Archive for Monday, January 28, 1991


January 28, 1991


— Lecompton's role in U.S. history comes alive in a recently-released book called "America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink."

Author Kenneth M. Stampp traces the efforts of a pro-slavery minority to submit a pro-slavery constitution despite rampant anti-slavery sentiment throughout the territory. The group elected delegates to the Kansas constitutional convention, which was held in the Kansas Territory capital of Lecompton.

Stampp tells of unqualified delegates, disorganization and unfair representation at the convention. "Compared with the conventions that had framed constitutions for other new states, the Lecompton convention was in most respects uniquely unrepresentative of the people in whose name it pretended to act," he wrote. "It had been elected by a small fraction of the adult male population; fifteen counties were without delegates; and the apportionment had been heavily weighted in favor of the remaining pockets of proslavery sentiment."

STAMPP QUOTED a key line in the Lecompton constitution, which would have brought Kansas into the union as the 16th slave state: "The right of property is before and higher than any constitutional sanctions and the right of the owner of a slave to such slave and its increase is the same and as inviolable as the right of the owner to any property whatsoever."

President James Buchanan had, since his inauguration, continually stressed the importance of a public vote on the eventual constitution, Stampp wrote. However, the convention somehow persuaded the president to recommend the fraudulent constitution to Congress, which ultimately split the Democratic party.

"Looking back, knowing the ultimate consequences of Buchanan's policy decision, it stands as one of the most tragic miscalculations any president has ever made," Stampp wrote.

PAUL BAHNMAIER, president of the Lecompton Historical Society, said the book reflects "a lot of in-depth research by an accomplished historian."

"It only reinforces that the events that occurred in Lecompton are certainly the most significant in Kansas and played a major role in United States history," he said.

Bahnmaier said the only major surprise in Stampp's book was the author's negative remarks about Samuel Lecompte, a pro-slavery chief justice of the federal court in Kansas and Lecompton's namesake. Apparently Gov. John Geary and the state legislature clashed frequently as "the legislature ignored nearly all of Geary's recommendations," the author said.

Stampp wrote that Geary considered Lecompte to be "negligent, incompetent and blatantly partisan." He said Lecompte twice released a prisoner, who had been indicted for murder, and Geary unsuccessfully attempted to have the judge removed from office.

"UP UNTIL now, we had only heard very positive information about Judge Lecompte," Bahnmaier said.

Constitution Hall, the site of the 1857 Kansas constitutional convention, currently is under renovation in Lecompton. "It's hard to imagine all those legislators and newspaper reporters in that building," Bahnmaier said.

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