The Topeka Constitutional Convention was held in October 1855 in the town of Topeka, Kansas Territory. This convention was the first effort to establish Kansas under a state constitution; it drafted the Topeka Constitution that was approved by Free-State voters in Kansas on December 15, 1855. This document banned slavery in Kansas. The convention was organized by Free-Staters seeking to subvert the official (proslavery) territorial legislature, which was elected in March 1855 in polling suffering widely from electoral fraud.
Elections in Kansas Territory were held pursuant to the Topeka Constitution on January 15, 1856. In voting, boycotted by most proslavery men, Charles L. Robinson was elected Governor. The question of whether free African Americans would be excluded from settling in Kansas under the Topeka Constitution was also put to a vote at the same time; the results favored exclusion.
The result of the election was the creation of a Free-State legislature in opposition to the official Territorial legislature, which was a proslavery body. Each side considered the other to be fraudulent. Their conflict, carried out with guns and the ballot box, inspired the term Bleeding Kansas. Following the elections, in a lengthy address on January 24, 1856, President Franklin Pierce declared the Topeka government to be revolutionary and ordered the arrest of its leaders:
|“||In fact what has been done is of revolutionary character. It is avowedly so in motive and in aim as respects the local law of the Territory. It will become treasonable insurrection if it reach the length of organized resistance by force to the fundamental or any other Federal law and to the authority of the General Government. In such an event the path of duty for the Executive is plain. The Constitution requiring him to take care that the laws of the United States be faithfully executed, if they be opposed in the Territory of Kansas he may, and should, place at the disposal of the marshal any public force of the United States which happens to be within the jurisdiction, to be used as a portion of the posse comitatus; and if that do not suffice to maintain order, then he may call forth the militia of one or more States for that object, or employ for the same object any part of the land or naval force of the United States.||”|
Despite the President's proclamation, the Topeka legislature convened on March 4, 1856. While reconvening on the Fourth of July in 1856 to ask the Congress for admittance of the state, the legislature was dispersed by three squadrons of federal troops under the command of Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner.
The Topeka Constitution was submitted to the U.S. Congress; it was approved by the House of Representatives in July 1856, but failed in the Senate by two votes. Three more state constitutions were later proposed: the proslavery Lecompton Constitution (in 1857) and the Free-State Leavenworth Constitution (in 1858) were each rejected, before the Wyandotte Constitution (in 1859) ultimately led to Kansas being admitted into the Union as a free state in 1861.
- Cutler, William G. (1883). "History of the State of Kansas".
- James, Richardson. "A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents". Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/11125/11125-8.txt. Retrieved 2006-12-07.