The Wyandotte Convention_ an address
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THE WYANDOTTE CONVENTION
THE WYANDOTTE CONVENTION.
It is often charged that participants in assemblages of this characterare apt to exaggerate the importance of the occasion they commemorate,and after the manner of one of our poets, sing in chorus: "I celebratemyself." Perhaps I can speak of the Wyandotte Convention and itswork without being accused of this self-gratulation; for I was more of anobserver of its proceedings than a participant in them. I recorded whatwas done, but I had no part or lot in the doing. If its work had beencrude or weak, I could not fairly have been held responsible for the failure.As it was strong, efficient and enduring, I can felicitate you, thesurvivors of those who wrought this great service for Kansas, without asuspicion of self-praise.
KANSAS CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTIONS.
Four Conventions framed Constitutions for this State. The first assembledat Topeka, on the 23d of October, 1855, and adjourned on the11th of November, after a session of twenty days. It was composed offorty-seven members, of whom thirty-one signed the Constitution. Onthe 15th of December this instrument was submitted to the people forratification or rejection. Only 1,777 ballots were cast, all but 46 beingfavorable. One of its sections, a provision excluding negroes and mulattoesfrom the State, was submitted as an independent proposition, andadopted by an affirmative vote of 1,287, to 453 against it.
The second convention was that held at Lecompton, which met onthe 7th of June, 1857, and after a session of four days, adjourned until the19th of October, a final adjournment being reached on the 3d of November.It was composed of sixty-four members, forty-five of whom signedthe organic law it framed, and its session continued twenty days. Nodirect vote on this Constitution was provided for. The Schedule orderedtwo forms of ballot, one, the "Constitution with Slavery," theother, "Constitution with no Slavery." It was the old turkey and buzzardchoice. The Free State men refused to vote at the election, held on the21st of December, and only 6,712 ballots were cast, 6,147 being for Slaveryand 569 against Slavery. The Free State men had, however, electeda majority of the Territorial Legislature in October, and at a special sessionof that body, held in December, a law was passed providing for a directvote on the Constitution. This election was held on the 14th ofJanuary, 1858, resulting: against the Constitution, 10,266; for, 164—thepro-Slavery men not voting. A third vote on the Lecompton instrumentwas taken August 2d, 1858, Congress having ordered its re-submissionunder the terms of the English bill. Again it was rejected, the ballots inits favor being only 1,788, and those against it, 11,300.
2The Leavenworth Convention met at Minneola, March 23d, 1858,and at once adjourned to Leavenworth, where it re-assembled March 25th.It was composed of ninety-five members, was in session only eleven days,and the Constitution it framed was signed by eighty-three persons. Thisinstrument was adopted at an election held May 11th, by a very smallvote, the pro-Slavery men taking no part in the contest. It wasnever a popular organic law, and many Free State men who supported itdid so under protest. An earnest effort was made, by the Republicans,to secure the admission of Kansas under the Topeka Constitution, and bythe Democrats, with a few exceptions to bring the Territory in under theLecompton Constitution. But no serious or determined contest waswaged, in Congress, for admission under the Leavenworth Constitution,and in less than eight months the movement in its behalf was formallyabandoned.
THE WYANDOTTE CONVENTION.
Early in February, 1859, the Territorial Legislature passed an actsubmitting to the people the question of calling a Constitutional Convention.This vote was taken March 28th, and resulted: For, 5,306; against,1,425. On the 10th of May, 1859, the Republican party of Kansas wasorganized, at Osawatomie, and at the election held on the 7th of June, fordelegates to the Wyandotte Convention, the Republican and Democraticparties confronted each other in Kansas for the first time. The Democratscarried the counties of Leavenworth, Doniphan, Jefferson and Jackson,and elected one of the two delegates from Johnson. The Republicanswere successful in all the other Counties voting. The total votepolled was 14,000. The Republican membership was thirty five; Democratic,seventeen.
The Convention then chosen assembled on the 5th day of July, 1859.In its composition it was an unusual, not to say remarkable, Kansas assemblage.Apparently the chiefs of the contending parties had grownweary of Constitution making, or regarded this fourth endeavor in thatline as a predestined failure, for they were conspicuous by their absence.In the Topeka Convention nearly every prominent man of the Free Stateparty had a seat. Gen. Lane was its President, and Charles Robinson,Martin F. Conway, Marcus J. Parrott, Wm. Y. Roberts, Geo. W. Smith,Philip C. Schuyler, C. K. Holliday, Mark W. Delahay, and many otherrecognized Free State leaders, were members. In the Leavenworth Conventionthere was a similar gathering of widely-known Free State men.Conway was its President, and Lane, Roberts, Thos. Ewing, jr., Henry J.Adams, H. P. Johnson, S. N. Wood, T. Dwight Thacher, P. B. Plumb,Joel K. Goodin, A. Larzalere, W. F. M. Arny, Chas. H. Branscomb,John Ritchey, and many other influential Free State chiefs or partizans,were among its members.
