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Sesquicentennial of Adoption of Kansas Constitution

By   /   October 4, 2009  /   No Comments

Painting of Abolitionist John Brown in Kansas Capitoll

Painting of Abolitionist John Brown in Kansas Capitol

The Kansas Constitution was adopted in an election held 150 years ago today.  The “Wyandotte Constitution” was adopted Oct 4, 1859 after a series of constitutions had been proposed and discussed.

In 1859 there was a national debate over slavery and whether Kansas should enter the union as a  free state or a slave state.  This national debate was so intense that the New York Times published an article “Kansas Matters” with the proposed Constitution of Kansas on August 8, 1859:

Kansas Matters: The Kansas Constitution published in the New York Times in 1859.

There were two New York Times correspondents reporting in the “Kansas Matters” article.  I’m not sure I understand their arguments.  The first, the “Special Correspondent,”  seems to be sympathetic to Democrats, while the second, the “Lawrence Correspondent” seems more sympathetic to Republicans.

The key part of the Kansas Constitution of national interest was in the Kansas Bill of Rights, which made Kansas a free state:

Sec. 6. There shall be no slavery in this State and no involuntary servitude, except for the punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.

Still topical today, Section 4 of the Kansas Bill of Rights clearly spelled out gun rights in Kansas:

Sec. 4.  The people have the right to bear arms for their defence and security.

The issue of whether U.S. citizens under the U.S. Constitution have the personal right to bear arms was accepted as a case in the U.S. Supreme Court last week, but the Kansas Constitution clearly spells out an individual right.

Several days after the New York Times article was printed, a similar one was printed in the Dawson’s Daily Times in Fort Wayne, Indiana (Aug 12, 1859), which also printed the entire proposed Kansas Constitution.

1859 Report of Kansas Constitution in Fort Wayne, Indiana

1859 Report of Kansas Constitution in Fort Wayne, Indiana (click above to see complete article)

This Fort Wayne article is interesting because it complained that those allowed voting rights in Kansas may be “aliens”:

One feature is clearly objectionable, and that is allowing aliens to vote before naturalization — this is radically wrong …

What were the results in the vote on the Kansas Constitutional Election held on Oct 4, 1859?  I could only find one article from NewspaperArchive.com that mentioned the results (perhaps I missed some obvious ones):

Election results reported on Oct 19, 1859 in the Janesville, Wisconsin Janesville Weekly Times

Election results reported on Oct 19, 1859 in the Janesville (WI) Weekly Times

The adoption of the Wyandotte Constitution is rendered certain by the reception of returns from the most important counties.  The majority will probably reach four thousand.

Update (Oct 17):  Ballotpedia’s Kansas Constitution page shows the Oct 4, 1859 election results:  10,421 for and 5,530 against.

[editor’s note: Thanks to the Salina Public Library for access to the NewspaperArchive.com, which was  used for researching this article.]

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