The Kansas–Nebraska Act became a law on May 30, 1854, establishing the Nebraska Territory and Kansas Territory. One of the provisions of the Act repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and allowed the settlers of Kansas Territory to determine by popular sovereignty whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state. The Territory of Kansas was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from May 30, 1854, until January 29, 1861, when the eastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the state of Kansas. The territory extended from the Missouri border west to the summit of the Rocky Mountains and from the 37th parallel north to the 40th parallel north. The Territory of Colorado was created to govern this western region of the former Kansas Territory on February 28, 1861. I lived in Kansas from August 1977 until the beginning of July 1994. To read about pre- and post-territorial Kansas, please refer to the ASAD article about Kansas Statehood.
The name “Kansas” comes from the Native American Kaws or Kansa people (a Sioux tribe), According to Kansas Historical Society; “The Kaw tribe derived its name from the Siouan aca, ‘Southwind.’ Among the many variations of the name given by French traders and other Europeans were Kanza or Kansa. By the mid-eighteenth century, the ‘People of the Southwind’ were the predominant tribe in what became the state to which they gave their name.”
A word on pronunciation: Kansas is pronounced with the final “s” while the neighboring (on the southeast corner) Arkansas is pronounced with a final “saw”. This is because the latter is named for the French plural of a Native American tribe while Kansas is the English spelling of a similar tribe. Technically, both stem from the same basic root, kká:ze for the Kansa people but Kansas was named specifically after the Kansas River, which is named for the Kansa. French explorers had heard of a sect of the Quapaw, a Native American tribe in the territory now known as Arkansas, from the Algonquians, who called the people akansa (most likely related to the Kansa tribe). The “s” on the end is simply a French addition then and a silent one at that. In 1881, the Arkansas state legislature ruled on that matter, noting the “confusion” about the state’s pronunciation. Lawmakers formally endorsed the “saw” ending, discouraging any “innovation” to pronounce the state similarly to Kansas.
Within a few days after the passage of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, hundreds of Missourians crossed into the adjacent territory, selected a section of land, and then united with fellow-adventurers in a meeting or meetings, intending to establish a pro-slavery preemption upon all this region.
As early as June 10, 1854, the Missourians held a meeting at Salt Creek Valley, a trading post three miles (5 km) west of Fort Leavenworth, at which a “Squatter’s Claim Association” was organized. They said they were in favor of making Kansas a slave state if it should require half the citizens of Missouri, musket in hand, to emigrate there. According to these emigrants, abolitionists would do well not to stop in Kansas Territory, but keep on up the Missouri River until they reach Nebraska Territory, which was anticipated to be a free state. Before the first arrival of Free-State emigrants from the northern and eastern States, nearly every desirable location along the Missouri River had been claimed by men from western Missouri, by virtue of the preemption laws.
During the long debate that preceded the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it had become the settled opinion at the North that the only remaining means whereby the territory might yet be rescued from the grasp of the slave power, was in its immediate occupancy and settlement by anti-slavery emigrants from the free states in sufficient numbers to establish free institutions within its borders. The desire to facilitate the colonization of the Territory took practical shape while the bill was still under debate in the United States Congress. The largest organization created for this purpose was the New England Emigrant Aid Company, organized by Eli Thayer.
Emigration from the free states, including New England, Iowa, Ohio, and other Midwestern states, flowed into the territory beginning in 1854. These emigrants were known as Free-Staters. Because Missourians had claimed much of the land closest to the border, the Free-Staters were forced to establish settlements further into Kansas Territory. Among these were Lawrence, Topeka, and Manhattan.
To protect themselves against the encroachments of non-residents, the “Actual Settlers’ Association of Kansas Territory” was formed. This association held a meeting on August 12, 1854, the object being the adoption of some regulations that should afford protection to the Free-State settlers, under laws not unlike those adopted by the pro-slavery squatters in the border region east.
The first territorial appointments, looking to the inauguration of a local government, under the provisions of the organic law, were made in June and July 1854. The officers appointed by President Pierce, whose appointments were confirmed by the United States Senate, and who entered upon the duties of their officer. The first governor was Andrew Horatio Reeder (of Easton, Pennsylvania) was appointed June 29, 1854 and removed July 28, 1858.