In the Wyandotte Convention all the noted Free State leaders wereconspicuously absent. Its roll-call was made up of names generally newin Kansas affairs, and largely unknown in either the Free State or pro-Slaverycouncils. Its President, James M. Winchell, his colleague, Wm.McCullough, and John Ritchey, of Shawnee, had been members of theLeavenworth Convention; Col. Caleb May, of Atchison, and W. R. Griffith,of Bourbon, had been members of both the Topeka and the LeavenworthConventions; and Jas. M. Arthur, of Linn, had been a member ofthe Topeka Convention. But their prominence was largely local. On3the Democratic side, too, appeared men before unnoted in the annals ofthe stirring and tremendous conflict that had for years made the youngTerritory the cynosure of a Continent's interest. None of the prominentpro-Slavery men who sat in the Lecompton Convention or the pro-SlaveryLegislatures—Calhoun, Stringfellow, Henderson, Elmore, Wilson,Carr and others—appeared in this body.
Perhaps the absence of these party leaders was a fortunate thing forthe Convention and the incipient State. For in discriminating intelligence,in considerate zeal for the welfare of the people, in catholic graspof principles, and in capacity for defining theories clearly and compactly,the members of this body were not wanting. On the other hand, therewere fewer jealousies and far less wrangling than would have been possiblehad the envious and aspiring party leaders been present. I think it iscertain that the work was better done, done with more sobriety, sincerity,prudence and real ability, than would have resulted had the recognizedchiefs of the rival parties been on the floor of the Convention. The pioneers—theJohn Baptists—of the Free State cause were all at Topeka,and the Constitution they framed is disfigured by some blotches and muchuseless verbiage. The leaders were all at Leavenworth, where theyschemed for precedence, and spread traps to catch one another, and quarreledover non-essentials, and did everything but make a popular Constitution.Lecompton was the last expression of a beaten, desperate andwrong-headed, but intellectually vigorous faction, and was really, barringthe mean method of its submission, and its attempt to perpetuate Slavery,an admirable organic law.
The younger men of the Territory constituted the Convention atWyandotte. They came upon the field fresh, enthusiastic, and with aplace in the world of thought and action to conquer. They recognizedthe fact that they must do extremely well to secure popular favor, andthey set about their task with industry, intelligence and prudence. Theywere not martyrs or reformers, as many of those at Topeka were; norjealous politicians or factionists, as most of those at Leavenworth were.They had no old battles to fight over again, no personal feuds to distractthem, no recollection of former defeats or victories to reverse or maintain.They were their own prophets. They had had no experience in Constitutionmaking, and hence did not look backward. They were not specialists.A few had hobbies, but the vast majority had no bees buzzing intheir bonnets. A few were dogmatic, but the many were anxious to discuss,and willing to be convinced. A few were loquacious, but the majoritywere thinkers and workers. Some were accomplished scholars, butthe majority were men of ordinary education, whose faculties had beensharpened and trained by the hard experience of an active and earnestlife. Many were vigorous, direct, intelligent speakers; several werereally eloquent; and a few may justly be ranked with the most versatileand brilliant men Kansas has ever numbered among her citizens.
Very few were old men. Only fifteen of the fifty-two members wereover forty. Over one-third were under thirty, and nearly two-thirdsunder thirty-five. Very few, as I have said, had previously appeared asrepresentatives of the people in any Territorial assemblage, and this wasespecially true of the men whose talents, industry and force soon approvedthem leaders. Samuel A. Kingman had been in the Territory onlyabout eighteen months, and was unknown, outside of Brown county, untilhe appeared at Wyandotte. Solon O. Thacher was a young lawyer ofLawrence, never before prominent in public affairs. John J. Ingalls4had served, the previous winter, as Engrossing Clerk of the TerritorialCouncil. Samuel A. Stinson was a young attorney, recently from Maine.William C. McDowell had never been heard of outside of Leavenworth,Benjamin F. Simpson was a boyish-looking lawyer from Miami county,and John T. Burris had been practicing, for a year or two, before Justices'courts in Johnson county. John P. Slough had been a member ofthe Ohio Legislature, but was a new comer in Kansas; and E. G. Rosswas the publisher of a weekly newspaper at Topeka.
One-half of the members had been in the Territory less than twoyears. Six came in 1854, four in 1855, and twelve in 1856, while Mr.Forman, of Doniphan, dated his residence from 1843; Mr. Palmer, ofPottawatomie, from 1854, and Mr. Houston, of Riley, from 1853. Forty-onewere from Northern States, seven from the South, and four were offoreign birth, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany each contributingone. It appears singular that only one of the Western States, Indiana,was represented in the membership, that State furnishing six delegates.Twelve hailed from New England, Ohio contributed twelve,Pennsylvania six, and New York four. Only eighteen belonged to thelegal profession—an unusually small number of lawyers in such a body.Sixteen were farmers, eight merchants, three physicians, three manufacturers,one a mechanic, one a printer, one a land agent, and one a surveyor.The oldest member was Robert Graham, of Atchison, who was55; the youngest, Benj. F. Simpson, of Lykins Co., (now Miami,) whowas 23.
A WORKING BODY.
It was a working body, from the first hour of its session until the last.There is a tradition that the Continental Congress which promulgated theDeclaration of Independence was materially hastened in its deliberationsover that immortal document by swarms of flies that invaded the hallwhere it sat, and made the life of its members a burden. Perhaps theintense heat of the rough-plastered room where the Convention met, orthe knowledge that Territorial scrip would be received by importunatelandlords only at a usurious discount, had something to do with urgingdispatch in business. But certainly the Convention went to work withan energy and industry I have never seen paralleled in a Kansas deliberativebody since that time. It perfected its organization, adopted rulesfor its government, discussed the best mode of procedure in framing