Constitution Hall - Exhibits
Constitution Hall's exhibits cover two floors in this National Historic Landmark that once served as a land office in Lecompton.
Conflict over slavery
During the early years of settlement a majority of the people in territorial Kansas supported slavery. In autumn 1857 a proslavery constitutional convention met on the second floor of this building to write a constitution designating Kansas a slave state.
As emigration brought more settlers into territorial Kansas, popular sentiment shifted in favor of the antislavery position.
Making a home in Kansas
Land was the greatest attraction for settlers coming to Kansas Territory. Many came to support one side or the other in the struggle over slavery. Nearly all settlers wanted to improve their place in life.
People from all over Kansas Territory registered their claims at the U.S. Land Office, located on the first floor of this building. A qualified person could claim up to 160 acres of land with a $1.25 per acre payment.
During 1857 this room on second floor was packed with large crowds. The sounds of loud voices mixed with the smells of smoke, sawdust, mud, and dirt. A clerk recorded the discussions and a railing divided the onlookers from participants.
In September 1857 delegates to the Lecompton Constitutonal Convention met in this second floor room. All of the men were proslavery because the antislavery people had refused to vote in the June 1857 election. John Calhoun was elected president of the convention, which was to draft a constitution that would enable Kansas to become a state. The delegates wanted this constitution to permit slavery.
By this time most Kansans were antislavery. Convention members decided not to let Kansans vote on the issue of slavery when they voted on the constitution. As a result, most antislavery people refused to vote at all. The constitution was passed without their votes and sent to President James Buchanan and the U.S. Congress. A compromise bill was proposed by Democratic Congressman William English that offered millions of acres of public land in exchange for voters accepting the Lecompton Constitution. Voters rejected the proposal in August 1858 by a five to one margin, and the constitution was defeated.