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Archive for Friday, October 12, 2001

State constitutional roots studied ––— Supreme Court justices tour Lecompton museums, territorial capital on day off

October 12, 2001

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The seven justices spent most of the morning touring exhibits at the Territorial Capital, which became Lane University, named after abolitionist James Lane. In the afternoon they visited Constitution Hall.

"This sort of brings it all alive," Justice Robert Davis said of Lecompton's Kansas history. "It gives you a sense of where you came from."

In the fall of 1857 a pro-slavery territorial constitution was written in Constitution Hall. It was one of four territorial constitutions written but never approved by Congress, the hall's administrator, Tim Rues said.

The other constitutions were written at other locations, including what finally became the Kansas Constitution -- a free state version -- approved when Kansas became a state in 1861, Rues said.

Construction of the Territorial Capital actually was never finished, Rues said. Only the basement and foundation were completed. In 1882, the building was finished and became Lane University.

For the past three years, the seven justices have spent one day a year touring one of the state's historical sites, Chief Justice Kay McFarland said. It began two years ago in Cottonwood Falls and was continued last year at Fort Leavenworth, she said.

"This is our way to get a lesson in Kansas history," said McFarland, who said she was visiting Lecompton's museums for the first time.

Thursday's trip was arranged after conversations between Justice Fred Six, a Lawrence resident, and Rues.

Members of the Lecompton Historical Society dressed in 1850s-replica clothes and acted as tour guides for the group.

The Lecompton Re-enactors also gave a short performance of the play, "Bleeding Kansas."

What happened in Lecompton played a major historical role, not only in Kansas, but in the country's history leading up to the Civil War, Six said.

"The significance of Lecompton and territorial history, in my view -- it has not been brought to light and shared enough," he said. "The historical society is trying to share this rich history."

Justice Don Allegrucci said he had been to Lecompton before but never had time to tour the museums.

"It's amazing," he said. "I had no idea there was this much history here."

Justice Ed Larson, also taking his first tour, agreed.

"This is really interesting, and I'm only on the first floor," he said, after looking at old farm implements in the Territorial Capital.

-- Staff writer Mike Belt can be reached at 832-7165.

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