Jump to Navigation

John James Ingalls

John James Ingalls

Politician, attorney. Republican. Born: December 29, 1833, Middleton, Massachusetts.  Married: Anna Louisa Cheeseborough, 1865.  Died: August 16, 1900, New Mexico. Served in U.S. Senate: March 4, 1873, to March 4, 1891.

"Kansas," said John J. Ingalls, "is the core and kernel of the country, containing the germs of its growth and the quickening ideas essential to its perpetuity." An orator, scholar, lawyer, and statesman, known for his keen sarcasm and quick wit, Ingalls was, at age 26, a primary force behind the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention that brought about Kansas statehood. Ingalls, who represented Kansas as a U.S. Senator from 1873 - 1891, coined the phrase Ad astra per aspera (to the stars through difficulties) that became the Kansas state motto.

Born in Massachusetts in 1833, Ingalls came to Kansas Territory in 1859 and settled in Atchison to practice law. He believed in Kansas, and wrote that "the aspiration of Kansas is to reach the unattainable; its dream is the realization of the impossible." Ingalls chose to live in Kansas because he believed the state had a bright and promising future.

Ingalls was a member of the 1859 Wyandotte Constitutional Convention, which produced the constitution under which Kansas now functions. Ingalls wrote his father a few days after being elected as a delegate in June 1859 describing Atchison as “an old stronghold of pro-slavery democracy.” He wrote that he was surprised by the win, considering every other county along the Missouri River elected proslavery Democrats. “I spoke ... to a crowd of yelling miscreants, who would have been glad to have pitched me into the Missouri, I suppose, as they have done with several Republicans in the last few years.” Ingalls feared that if the majority of the convention representatives were Democrats, “Kansas may be a Slave State after all.” That was not the case, however, and on July 29, a new free-state document was adopted and signed by the 35 Republicans attending the convention. The Democrats refused to sign, leading to a bitter campaign for ratification.

He served as secretary of the state senate during the first legislative session following statehood.

Kansas flag detailDuring this time he designed a seal for the state. He wanted it to be simple, with a single star rising from the clouds at the base of a field. A constellation of stars at the top of the seal represented the other states then in the Union. The rising star symbolized Kansas joining the Union after a stormy struggle. Ingall's proposal was modified considerably before it was accepted by the state legislature. However, Ingall's idea of the rising star remains a prominent part of today's Kansas state seal.

Ingalls also held other political offices, and for 18 years (1873 - 1891), represented Kansas in the United States Senate. Ingalls spent his life pursuing his dreams for his adopted state. Following his public service time, he wrote magazine and newspaper articles extolling the virtues of the state. Probably no other individual had a more eminent knowledge and greater understanding of the ins and outs of Kansas politics during the first 50 years of statehood.

"Kansas," Ingalls once wrote, "has been the testing ground for every experiment in morals, politics, and social life...every political fallacy nurtured by misfortune, poverty, and failure... has here found tolerance and advocacy...something startling has always happened, or has been constantly anticipated." On another occasion he wrote that "the purification of politics is an iridescent dream."

Ingalls dabbled in and often succeeded in many things besides politics. These included the military, law, literature, banking, real estate, the newspaper business, prospecting, public speaking, speculating, and town booming. He gained national renown for his essays on "Blue Grass" and the "Cat Fish Aristocracy." In spite of his many abilities the public and much of the press viewed him as a partisan politician.

Ingalls' public career was ended in 1891 when he was replaced in the U.S, Senate by W. A. Peffer, a Populist. Farmer discontent had unseated him, and it was suggested that a political epitaph should read "Up was he stuck, and in the very upness of his stuckitude he fell."

Ingalls died in 1900 and was buried in his hometown of Atchison. He was honored in 1905 with a marble statue in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

Entry: Ingalls, John James

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: January 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.