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What is the Wyandotte Constitution?

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The Wyandotte Constitution is the constitution of the state of Kansas, in United States of America. This constitution was the basis for Kansas being admitted in to the union in 1861. It abolished slavery and gave women certain limited rights. The women’s rights movement was considered a radical idea at the time. The Wyandotte Constitution was amended several times, and remained in effect as of January 2010.

The passage of this constitution ended the period known as Bleeding Kansas. During this time — from 1854-1861 — free-staters, or those who wanted to abolish slavery, fought bitterly with people in favor of slavery, called slave-staters, for control of the Kansas territory. Three previous constitutions, created by whichever group was in power at the time, were written prior to the Wyandotte Constitution.

In 1859, Kansas’ territorial legislature approved another constitutional convention. A total of 35 Republicans and 17 Democrats attended the convention at Wyandotte, Kansas. A new document was written and signed on July 29, 1859. Due to disagreements on several key issues, all 17 Democrats refused to sign it. The Wyandotte Constitution was ratified by popular vote on October 4, 1859 by nearly a two-to-one margin.

Clarina Nichols is credited with calling attention to women’s rights during the 1859 constitutional convention. As the official representative of the Moneka Woman's Rights Association, she was allowed to sit among the other dignitaries in the convention hall. Nichols was also asked to speak to the convention delegates about woman's rights.

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Some delegates supported the idea of giving women the same rights as men, though the majority deemed this approach too radical to be accepted by the masses. In the end, the Wyandotte Constitution did give women the right to vote in school district elections, and the right to own property. Only white men were given full voting rights.

Another big change addressed in the Wyandotte Constitution was the size of Kansas. Under the three previous constitutions, Kansas’ boundaries were left unaltered, and the territory stretched far to the west. The western boundary was changed during the Wyandotte convention, making Kansas’ land area much more manageable.

After the constitution was ratified, copies of the Wyandotte Constitution were sent to the President of the United States, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. At first there was some opposition to Kansas joining the union. As several southern states seceded from the union over the slavery issue, opposition died away. President James Buchanan signed the bill, naming Kansas the 34th state in union, on January 29, 1861.

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matthewc23
Post 6

@jmc88 - Kansas to me comes off as a state that the forefathers would be greatly proud of, as at this time they were willing to fight for liberty and social progress and defend their rights as Americans and express themselves.

Using the Constitution to their advantage particularly the first amendment, they sought the right to discuss and make changes in order to create social progress and allow for society to move forward.

They may have been ahead of their times and the Wyandotte Constitution may be seen as a failure by some and a compromise by others, the issue was legitimately discussed and people gave the voice of those supporting radical change a chance to be listened to.

Although support may have dwindled and the voting body decided that the state was not ready for full women's suffrage yet, they did set the wheels in motion for other states to look at and eventually decide the issue further down the road.

jmc88
Post 5

@kentuckycat - I do know that the state of Wyoming did grant women the right to vote in the 1870's and they were easily the first state to grant this right to women. However, the catch with Wyoming is that they needed 60,000 voters in the territory in order to become the state, and by giving women the right to vote they thus doubled their voting population.

With this thought in mind it is obvious that the state of Wyoming was not as radical as the state of Kansas who did not need to double their voting population in order to become a state. They simply wanted to give women the right to vote because they believed that it was the right thing to do and that it was appropriate in the eyes of liberty and the ideals of America.

kentuckycat
Post 4

@stl156 - You are absolutely correct in assessing Kansas as an interesting state.

When I think of people in Kansas's past I think of people who are maybe a little over-zealous, but people that truly believe in what they are fighting for and strict believers in social progress.

Kansas can be seen as being well ahead of their time as they truly discussed giving women the same rights as men, which did not necessarily occur until nearly sixty years later.

I am sure that there are other states such as Kansas that were ahead of their time, but not many come to mind this early in regards to women's rights issues and the degree of social progress that the state had.

stl156
Post 3

Kansas is an interesting state to look at during this time simply due to their history in joining the union.

I believe that due to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was seen as a compromise to the South in an effort to preserve the Union and prevent Civil War, it allowed for popular sovereignty which gave the state of Kansas the choice as to whether or not they become a slave state or a free state.

Although the South may have expected Kansas to become a slave state, as a whole the were greatly opposed to the idea of slavery and this sparked the war known as "Bleeding Kansas" which involved Kansas residents against slavery and those who wanted slavery from neighboring Missouri, a slave state.

Since Kansas was allowed to choose, they did so and expressed their radical feelings that they were willing to back up and defend. Given that this state also wanted equal rights for women during this time, the state of Kansas can be seen as a very radical state during this time.

dfoster85
Post 2

@MissDaphne - I think you might actually be thinking of a New York law that was passed in 1848 and used as a model by other states in the years that followed. What I'm seeing is that women in England could not own property until 1882!

So in 1859, the Wyandotte Constitution was basically in line with other states that were granting women this right. It was indeed a state issue, and various states had various exceptions. Some, for instance, would enforce prenuptial agreements, in which a woman would have a certain guaranteed income. Other rights that some states granted were things like making wills, and some states would not allow a husband to sell his wife's property without her permission.

MissDaphne
Post 1

I really noticed the bit about women being able to own property. I'm pretty sure that single women in England could always own property and that married women had some ability to own property starting in 1848. Does anyone know what the status was in the rest of the US? Was it always a state-by-state issue?

It seems so incredible to imagine now, but for a long time, married women owned not even their own wardrobes. The idea was that the husband was the head of the family and that if a wife could own anything, it would take away from his role. As you can imagine, a woman's ability to flee a bad marriage was pretty limited.

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