Resolutions of the Topeka Convention

James Henry Lane

James Henry Lane

The Topeka convention on “the expediency of the formation of a State government with a view to application to Congress at its next session for admission as a State” came together on September 19, 1855. The convention on whether or not to hold a constitutional convention had begun. At eleven in the morning, they did the usual business of electing officers, reviewing credentials, and appointing a committee to do the work of drafting resolutions. They then called it a day, recommencing at nine the next morning.

The convention appointed a committee of eighteen, one from each district, to draft an address to the people of Kansas and interested parties abroad. They would tell all who would listen “our grievances and the policy we have been compelled to adopt, and which we have determined at all hazards to carry out.” The official rhetoricians of the convention included such familiar faces as James Lane, H. Miles Moore, John Wakefield, and George Washington Brown. They made the usual complaints about how Missourians had stolen Kansas elections and so rendered the Kansas-Nebraska Act a dead letter. That in turn deprived them of all their rights as Americans. Thus they must cast aside the extent territorial government and make their own.

John A Wakefield

John A Wakefield

To that end, the convention established

a committee of seven […] appointed by the chair, who shall organize by the appointment of a Chairman and Secretary. They shall keep a record of their proceedings and shall have the general superintendence of the affairs of the Territory so far as regards the organization of a State government, which Committee shall be styled “The Executive Committee of Kansas Territory.”

That committee would promote the elections for the constitutional convention. They would name the judges off election, set polling places, and receive returns from each delegate election. The convention also had the foresight to grant the election officers the power to postpone or relocate their elections in the event of

Indian hostilities, or any other cause whatever, that would disturb or prevent the voters of any election precinct in the Territory, from the free and peaceable exercise of the elective franchise

The officers would thus have the one power that might have saved the integrity of some elections in the past year. In the event that Missourians and other ruffians came around to vote illegally or, more likely, terrorize the legal voters, the free soil men had put a contingency in place to frustrate them.

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

This rightly sounds very procedural. They must do these things to have their convention, but why do they matter? I highlight them because at this point the free state movement crossed a new line. They assigned to their own number powers that Andrew Reeder had held and thus established a kind of provisional executive in advance of the second Topeka convention, which would do the work of writing a constitution. Its members would include James Lane and George Brown.

The movement had gone beyond talk and into affirmative acts usurping the power of Kansas’ legal government. Though they hadn’t taken up arms, at this point one can fairly call their business insurrection. They did not propose mere civil disobedience, but rather revolution.


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