Timeline of the Lecompton Constitution

January 1857– The Territorial Legislature passed “An act to provide for electing a convention to frame a state constitution.” This was the first step of the Lecompton Constitution movement.

The election for 60 representatives to the constitution would take place on the 3rd Monday in June 1857. Representatives were then to meet at Lecompton to frame a constitution on the 1st Monday in September 1857.

September 1857–Members of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention met in Lecompton the first week of September 1857. They opened their convention on the 2nd floor of Constitution Hall on September 7th and remained in session for four days. After electing permanent officers and choosing a slate of committees they recessed until

October 19, 1857. They were waiting for the outcome of the October 5th territorial election. Although this election did not appear to be as significant as the one in June for convention delegates, its outcome dramatically shook and shifted political power in the territory from pro-slavery to free-state control.

October 19–November 8, 1857– The Lecompton Constitutional Convention satisfies at Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kansas–the Territorial Capital of Kansas. Boycotted by free-soilers, the group adopts a proslavery constitution.

October 1857–Free-Stater James H. Lane protests the Lecompton Constitutional Convention at Constitution Hall in Lecompton.

December 7, 1857–Frederick Stanton, the acting governor, reached this new free-state majority legislature into an “extra” or “early” session in Lecompton. The House gathered on the 2nd floor of Constitution Hall. This additional session convened for nine days and passed a total of six acts.

Crowds of Free State Kansans directed by James Lane’s militia paraded victoriously into Lecompton to listen to music and hear fiery anti-Lecompton oratory on the day the extra session convened.

December 21, 1857–The Lecompton Constitution is ratified by Kansas voters. Free-soilers continue to boycott this election.

February 2, 1858–President James Buchanan submits the Lecompton Constitution to Congress, suggesting its approval and the admission of Kansas as a slave state.

February 6, 1858–An infamous floor brawl flares as members of the U.S. House of Representatives debate the Lecompton Constitution.

March 23, 1858–The Senate approves the Lecompton Constitution and Kansas Statehood.February 8, 1858–A House coalition of Northern Republicans and Free Soilers narrowly blocked the referral of the Lecompton Constitution to the House Territories Committee.

April 1, 1858–The House polls to resubmit the Lecompton Constitution to a popular vote in Kansas.

April 10, 1858–The House and Senate mean on the Lecompton Constitution, agreeing to admit Kansas to the Union as a slave state if the constitution wins a popular vote.

June 16, 1858–Abraham Lincoln has his “House Divided” speech in accepting the Republican nomination for the Illinois Senate in Springfield, Illinois.

August – October 1858–The Lincoln-Douglas debates take place in Illinois. The word “Lecompton” is mentioned at least 55 times during the discussions.

August 2, 1858–In an open and fair election, Kansas voters rejected the Lecompton Constitution.

October 4, 1858– Voters in Kansas overwhelmingly confirm an antislavery constitution.

Lecompton Constitution
Lecompton Constitution

After the Lecompton Constitution

The Lecompton Constitution divides the Political Parties

Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election as a result.

April 23-May 3, 1860–The Democratic national convention in Charleston, South Carolina, fails to select a presidential candidate.

May 9, 1860– The Constitutional Union party forms in Baltimore and nominates John Bell of Tennessee for president.

May 16, 1860–The Republican convention meets in Chicago. Two days later, delegates endorse Abraham Lincoln for president.

June 18-23, 1860–Democrats reconvene in Baltimore but fail to elect a presidential candidate. The party splits–Stephen A. Douglas is nominated by the Northern wing; John C. Breckinridge is nominated by the more radical pro-slavery wing.

November 6, 1860–Lincoln wins the presidential election.

Dec. 20, 1860–South Carolina is the first state to join the union. It is followed by other states.

January 29, 1861–Kansas is admitted to the United States as the 34th State. It is a free state.

February 18, 1861–Jefferson Davis is inaugurated as the President of the newly formed Confederate States of America.

April 12, 1861–Shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, between Confederate and Union troops. Kansas had been fighting years earlier, with the first casualties between pro-slavery and free state fighters occurring at the Battle of Fort Titus on August 16, 1856.

Popular Sovereignty and Kansas Territory

Though everyone knew that anti-slavery ‘free-soilers’ made up the majority of voters in Kansas Territory, voting fraud had produced a pro-slavery constitution in the town of Lecompton in 1857.

Kansas’s delegates sent the constitution to Congress as part of a request for admission for statehood as a slave state. The President, Democrat James Buchanan, supported the Lecompton Constitution and demanded Congress follow his lead.

