Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Lecompton Historic Site to Host Its 20th Annual Lecture Series

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Lecompton Historic Site to Host Its 20th Annual Lecture Series

Article excerpt

LECOMPTON -- Standing in the middle of the second-floor assembly room in Constitution Hall, it isn't difficult to picture scenes that played out here in the 1850s.

The official territorial government of Kansas convened in the room, as did the district court. Downstairs, thousands of settlers filed claims in the federal land office.

More than three years before the territory achieved statehood, delegates met here in 1857 for the Lecompton Constitutional Convention to draft a pro-slavery constitution that prompted such heated debate that it tore the national Democratic Party apart, making way for Abraham Lincoln to win presidency of the United States.

"I like to say this room has a lot of historical mystique," said site administrator Tim Rues.

2016 marks Constitution Hall's 160th year in existence, as well as the 20th year for the site's annual Bleeding Kansas Lecture Series -- a milestone for the building that opened to the public as a state historic site in 1995, Rues said. Lectures will be held at 2 p.m. Sundays from Jan. 31 to March 6.

The wood-frame building made from native cottonwood and black walnut once served as the official capitol of antebellum Kansas. It presents a stark reminder of the state's birth amid conflict -- humble beginnings, compared with the "magnificent" state Capitol, Rues said.

When the Kansas Territory opened for settlement in 1854 with Democratic party leader Sen. Stephen Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska Act -- "the trip wire" of the Civil War, according to Rues -- it sparked a fight between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers for control of the future state.

Abolitionists feared that if Kansas entered the union as a slave state, slavery "would spread like cancer to the Pacific," Rues said. Both sides raced to settle the territory.

In 1857, pro-slavery men dominated the Lecompton Constitutional Convention. In what Rues called "a last-ditch effort to make Kansas a slave state," they drafted a constitution that would have protected slavery no matter how the people of Kansas voted. …

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