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The History of our Public Schools
Wyandotte County, Kansas

1844
2012

 

 

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The Story of Kansas City, Kansas

"Constitutional Convention"

Our city has received many honors since it was founded.  We are proudest of the fact that the constitution of Kansas was written in Wyandotte. [Wyandotte Constitutional Convention]

This was the fourth time the men of the territory had met to write a constitution.  Kansas could not become a state until the people and Congress voted a accept a constitution.  The trouble between the free and slave people was still going on.  Each side wanted its own way.

The fourth meeting began on July 5, 1859, in Wyandotte.  Both Republicans and Democrats came.  The men were lawyers, farmers, merchants, and doctors.  They were young men, sixteen under thirty and only one past fifty.  The secretary was just twenty years old and did a fine job.  It was five years since Kansas had become a territory, and these men wanted to write a constitution that both Congress and the citizens of Kansas would approve.

Reporters came from New York to cover the convention, just as they go to conventions today.  They expected this one to end in trouble as the others had done.  We can read their reports in newspapers of a hundred years ago.

The Easterners must have thought Wyandotte a very poor place indeed.  One man wrote about the hall on the levee where the convention was held.  He said the building was undermined by water seepage.  This probably was true, as it collapsed a few years afterward.

The reporter told about a saloon on the second floor with a bar made of planks laid across barrels.  Here are the things he said were on the bar:  bottles, cheese, boxes of raisins, cigars, crackers, and tobacco.  A sawdust floor had been laid to muffle the noise to the room above and take up the tobacco.

The reporter said the fine arts were represented on the next floor by a picture of the "Birds of America" cut from an old handbill.  The room where the delegates met was unplastered.  For ornament someone had tacked black cloth around the tables and put up an American flag.

How the eastern readers must have laughed at this description and wondered what kind of constitution would be written in such surroundings.  Of course, neither the reporter nor his readers are alive today to know that what was written in 21 days at the convention has been the basis of our state law for a hundred years.  [Annotation:  Kansas State Constitution]

These men had to decide on important matters and sometimes had to give in to other members who disagreed with them.  You do the same when your class has a meeting to discuss plans for an assembly or a party.

The Nebraska delegates thought the Platte River would make a suitable dividing line between the states, but the convention chose the present limit.  On the west, the summit of the Rocky Mountains formed the boundary.  Because they felt that farming and mining problems were too unlike, the convention members cut the size of the territory to four hundred miles from east to west.  Only white citizens were given the right to vote although slavery was forbidden.  Up to the time of this constitution, married women had no right to own property in their own names.  Their husbands controlled everything owned by their wives.  The young men of the convention considered the law unfair.  They wrote into our constitution women's right to own property.  The convention made another rule favoring Kansas women.  The constitution states that a family's home cannot be sold for taxes.

The state was divided into counties, the counties into townships.  Eastern visitors who expected trouble over these matters saw only one quarrel.  Some delegates reached for their guns, but no real fighting took place.  This was remarkable in those times.

John J. Ingalls and a committee spent three days going over the wording of the constitution.  At five o'clock on July 29, 1859, twenty-four days after the convention opened, the final copy was ready.  Only Republicans signed it.  The Democrats said it was a fine constitution, but they would not sign it for political reasons.

KANSAS, A STATE

On October 4, 1859, the citizens of Kansas voted to accept this constitution.  It was not until January 29, 1861, though, that Congress would accept it and pass the law making Kansas a state.  We had waited seven years and eight months for statehood.

By January, 1859, a telegraph line had been extended through Wyandotte to Leavenworth and Atchison.  These were the only two telegraph offices in Kansas when the statehood news came over the wires.  The legislature was in session at Lawrence.  A messenger from the Leavenworth newspaper made his way through the snow to the Eldridge House where the members were boarding.  Everyone was overjoyed.  Bells were rung and bonfires lighted at Lawrence and Topeka.  A famous cannon, "Old Sacramento," that had been used in the siege of Lawrence, was brought out and fired.

The flag with the 34th star was first raised by President Lincoln on Washington's Birthday in 1861.  He was on his way to his inaugural in Washington and stopped in Philadelphia, where with his own hand he hoisted the flag over Independence Hall.

The Kansas motto, "Ad Astra per Aspera," which are the Latin words for "To the stars through difficulties," was suggested by John J. Ingalls.  Ingalls was then the secretary of the first Kansas state senate.

Our Constitution was written in longhand on eight sheets of paper, eighteen inches wide.  When pasted together, the document was 21 feet long.  It has been in the possession of the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka since 1906, and until 1948 was rolled in a metal cylinder.  Since then the pages have been separated and placed in a dust-proof case which no light rays can enter.  It may be seen in the lobby of the Memorial Building in Topeka.

JOHN J. INGALLS

Some of you who are reading this story may be pupils of the John J. Ingalls School.  Your school is named for the man who worked on the constitution and later became a United States senator from Kansas.

Ingalls was only 26 years old when he and his committee put the finishing touches on the constitution.  He liked to make fiery speeches at the convention against the men who disagreed with him.  His friends said he sat up nights to find unusual words to use in his talks.  He had the reputation for studying the dictionary more than any other man in this part of the country.

Ingalls was six feet tall.  The natives thought him strange when he appeared at the convention with a curious-looking hat mounted on top of his head.  It was a broad-brimmed straw with every other straw removed.  The crown was punched to a point and two strings attached.  No one knew why he wore such a hat.  Possibly it was comfortable on a hot July day in Kansas.

MRS. CLARINDA NICHOLS

The members of the constitutional convention were all men.  There was one woman who brought her knitting to the different sessions and listened attentively.  She was Mrs. Clarinda I. Nichols, who had come with a group of free-state people from Vermont to Quindaro.  Mrs. Nichols had been the editor of a paper, a speaker, and a teacher.  As a wife and mother she felt that women should be represented at the meeting.

When Mrs. Nichols wanted to speak before the convention to ask that women be allowed to vote, she was refused.  The men brushed her aside saying that women already had enough care and responsibility in attending to their homes.  The convention, however, gave property rights to women and the protection of homes against forced sale.  Later Kansas women could vote a city elections, and in 1912 they were given full voting privileges.

When a woman's club gathered exhibits for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, a portrait of Mrs. Nichols as an outstanding pioneer woman was selected.  Miss Doris Carpenter, YWCA leader, is a great-great granddaughter of Mrs. Nichols.

The Civil War

Return to Index for "The Story of Kansas City, Kansas" by Nellie McGuinn

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012

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