A powerful member of his party, Stephen A. Douglas, took a bold move and broke with the president. Douglas opposed the Lecompton Constitution, and told a reporter ‘I made Mr. James Buchanan, and by God, sir, I will unmake him.’ The constitution was sent back to Kansas for a vote by its people.

This is just one of the many political twists and turns surrounding the Lecompton Constitution. Here’s the background: the doctrine of popular sovereignty stipulated that voters in any U.S. territory would decide themselves whether that territory would be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state.

In 1854 Kansas Territory became ground zero for a battle over popular sovereignty. Both parties – the northern ‘free soil’ Republican Party and the pro-slavery Democratic Party – sent supporters to flood into Kansas to stuff the ballot boxes and shape the outcome of popular sovereignty.

As a result, Kansas Territory became bitterly divided between pro- and anti-slave factions. There was violence and bloodshed. Pro-slavery voters from Missouri, called Border Ruffians, crossed into Kansas and voted illegally. Free-soilers sent their own advocates to Kansas to do the same.

As a result of the 1854 election, the supporters of slavery won out, and it looked as though the territory would become a slave state. Though the free-soilers called foul and formed a rival government in Topeka, a territorial legislature formed in Lecompton.

The Lecompton Constitution was drafted and signed in this building in 1857. Built-in 1856, Constitution Hall is now a National Landmark and a museum. Located at 319 Elmore in Lecompton, Kansas.

The Lecompton Constitution was a document framed in Lecompton, the Territorial Capital of Kansas, in 1857 by Southern pro-slavery advocates of Kansas statehood.

It contained clauses protecting slaveholding and a bill of rights excluding free blacks, and it added to the frictions leading up to the U.S. Civil War.

Though it was rejected in a territorial election (January 1858), Pres. James Buchanan subsequently recommended statehood for Kansas under its provisions.

Congress balked, and a compromise was offered to call for resubmission of the constitution to the territory’s voters. Kansas rejected the proposal the following August and was admitted to the Union as a free state on Jan. 29, 1861.

Constitution Hall, where the Lecompton Constitution document was drafted and signed in 1857, is now a National Landmark and a museum.

Exhibits in the museum explain the Lecompton Constitution and its effects on the country, Bleeding Kansas, and Territorial Kansas.

It is the oldest wood-frame building in Kansas still in its original location. The building has a copy of the Lecompton Constitution, the original being housed at the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka.

Background of the Lecompton Constitution

States entering the Union must draw up a constitution, and the Kansas territory had particular problems doing so when it moved to become a state in the late 1850s. A constitutional convention held in Topeka came up with a constitution that prohibited the practice of enslavement.

However, pro-slavery Kansans held a convention in the territorial capital of Lecompton and created a state constitution that did legalize enslavement.

It fell to the federal government to determine which state constitution would go into effect. President James Buchanan, who was known as a “dough face,” a northern politician with southern sympathies, endorsed the Lecompton Constitution.

Significance of the Dispute Over Lecompton

As it was generally assumed that the pro-slavery constitution had been voted upon in an election in which many Kansans refused to vote, Buchanan’s decision was controversial. And the Lecompton Constitution split the Democratic party, putting the powerful Illinois senator Stephen Douglas in opposition to many other Democrats.

The Lecompton Constitution, although a seemingly obscure issue, actually became a subject of intense national debate. For example, in 1858 stories about the Lecompton issue appeared regularly on the front page of the New York Times.

And the split within the Democratic Party persisted through the election of 1860, which would be won by the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln.

The U.S. House of Representatives refused to honor the Lecompton Constitution, and the voters in Kansas also rejected it. When Kansas eventually entered the Union in early 1861, it was a state that did not practice enslavement.


What did Lecompton Constitution do?

Lecompton Constitution, (1857), instrument framed in Lecompton, Kan., by Southern pro-slavery advocates of Kansas statehood. It contained clauses protecting slaveholding and a bill of rights excluding free blacks, and it added to the frictions leading up to the U.S. Civil War.

What was the controversy surrounding the Lecompton Constitution?

The controversy arose because a proposed state constitution, which had been drafted in the territorial capital of Lecompton, would have made the practice of enslavement legal in the new state of Kansas.

What was so important about the Lecompton Constitution?

Pro-slavery Kansans had determined to write a state constitution that would guarantee slavery within the state. When the free-staters found out about their plan, they boycotted the constitutional convention and the Lecompton Constitution was created.

Why did Stephen Douglas reject the Lecompton Constitution?

Additionally, Senator Stephen Douglass (Democrat-Illinois), the author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, vehemently opposed the Lecompton Constitution because it lacked true popular sovereignty and he threatened to oppose President Buchannan publicly if he continued his support for it.