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Archive for Saturday, October 10, 1998

1861 FLAG-RAISING A VALID METAPHOR

October 10, 1998

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``To the Stars Through Difficulty'' might well have described Kansas' attempts to affix her star to the Union flag.

En route to his inauguration on Feb. 22, 1861, Abraham Lincoln stopped in Philadelphia long enough to raise the flag over Independence Hall -- the first U.S. flag with a Kansas star.

Truly, the state motto had been especially appropriate, ``To the Stars Through Difficulties.'' There had been many obstacles in the path of Kansas statehood. In fact, if Abraham Lincoln hadn't been elected in 1860, Kansas might not have become a state.

At the very least, it could have taken a lot longer.

Lincoln first gained a national reputation during the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign through the Lincoln-Douglas debates. A primary issue of the famed debates was Kansas statehood. Stephen Douglas won the campaign but the stage was set for the presidential election of 1860 when the eyes of an entire nation turned to Kansas.

Rather than resolving the debate over slavery, the Kansas-Nebraska Act narrowed the focus of attention to this territory. Douglas, who had authored the act, was among the presidential hopefuls and he thought the Kansas-Nebraska Act would get him elected. Douglas was appalled when he returned to Illinois and witnessed his pictures being burned in response to the bill. (He said that his way home was lighted by the burning of his effigy.) Douglas was the first U. S. Presidential candidate to make a nationwide speaking tour, encouraging the reconciliation of North and South.

Lincoln represented the newly-formed Republican party. The Republican platform advocated the immediate statehood for Kansas (Of the 17 planks in the party platform, three referred to Kansas directly and three others indirectly). Lincoln came to Kansas and made speeches in Elwood, Troy, Atchison and Leavenworth.

The election results were no surprise -- sections voted their own interests. John Breckinridge from Kentucky, who advocated a federal slave code in all territories, carried the Deep South. John Bell of Tennessee had straddled the fence on most issues and carried the border states. Lincoln carried the North and Douglas only carried one state.

Lincoln's election set in place a series of events that would forever alter Kansas and U.S. history. The Southern states were bitter at having a president who did not represent their interest, and even though Lincoln said he wouldn't interfere with slavery in the states where it already existed, Southerners didn't believe him. They began to secede. As Southerners left the U.S. Senate, opposition to Kansas statehood left as well. Among Southern senators who resigned was Mississippi's Jefferson Davis, who would be elected president of the Confederacy in a few short weeks.

The fourth try at a Kansas Constitution, an edict outlawing slavery, was written at Wyandotte and submitted to a vote of the people on Oct. 4, 1859. Kansans adopted the document by a vote of 10,421 to 5,530.

Abolition-minded settlers poured into the Kansas territory and gained the majority. (When pro-slavery settlers or slave-owners saw the handwriting on the wall, they began leaving Kansas and going to Missouri or other slave-holding states). But it would be 16 tumultuous months before Kansas had a star on the Union flag.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted to admit Kansas in April 1860, but the Senate refused, making statehood a presidential political football. With the election of Lincoln, Southern secession began, leaving an anti-slavery majority in the U. S. Senate that passed the bill making Kansas a state and sent it to President Buchanan for a signature on Jan. 29, 1861.

There were only two telegraphs in Kansas -- in Leavenworth and Atchison. Word was sent to the Leavenworth Conservative, a newspaper founded only the day before, and it was the first paper to print the news for Kansans themselves.

The star of Kansas statehood had been difficult to attain, but Lincoln had championed the cause and had earned the right to raise the first Union flag that bore that star.

-- Debra Hiebert is executive director of Kids Voting Kansas.

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