It was rumored in the South that thousands of Northerners were arriving in Kansas. Believing these rumors, in November 1854, thousands of armed pro-slavery men known as “Border Ruffians” or “southern yankees”, mostly from Missouri, poured into the Kansas Territory and swayed the vote in the election for a non-voting delegate to Congress in favor of pro-slavery candidate John Whitfield. The following year a Congressional committee investigating the election reported that 1729 fraudulent votes were cast compared to 1114 legal votes. In one location only 20 of the 604 voters were residents of the Kansas Territory. In another 35 were residents and 226 non-residents.
On March 30, 1855, Kansas Territory held the election for its first Territorial Legislature. Crucially, this legislature would decide whether Kansas Territory would allow slavery. Just as had happened in the election of November 1854, “Border Ruffians” from Missouri again streamed into the territory to vote, and proslavery delegates were elected to 37 of the 39 seats — Martin F. Conway and Samuel D. Houston from Riley County were the only Free-Staters elected. Due to questions about electoral fraud, Territorial Governor Andrew Reeder invalidated the results in five voting districts, and a special election was held on May 22, 1855, to elect replacements. Eight of the eleven delegates elected in the special election were Free-State, but this still left the proslavery camp with an overwhelming 29–10 advantage Antislavery candidates prevailed in one election district, the future Riley County.
To help countermand the voting fraud, by the summer of 1855 around 1,200 New England Yankees had emigrated to Kansas Territory. The abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher armed many of them with Sharps rifles, which, it is alleged, became known as “Beecher’s Bibles” for their shipment in wooden crates so labeled.
In response to the disputed votes and rising tension, Congress sent a special committee to Kansas Territory in 1856. The committee report concluded that if the election on March 30, 1855, had been limited to “actual settlers” it would have elected a Free-State legislature. The report also stated that the legislature actually seated “was an illegally constituted body, and had no power to pass valid laws.”
Nevertheless, the pro-slavery territorial legislature convened in Pawnee (within modern-day Fort Riley) on July 2, 1855, at the request of Governor Reeder. The two-story stone building still stands and is open to the public as the First Territorial Capitol of Kansas. The legislature immediately invalidated the results from the special election in May and seated the pro-slavery delegates elected in March. After only one week in Pawnee, the legislature moved the territorial capital nearer Missouri to the Shawnee Methodist Mission, where it reconvened and passed laws favorable to slavery.
In August 1855, antislavery residents met to formally reject the pro-slavery laws. This led to the election of Free State delegates, and the writing of the Topeka Constitution. However, in a message to Congress on January 24, 1856, President Pierce declared the Free-State Topeka government insurrectionist in its stand against pro-slavery Territorial officials.
In October 1855, John Brown came to Kansas Territory to fight slavery. On November 21, 1855 the so-called “Wakarusa War” began when a Free-Stater named Charles Dow was shot by a pro-slavery settler. The war had one fatality, when the free stater Thomas Barber was shot and killed near Lawrence on December 6. On May 21, 1856, Missourians invaded Lawrence and burned the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices, and ransacked homes and stores.
In May 1856, Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts took to the floor to denounce the threat of slavery in Kansas and humiliate its supporters. He had devoted his enormous energies to the destruction of what Republicans called the Slave Power, that is the efforts of slave owners to take control of the federal government and ensure the survival and expansion of slavery. In the speech (called “The Crime against Kansas”) Sumner ridiculed the honor of elderly South Carolina Senator Andrew Butler, portraying Butler’s pro-slavery agenda towards Kansas with the raping of a virgin and characterizing his affection for it in sexual and revolting terms. The next day Butler’s cousin, the South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks, nearly killed Sumner on the Senate floor with a heavy cane. The action electrified the nation, brought violence to the floor of the Senate, and deepened the North-South split.
The violence continued to increase. Ohio abolitionist Brown led his sons and other followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke in favor of slavery. At a proslavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24, the group seized five pro-slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. Brown and his men escaped and began plotting a full-scale slave insurrection to take place at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, with financial support from Boston abolitionists.
The pro-slavery Territorial government, serving under President Pierce, had been relocated to Lecompton. In April 1856, a Congressional committee arrived there to investigate voting fraud. The committee found the elections improperly elected by non-residents. President Pierce refused recognition of its findings and continued to authorize the pro-slavery legislature, which the Free State people called the “Bogus Legislature.”
