon graduation Rush Elmore was admitted to the bar and practiced law in Montgomery, Alabama. During the Mexican War he raised a company of infantry and served as its captain. After the war, he returned to Montgomery where he established a law firm with his brother John A. Elmore and William L. Yancey, a former Alabama congressman who was assume a leadership role in the early years of the Confederacy (1861-1863).

Within a month of the organization of the Kansas and Nebraska territories in 1854, President Franklin Pierce appointed Rush Elmore as an associate judge of the supreme court for the territory of Kansas. Elmore moved his family and fourteen slaves to Kansas in the fall of 1854, settling in the town of Tecumseh, Shawnee County. He served on the territorial supreme court from October 15, 1854 to September 13, 1855, when he was removed, along with Judge Saunders W. Johnston and Governor Andrew H. Reeder, by President Pierce following allegations of unlawful purchases of Kansas Indian lands. The charges were later proved to be unfounded, and Elmore was again appointed—this time by President James Buchanan—as an associate judge on August 13, 1858, a position in which he served until February 9, 1861. Upon the admittance of Kansas into the Union and the organization of the first state government during the late winter and early spring of 1861, Elmore moved to Topeka where he resumed the practice of law.

In 1857 Judge Elmore was as a Shawnee County delegate to the Lecompton Constitutional Convention. Elmore was by this time recognized, according to the New York Times of September 17, 1857, “a keen party leader, an acute, high-minded, and well-disposed Southern Democrat,” and a man that even the free-state press admitted considerable ability, observed historian Robert W. Johannsen. Once the pro-slave document had been drafted in October 1857, Elmore worked to have the entire constitution submitted to the voters for their approval or rejection. The majority of the delegates rejected this move, however, so Elmore supported the compromise effort that allowed Kansans to vote on the slavery clause—that is to vote to ratify the Lecompton Constitution with or without slavery. For much of the next year, the document “with slavery,” ratified by the voters in December (free-staters boycotting this referendum), was the focus of national debate and controversy. Finally, however, the Free State Party gained control of the territorial government and at a new election on August 2, 1858, the by then infamous Lecompton Constitution went down in defeat.

Elmore, despite his deep Southern roots and efforts on behalf of slavery in Kansas Territory, remained a staunch unionist, even after secession and the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861. As a steadfast union man, he remained devoted to one nation—the United States of America—and the free state of Kansas until his death on August 14, 1864.


Johannsen, Robert W. "The Lecompton Constitutional Convention: An Analysis of its Membership." Kansas Historical Quarterly 23 (Autumn 1957): 225-243.

Keckeisen, Robert J. “The Kansa ‘Half-Breed' Lands: Contravention and Transformation of United States Indian Policy in Kansas.” Master's thesis, Wichita State University, 1977.

Martin, John. “Biographical Sketch of Judge Rush Elmore.” Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1903-1904 . Topeka, KS: State Printer, 1904.

Entry: Elmore, Rush

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: January 2010

Date Modified: October 2012

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