I was having coffee with a friend in downtown Emporia the other day, and he was talking about the challenges of teaching history to high school students. It was difficult, he said, to help children understand the pivotal moment when, if things had gone a little differently, the world would have turned out very differently today.
As examples, my friend cited the Battle of Tours (732), the Battle of Waterloo (1815), and the Battle of Gettysburg (1863). Reversing the winners in these contests would give us an alternate history worthy of a science fiction novel.
My friend is a Vietnam veteran with a PhD in history, so it’s natural for him to think in terms of military victories and defeats. Nothing moves the hands of history like war. However, I think my friends who are interested in history were being a little harsh on high school students because I don’t think most adults can explain how these battles changed the world.
Not long after that conversation, I started thinking about the role each of us plays in shaping the world. It is clear that a small number of American pilots at the Battle of Midway (1942) changed the course of the war in the Pacific. It is equally clear how other more peaceful acts changed the world, such as Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin (1928).
In hindsight, everything becomes clear.
What is less clear is the cumulative impact of our individual actions on the world. So take your citizenship seriously and cast an informed vote as if democracy depended on citizenship. Of course that’s true.
It may not feel like our vote will make a difference. We live in a time when the carnival of political turmoil seems endless. When faced with the absurdities of modern politics, what value is the action of an individual? Facts and compassion have been lost, and disinformation and division have emerged. It could be interesting if there wasn’t so much at stake.
So I started thinking about the Lecompton Constitution.
To illustrate, let’s go back in time to the tumultuous antebellum era of bloody Kansas. The Lecompton Constitution was his second of his four proposed constitutions for Kansas. The bill was signed in 1857 at Constitution Hall in Lecompton, the territorial capital of Kansas, and was framed by pro-slavery advocates. It would have, among other things, protected human enslavement in Kansas and excluded free blacks.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 abolished the Missouri Compromise, the devil’s bargain between free and slave states, and submitted the question of slavery within the territory to a popular vote. Advocates from both sides flocked to Kansas Territory, from New England abolitionists who wanted a free state to pro-slavery Missourians who rarely considered crossing the border to vote. The Lecompton Constitution was heavily pro-slavery as free state citizens boycotted voting due to fears of voter fraud.
This document was drafted on November 8, 1857.constitution hall” This building in Lecompton is now a Kansas State and National Historic Landmark. It has been touted as the “Birthplace of the Civil War” and, somewhat ironically, “the place where slavery began to die,” but the framers of the Lecompton Constitution of 1857 had no such hindsight. was. The Lecompton Constitution was ratified by the voters of Kansas, and although there was another boycott of free states, the document was transmitted to President James Buchanan, who advocated ratification of the Constitution and admission of Kansas to the Union as a slave state. Recommended. Buchanan’s goal was to admit Kansas as quickly as possible and bring an end to the bloody events at the border.
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In February 1858, a brawl broke out in the chambers of the U.S. House of Representatives during the discussion of the Lecompton Constitution. The brawl broke out at 2am and involved insults and the throwing of fists. In June of the same year, Abraham Lincoln was nominated as the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois and delivered his “Divided House” speech. The impetus for this speech was the Lecompton Constitution.
“A house divided against itself cannot survive,” President Lincoln said at the convention, quoting the Gospel of Mark.
He went on to say that he did not believe this country could endure being half slave and half free.
President Lincoln said, “I do not believe that the Union will be dissolved.” “I don’t expect the house to collapse, but I do expect the division to disappear. It’s going to be all one thing or it’s going to be something else.”
Lincoln lost the Senate election to his opponent, Stephen A. Douglas. However, in 1860, Lincoln, who had emerged as a national figure on the issue of slavery, was elected president. Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861.
The issue was thrown back to Kansas voters, who overwhelmingly adopted the Wyandotte Constitution in a valid election in August 1858. Interestingly, if Kansas had adopted any of her three previous constitutions, the state would have been much larger than it is now, stretching as far west as the Rocky Mountains and encompassing southern Nebraska. .
The Civil War, which lasted from April 1861 to April 1865, resolved the issue of slavery. Lincoln was assassinated by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth just days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. Nebraska was admitted to the Union on March 1, 1867, ending what the Kansas-Nebraska Act had begun, at least territorially.
Lecompton’s constitutional crisis did not cause the Civil War, but it was the result of moral decay at the nation’s core and a chain of bad decisions by leaders at all levels. Broadly speaking, this was a popular referendum on the issue of slavery itself, not just a territorial vote to determine how Kansas would join the Union. The problem was complicated by violent and sometimes murderous extremists, distrust of elections and other systems of government, and the inability of Congress to debate logically without conflict.
It would be unthinkable today for Kansas to have entered the Union as anything other than a free state, but by 1858 it was close to being admitted as a member of the pro-slavery South. In August 1858, Kansan used his right to vote to block a series of bad decisions by territorial and national leaders.
Today, our country and our state are deeply politically divided. Still, as Kansans, there are many things we agree on.
Recently, 2023 Kansas Speaks The statewide poll was released by the Docking Institute for Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University. These surveys attempt to gauge the state’s cultural and political temperature, and this year there’s a difference between what Kansans want and what lawmakers think we should have. It became clear that the gap between the two was widening.
For example, the survey found that two-thirds of Kansans support Medicaid expansion, 67% support legalizing recreational marijuana, and 57% say climate change is a crisis, or at least a major problem. That’s what he feels. There’s more to the research, but these are the numbers that caught my attention. These do not represent a crisis as large as Lecompton’s, but they are serious.
This Tuesday, November 7th, is another election day.
There are no major issues to decide, and there are no gubernatorial or presidential races. Most of the candidates on the ballot are running for city government or school board seats, which are the bedrock of public service in our communities. But in these days of political festivities, it takes courage to run for any position. Each seat carries a degree of political and reputational risk, or at least the possibility of having to withstand the angry cries of voters.
So do your civic duty and go vote.
Democracy requires the continued engagement of an informed and active electorate. The result may not be as dramatic as the battle, but your participation is more important than any date that will be remembered as a turning point. Because every vote is a turning point, a new chance to change the world.
Max McCoy is an award-winning author and journalist. Through our opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of those affected by public policy or excluded from public discussion. Click here for information, including how to submit a comment.