On the Fourth of July in 1856, proclamations of President Pierce led to nearly 500 U.S. Army troops arriving in Topeka from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley. With their cannons pointed at Constitution Hall, and the long fuses lit, Colonel E.V. Sumner, cousin to the senator of the same name beaten on the Senate floor, ordered the dispersal of the Free State Legislature.
In August 1856, thousands of pro-slavery men formed into armies and marched into Kansas. That same month, Brown and several of his followers engaged 400 pro-slavery soldiers in the Battle of Osawatomie. The hostilities raged for another two months until Brown departed the Kansas Territory, and a new territorial governor, John W. Geary, took office and managed to prevail upon both sides for peace. This was followed by a fragile peace broken by intermittent violent outbreaks for two more years. The last major outbreak of violence was touched off by the Marais des Cygnes massacre in 1858, in which Border Ruffians killed five Free State men. In all, approximately 56 people died in Bleeding Kansas by the time the violence ended in 1859. Following the commencement of the American Civil War in 1861, additional guerrilla violence erupted on the border between Kansas and Missouri.
A major confrontation of the Bleeding Kansas era was in the writing of constitutions that would govern the state of Kansas. The first of four such documents was the 1855 Topeka Constitution, written by antislavery forces unified under the Free State Party. This was the basis for the Free State Territorial government that resisted the illegitimate, but federally authorized government elected by non-resident, and thus unqualified Missourians.
In 1857, the second constitutional convention drafted the Lecompton Constitution, a pro-slavery document. The Lecompton Constitution was promoted by President James Buchanan. Congress instead ordered another election because of voting irregularities uncovered. On August 2, 1858, Kansas voters rejected the document by 11,812 to 1,926.
While the Lecompton Constitution was pending before Congress, a third document, the Leavenworth Constitution, was written and passed by Free State delegates. It was more radical than other Free State proposals in that it would have extended suffrage to “every male citizen”, regardless of race. Participation in this ballot on May 18, 1858, was a fraction of the previous and there was some opposition by Free State Democrats. The proposed constitution was forwarded to the U.S. Senate on January 6, 1859 where it was met with a tepid reception and left to die in committee.
The Wyandotte Constitution drafted in 1859 represented the Free State view of the future of Kansas. It was approved in a referendum by a vote of 10,421 to 5,530 on October 4, 1859. With southern states still in control of the Senate, Kansas awaited admission to the Union until January 29, 1861.
The last legislative act of the Territorial Legislature was the approval of the charter for the College of the Sisters of Bethany. This was February 2, 1861 — four days after James Buchanan signed the act of Congress that officially brought Kansas into the Union.
Jayhawkers is a term that came to prominence just before the American Civil War in Kansas, where it was adopted by militant bands affiliated with the free-state cause. These bands, known as “Jayhawkers”, were guerrilla fighters who often clashed with pro-slavery groups from Missouri known at the time as “Border Ruffians”. After the Civil War, the word “Jayhawker” became synonymous with the people of Kansas. Today a modified version of the term, Jayhawk, is used as a nickname for a native-born Kansan, but more typically for a student, fan, or alumnus of the University of Kansas.
Scott #1061 is a 3-cent stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Kansas Territory that was issued in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on May 31, 1954. The overall design depicts a field of wheat and a set of farm buildings in the foreground, with a wagon train of pioneers in light silhouette forming the background. The numerals “1854” and “1954” in dark Gothic are shown in the upper left and right corners of the stamp, respectively. Arranged in two lines across the bottom of the stamp appear the denomination “3c,” “U.S. Postage,” and “Kansas Territorial Centennial” in whiteface Gothic.
The stamp measures 0.84 x 1.44 inches, aranged horizontally with a single outline frame, printed by the rotary process, electric-eye perforated 11 x 10½, and issued in sheets of fifty. The color of the stamp is reddish gold (classified by the Scott catalogue as brown orange). The printing of 110,000,000 stamps was authorized and 113,603,700 were printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Oddly enough, I cannot find any reference to flags used specific to the Territory of Kansas online. In fact, a state flag wasn”t authorized until 1927 (a state banner had been used for two years previously). The addition of the word “Kansas” to the state flag didn’t occur until the 1960s. The 31-star flag of the United States is probably what flew over most meetings of the territorial legislature. Kansas was the 34th state admitted to the Union in 1861 and a flag with that number of stars was available by mid-year.