The Kansas Historical Society’s “Bleeding Kansas” series runs through March 1. All talks and dramatic interpretations begin at 2 p.m. Sundays. Upcoming events are:
• Feb. 8: “Great Emancipator or Great Racist? Lincoln’s Reconciliation of Racial Inequality and Natural Rights,” James Leiker, professor of history, Johnson County Community College.• Feb. 15: “Abraham Lincoln Remembered,” first-person portrayal by Tom Leahy, educator and re-enactor.• Feb. 22: “The Civil War’s First Blood,” James Denny, historian, Missouri Department of Natural Resources.• March 1: “Governor Andrew Reeder: At the Request of My President,” first-person portrayal by Rex Patty, re-enactor and living history educator.
Drawing on a smattering of modern political rhetoric, historian Craig Miner illustrated the role Lecompton played in the days leading to the Civil War in a speech at Lecompton’s Constitution Hall on Sunday.
The speech, titled “Lecompton: A National Obsession, 1858,” was the second of six events making up the Kansas Historical Society’s 13th annual Bleeding Kansas series.
Miner incorporated some of the better-known phrases of recent politics — “dead or alive,” for instance — in showing how outlandish rhetoric and quotable characters fascinated the press of the 1850s, prompting the New York Herald to write more than 4,000 articles about Kansas from 1854 to 1858. Miner, a Wichita State University professor and author of 30 books, discussed how the heated debate regarding Kansas’ admission to the Union captivated the nation, and prompted many to fear for the fate of representative government.
“If you should ask anyone in the country if they knew about Lecompton, they would be familiar,” Miner said.
Journalists from across the country came to the area to report on the signing of the Lecompton Constitution in 1857. The document was meant to foster the territory’s admission to the Union, but was written by pro-slavery politicians, as abolitionists declined to attend the event. After President James Buchanan accepted the constitution and leading politician Stephen Douglas rejected it, a bitter debate fractured the Democratic party. Miner theorizes that the failure of the Lecompton Constitution fanned the flames of the Civil War.
Kansas, at the time, was “a monster,” he said. A compromise, Miner said, “was the last best chance to avoid the Civil War.”
Speaking in the very room where the controversial document was signed brought a sense of reality to the program, said Tim Rues, Constitution Hall’s curator.
“It’s kind of neat to have authors and professors and re-enactors to come in a talk in the building where all that history occurred,” he said.
Circleville resident Tim Sporman, a self-described Civil War buff, said the lecture brought to mind many of the divisions the country has experienced in recent years.
“We’re talking about events that happened 140 years ago, but the tone, the temperatures, the wording ... I see the connection,” he said.
The lecture series, which runs Sundays through March 1, features scholars and re-enactors, including an Abraham Lincoln portrayal on Feb. 15. The 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth is Feb. 12.