Kansas Day: How Did We Get our Shape?

Happy Anniversary, Kansas!

How'd we get into the shape we're in??  On the map, that is.

Author Mark Stein says the first Kansas Territory encompassed all the land in our state now, extending west to what was the New Mexico territorial border, then where that ended, all the way west to the crest of the Rocky Mountains.  When Congress created Missouri in 1821, Kansas acquired its eastern border.  That boundary is the Missouri River down to its merging with the Kansas River near Kansas City.  From here, the border continued (and still does) as a straight line south to the bottom of Kansas. 

When Congress started debating the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the proposed south border of our state was 36-30' on the map, locating it on the northern border of Texas' panhandle.  Since Kansas would be north of that line, northerners just assumed slavery would be prohibited there under the terms of the Missouri Compromise.  But with all the land we got in the Mexican War, southerners quickly saw that most of the country's future states were going to be north of that line.. enough states to make slavery unconstitutional.

Repealing the Missouri Compromise would knock out that 36-30' line, so Congress made a little adjustment.  It gave Kansas its southern border at 37-degrees, a half degree north.  That was changed because Congress was also busy setting our northern border at 40-degrees, exactly three degrees north of the new southern border.. the one we still see on the map today.  In doing this, Congress created the possibility that four states of equal heights could then be created from Kansas to Canada.  Even today's map shows that Nebraska and the Dakotas joined Kansas in forming a giant tier of prairie states, each having three degrees of latitude height on the map.  Equality on the map was also supposed to bond the states together against slavery.  Of course, we all know Kansas prohibited slavery as a free state, and the free-state legislature chose Topeka as its capital.

How about our western border to Colorado?  Well, after gold was found in the mountains of western Kansas 150 years ago, more than 50,000 outsiders swarmed the hills and towns that sprang up overnight.  Native Kansans had to confront the chance that keeping its gold mines might force them to lose their new political control.  In 1859, proposals sprang up to form a new "Territory of Jefferson," and with the Civil War looming on the horizon, Kansans believed Congress might set up that new territory.  To keep its own political house in order, Kansas agreed to separate from its gold mines in the west.  Miners proposed a border with Kansas at 102-degrees West longitude.  If the border was stretched out to 103-degrees, Kansas would have lined up with the western border of New Mexico.  One reason the 102-degree mark was chosen was to give the new Colorado-area territory more farmland east of the mountains. 

As it turned out, the east and west borders of the Jefferson Territory, renamed Colorado, were seven degrees apart.  In time, five more western states would each poke out from the Nebraska border, and line up a perfect seven degrees wide.. all the way to Idaho.  There you have it!  It turned out that the shape we're in 148 years later was all a matter of degrees.    Ralph

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