The Constitution and Ritual of the Kansas Legion, Part One

CK Holliday

Cyrus K. Holliday

Sorry for the delay on this post, Gentle Readers. I had everything done properly, but WordPress declined to publish as scheduled.

With Dale Watts’ article and the Laughlin-Collins fight fresh in mind, I went into the papers to see what I could find reporting both Laughlin’s exposure of the Kansas Legion and the altercation that ended in Collins’ death. I hoped to compare accounts in the Squatter Sovereign, Herald of Freedom, and Leavenworth Herald. Along the way, I unexpectedly found Laughlin’s original article exposing the Legion. It went out in the St. Joseph Gazette, to which I lack access, but the November 6, 1855 Squatter Sovereign helpfully reprinted it

Laughlin began with an introductory note, explaining his pure motives and progressive disillusionment with the free state movement. All of this runs substantially the same as his testimony in the Howard Report, closely enough that I suspect Laughlin either referred to the text then or had memorized it. Laughlin then goes on to share the “Constitution and Ritual Of the Grand Encampment, and Regiments of the Kansas Legion, of Kansas Territory. Adopted April 4th, 1855.”

The constitution provided for the governance of the legion by a Grand Encampment, drawn from representatives of each regiment of fifty or more. They would meet “on the third Wednesday of January and July, at such hour and places as shall be selected by the Encampment at the previous semi-annual session.” The Grand Encampment would have an equally grand General, Vice General, Quartermaster, Pay-master, Aid, and Chaplain. Two Sentinels did not warrant the grand style. The constitution of the Grand Encampment dealt mostly with administrative details, but ended by naming names. I only recognized Cyrus K. Holliday, Grand Vice General, founder of Topeka and frequent delegate to antislavery conventions.

The Constitution of Subordinate Encampments had more everyday details. To join, a man twenty-one or older had to prove loyal to the free state cause. Those as young as eighteen could join, but only if three members vouched for them. Three negative votes of the regiment would reject any member. Once in, one who wanted out had to receive a certificate “signed by the Colonel and countersigned by the Quarter-master, upon the payment of 10 cents for such certificate.” The same applied if one wished to transfer between regiments. This would keep the quartermaster in the loop as to personnel changes, and probably also keep some men from resigning to avoid the trouble.

Subordinate encampments had the same officers, with largely the same duties, as the grand encampment save that they had to settle for the title of Colonel. The constitution charged the Aid

to examine the members, at the opening of the Regiment, and report any who are incorrect to the Colonel

I don’t know if we should read that in a strictly military light or as an injunction to scrutinize members’ politics, but I suspect both. Members could face “reprimand, suspension or expulsion” if two-thirds of a meeting agreed to it. Cause expulsion included “revealing the secrets of the Order or militating against the interests of the future freedom of Kansas.” Word of such an expulsion would be sent around so everyone would know the expelled “as a man destitute of the principles of truth, honor, and integrity.”

A regiment might not form much of a paramilitary band. The constitution contemplates groups too small to make much of a militia still counting as regiments. A quorum required only five. Given this provision:

As soon as each and every regiment shall number thirty members upon its muster roll it shall proceed forthwith to organize an efficient regular Military Company.

You could join a group of fewer people and have a club, with the right to send delegates to the semiannual meetings, but once the roster topped thirty one had to get serious. Then the Grand Encampment expected soldiering, at least now and then, as well as talking.


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