Douglas County Law Library
Judicial and Law Enforcement Center
111 East 11th Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: (785) 838-2477
Fax: (785) 838-2455

This Month in Legal History

Find Us on Facebook

This page contains the "This Month in Legal History" column as published in the current Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter. The column features a different event from the history of law and jurisprudence of Douglas County, Kansas, that occurred during the month. It is published monthly in the Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter and on the Home page of this website.

Archived entries from this and previous years can be accessed by visiting the This Month in Legal History Archive page on this website.

July 4, 1855 - Armed resistance against "Bogus" Territorial laws is proposed in Lawrence, Kansas Territory.

An election to choose members of the first Territorial Legislature for the newly formed Kansas Territory was held on March 30, 1855. The Territory had been opened up to white settlement the previous year with the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854, and a legislature was needed to pass laws and write a constitution with which Kansas would enter the Union as a state. On Election Day, thousands of proslavery men from Missouri came into Kansas with the intension of voting. They were not residents of the Territory, but they asserted that Territorial Governor Andrew Reeder had said that voters need not be residents of Kansas, but merely needed to have a land claim there. When the Missouri men arrived at polling stations, they would claim a small parcel of land, and then proceed to vote. At many polling stations, they would not allow legal residents who supported Kansas being a state that would not allow slavery to vote in the election. Though there were approximately 2,700 legal residents of Kansas Territory, when the ballots were counted nearly 6,000 votes had been cast. Proslavery men were elected to all but two of the legislative positions. This was an important result, as the Kansas-Nebraska Act had changed how new states would be allowed to join the Union. Prior to the signing, the United States Congress had been responsible for deciding whether a new state would be a free state or one that allowed slavery. New states had usually been admitted in pairs, one slave and one free, to keep the two factions balanced in Congress. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the decision over slavery to be left up to a vote of the residents of the new territories. Because of the way it was carried out, the vote on March 30, 1855, was perceived as anything but fair by the Free State supporters in Kansas, and they cried foul. Some Free State men began organizing militias to protect against what they saw as an invasion from Missouri, and commenced quiet discussions about forming an armed resistance. Hoping to head off any trouble, Governor Reeder decided to allow a new election to take place in some of the contested precincts. Most proslavery men boycotted that election, so Free State men were elected. This resulted in there being a number of seats in the new legislature to which two men, one proslavery and one Free State, had been elected. To solve this, a credentials commission was appointed to decide whom to seat. The commission was composed of proslavery men, who decided that the second election was void and that the March 30th election results should stand. Free State men were outraged by this. They felt that free elections in Kansas Territory had been hijacked, and that they had been colonized by Missouri. They immediately began referring to the Territorial Legislature as the "Bogus Legislature." Governor Reeder decided to have the legislature meet at Pawnee, a small community on the upper Kansas River approximately 125 miles from the Missouri border. Reeder did so in part hoping that holding the meeting that far into Kansas Territory would diminish the influence proslavery factions from Missouri would have on the legislature. The legislature convened at Pawnee on July 2, 1855. The first order of business was to decide who had the right to be seated as members of the legislature. The credentials commission formally announced their decision to accept only men elected at the March 30th election. On the second day, July 3rd, one of the two Free State men who had been elected in March resigned in protest of the blatant violation of a free election, and a proslavery man was appointed in his place. In addition to the two Free State legislators, other Free State men attended the session and witnessed the proceedings. Word of what was transpiring there quickly spread to Free State communities across the Territory, including Lawrence, the headquarters of the Free State movement in Kansas. The news from Pawnee confirmed the worst fears of the Free State men in Lawrence, and brought out a strong reaction at the July 4th celebration there. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people "… in Eastern and Western dress, Delaware and Shawnee Indians in picturesque garb, a heterogeneous people of many political views…" were in town that day to mark the 79th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. There were several companies of Free State militia in town. They gave an exhibition of their marching skills, and were presented a silk flag by an organization of women. A number of speeches were made, including a particularly fiery one by Charles Robinson, who would later become the first Governor of the State of Kansas. He spoke of the residents of Kansas as being slaves of Missouri and Missourians, who were tyrants, and that the freedom-loving men of the Territory should react to that tyranny the same way as their forefathers had done in 1776. They should resist it, and free themselves. The message was plain; the movement for armed resistance to the Bogus Legislature that had been secret up to that time had been made public. This did not sit well with all Free State men. Many opposed what was happening in Kansas, but did not believe that armed resistance to the laws the legislature would enact was the way to react to them. On July 5th, the legislature voted to adopt the laws of Missouri as the laws of Kansas, which included the statutes allowing slavery. On July 6th, they voted to abandon Pawnee and reconvene at the Shawnee Indian Mission, which was less than a mile from the Missouri border. Cholera had broken out at Pawnee, and the legislators could legitimately have feared for their health, but Free State men saw the move is as a blatant attempt to have the seat of government close to Missouri. In a meeting on July 11th in Lawrence, a movement to form a Free State government in Kansas to oppose the proslavery government was proposed. This, combined with the movement for armed resistance that was revealed the week earlier, threatened to cause a rift between factions of the Free State movement that could potentially doom the cause and allow Kansas to become a slave state. The actions of the Territorial Legislature after they reconvened at the Shawnee Indian Mission on July 16th did nothing to inspire hope in Free State men or lessen the tension. The Legislature proceeded to enact a series of extreme proslavery laws to add to those previously borrowed from Missouri. This became too much for the one remaining Free State legislator, who resigned on July 23rd, leaving the legislature composed entirely of proslavery men, who proceeded to do everything in their power to make Kansas a slave state. They passed many laws calculated to totally suppress all Free State activities and make slavery supreme in Kansas. Speaking or writing that "persons have not the right to hold slaves in this Territory" was made punishable by two years in prison at hard labor; printing or publishing a book or pamphlet that would produce "dangerous disaffection" among slaves was made punishable by five years in prison at hard labor; and "decoying" a slave away from his master was made punishable by death. In addition, persons opposed to slavery were disqualified as jurors and all attorneys were required to swear an oath to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Law. In spite of this, many Free State men continued to support using only peaceful means to oppose the proslavery powers in the Territory. The actions of the Legislature made those that supported armed resistance even more determined, and the rift in the Free State movement threatened to become wider and more problematic. As the summer progressed, there was increased pressure to hold a convention to work out the difficulties between the Free State supporters in Kansas. A convention was called for September 5, 1855, in Big Springs, a small community on the Oregon Trail located about halfway between Lawrence and Topeka. Free State men from all over the Territory came that day, and worked out a compromise to ensure that slavery would not be allowed to get a foothold in Kansas. The majority agreed that the Bogus Legislature and the Territorial Government it represented were illegal, and that resistance to them would be "by every peaceful means." Most attendees left the convention feeling satisfied that the Free State cause would not come apart. Subsequent events would prove that the hope for the issue to be resolved by peaceful means was not fulfilled. Violence, first by proslavery men attacking Free State men, and then by Free State men defending themselves by attacking proslavery men, would soon earn the Territory the label of "Bleeding Kansas." The following year, 1856, was particularly violent, and the violence did not begin to subside until the next election for the Territorial Legislature in 1857, when a Free State majority was elected. The new legislature repealed the draconian laws passed by the Bogus Legislature, and began the work that eventually resulted in Kansas being admitted to the Union as a Free State.

(1) .

(2) .

From: Report of the Committee on Credentials, Journal of the Council of the Territory of Kansas, at Their First Session, Shawnee Manual Labor School, Kansas Territory, John T. Brady, 1855, Appendix, pp. 17-21; Charles Robinson, the First Free-state Governor of Kansas, by Frank Wilson Blackmar, Twentieth Century Classics, no. 15 (November 1900), pp. 22-45; The Kansas Conflict, by Charles Robinson, Lawrence, Kansas, Journal Publishing Company, 1898, pp. 145-152; Big Springs Convention, Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., edited by Frank W. Blackmar, Chicago, Standard Publishing Company, 1912, pp. 181-185; Missouri Statutes, website; and, Slavery, website.

2014, by the Douglas County Law Library. All rights reserved.

For more information, contact the Law Library at:

Comments to: Webmaster: Kerry Altenbernd, Law Librarian, Douglas County Law Library, Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 East 11th Street, Lawrence, KS  66044.

Valid HTML 4.01!

Created: November 27, 2006; Revised: July 1, 2014