TOPEKA LIBRARY (WIBW) -- The Topeka Constitution, lost for more than 150 years, will be unveiled at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library from 6pm till 7pm, Wednesday, October 23rd. This event marks the 158th anniversary of the Topeka Constitutional Convention in Constitution Hall.
This hand-written 26-page document was officially called "The Constitution of the State of Kansas." Researchers had been unable to find this first of the four Kansas constitutions, although printed copies existed. It was recovered recently at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. as records were placed on the Internet. A copy was given to Friends of the Free State Capitol, the local organization restoring Constitution Hall on Kansas Avenue, across the street west of the downtown Topeka post office.
Accepting a replica of the constitution will be R. Crosby Kemper III, whose great great-grandfather and namesake, Rufus Crosby, was a signer of the Topeka Constitution in 1855. Kemper is director of the Kansas City Public Library. His series "Meet the Past," in which he interviews the likes of Thomas Jefferson and John Brown, airs on public television.
Also accepting replicas will be representatives from the office of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and from the Topeka Room of the library.
Titled "Connecting To Our Past," the library program will begin with an explanation of its genealogy services. More than 70 people visit or call the library each week with genealogy questions.
This will be followed by a showing of "Liberty USA." This creative doll house-like patriotic village was made by an 88 year-old Topekan, Nedra Spingler. She will include her latest creation--a miniature version of Constitution Hall.
Don Lambert will explain the importance of the Topeka Constitution in local, state and national history. He is known for his longtime promotion of the arts and history of Kansas. Don's program will be held in the Library at 6:00 Wednesday evening, October 23rd.
Following is a brief history of The Topeka Constitution:
The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law on May 30, 1854. Within months, it appeared that pro-slavery Missourians would succeed in making Kansas a slave state. Through fraud and intimidation, they established the "bogus" legislature.
Shut out of the democratic process, newly-arrived settlers, many from New England, devised a bold but peaceful plan. They would write the state's constitution to form Kansas. They elected 40 delegates to attend a convention lasting three weeks in Topeka. They wrote an anti-slavery constitution. Topeka had a population of 350 at this time, less than a year after town founding.
Most important in the constitution was "There shall be no slavery in this state." It also granted property rights to women. The intent was U.S. Congress approval of the constitution so that Kansas would be admitted into the Union as a Free State rather than a slave state. Although this constitution was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, the pro-slavery Senate prevented it from coming to a vote.
Among the 40 signers of the Topeka Constitution were Cyrus K. Holliday, founder of Topeka; Charles Robinson, first governor of Kansas; and James Lane, president of the convention.
Following the Topeka Constitution, there were three other Kansas constitutions: the Lecompton (pro-slavery,) Leavenworth, and the Wyandot under which Kansas finally entered the Union as a Free State in 1861.
The Topeka Constitution was written in Constitution Hall. This three-story native stone building was started a few months after Topeka was founded and is its oldest building. From 1863-69, it was the first Capitol for the new State of Kansas while the current Statehouse was being built five blocks away. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Constitution Hall is in restoration by Friends of the Free State Capitol.