Lecompton Travel Guide: 15 reviews and 40 photos

The events that led to the tragic American Civil War took place over a long period of time and in such a manner that makes it hard for someone to point a finger at a particular location or event. Certainly there points you can turn your head towards - Harpers Ferry and John Brown; Washington D.C. and the events in Congress and, finally, Charleston where the point of no return was finally breached. But here, in this small town of some 600 people sited just above the Kansas River, the prologue for the horrible fratricide was played out for all to see.

The Compromise of 1850 included one law which took away a large part of territory from the new State of Texas in an attempt to placate the pro-slave/abolition balance. Some of that land, along with the Indian Territories to the west of Missouri would create a new Territory of Kansas. Pressure built up to renege on treaties made earlier and push the Native Americans out of their Kansan reserves further to the south into the regions of today?s Oklahoma. In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act creating both the Territory of Kansas and Nebraska. New lands were opened up to settlers with a new catch added to the legislation which would enable the new local populations to decide whether slavery would be allowed in their Territory or not. Into Kansas, an initial wave of settlers came from Missouri and Arkansas. They hoped to gain new lands and extend the slavery franchise. In response, Northern abolition groups such as the New England Emigrant Aid Company organized funds which allowed several thousand abolition-minded to move to Kansas where they would found the towns of Lawrence, Topeka and Manhattan. Abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher collected fund to supply settlers with Sharps rifles. The rifles would become known as ?Beecher?s Bibles? when they were forwarded to Kansas in boxes labeled as bibles. Some 1200 New England ?Free Staters? made their way to Kansas during the summer of 1855. Earlier, thousands of Missouri ?Border Ruffians? crossed over the border to steal the election for the sole Territorial delegate to Congress. Less than half of the votes were legally cast ? over 6000 votes were recorded even though there were only 1500 registered voters at the time. Following up on this success, the pro-slavery elements prevailed on Mar 30, 1855 in the elections for the Territorial legislature. Convening at first Pawnee Rock, the legislators quickly moved the proceedings to Shawnee Mission close to the border of Missouri where they began to formalize laws to try and ensure slavery as a part of the future Kansas. Free Staters created their own shadow government in Topeka in response, promulgating their own laws. Both governments were giving out land grants and chaos was the order of the day. In his January 1856 address to Congress, President Franklin Pierce ? a Northern Democrat who gained and maintained political power by appeasing to Southern interests ? declared the Free Staters to be in revolution against the proper government.

Events in Kansas began to spin out of control next. First, May 21, 1856 saw a group of Border Ruffians ride into the Free State town of Lawrence burning and pillaging. In retaliation, John Brown led a group of men on May 24 in an attack on a pro-slavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek murdering five men taken from their homes. Violence brings violence and that was the case here as the territory became known as ?Bleeding Kansas?. In August, several thousand pro-slavery men marched into Kansas to take on John Brown?s group which they did for several months until Brown finally left the Territory and a new governor, John Glary, was able to install a fragile peace that would last for the next two years until the violence ended in 1859 after some 56 deaths. The peace would be broken in brutal fashion during the Civil War as Jayhawks (pro-North) and Bushwhackers (pro-South) would go after each other and anyone else getting in their ways.

In 1856, the Territorial government moved to Lecompton in the spring and held a constitutional convention in the fall. The constitution drawn up would have allowed slavery in the new State of Kansas. Ratification was boycotted by the Free State majority, but the constitution was accepted by the new President, James Buchanan. The pro-South US Senate agreed with the President but the House of Representatives voted down acceptance by seven votes and ordered the process to begin again. Eventually the more numerous Free Staters would rule the day and a fourth State Constitution ? the Wyandotte Constitution ? was drawn up and accepted by voters 10,421 to 5,530 on Oct 4, 1859. The House then accepted the bill in April 1860, but the Senate procrastinated. However, as southern States began to secede following the election of Abraham Lincoln, Southern resistance in the Senate crumbled as their numbers dwindled. Kansas entered the Union as a Free State on Jan 29, 1861 with Topeka becoming the capital and Lecompton shrinking back into obscurity.

  • Last visit to Lecompton: Oct 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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