Lecompton is another town that has embraced its Civil War roots and markets itself to the outside world based on that image. The town’s slogan is “Historic Lecompton: The Birthplace of the Civil War, Where Slavery Began to Die.” Indeed, this very small town just a few miles northwest of Lawrence played a significant role in the Civil War and the formation of the state of Kansas. While their slogan says that the town is “Where Slavery Began to Die”, make no mistake, the events in Lecompton were fully in support of slavery. Honestly, a pretty good marketing slogan to make one think that the town’s history helped to stop slavery, but this is not the case.
Lecompton was founded in 1854, soon after Kansas was opened for white settlement by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The town was originally called “Bald Eagle” the name was soon changed to Lecompton to honor Samuel D Lecompte, the chief justice of the Territorial Supreme Court. In 1855, Lecompton was named the Official Capital of the Kansas Territory. This designation came after much disagreement between the opposing sides of the slavery issues in Kansas. Initially, the official capital was in Pawnee, Kansas, where it lasted for four days until pro-slavery forces voted to move it to the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway, Kansas. Free-state men were not happy with this choice as it was too close to Missouri and the thinking was that Missourians would have too large an influence on the activities of the political body.
The compromise was to move the capital to Lecompton, a small town just outside of the very free-state leaning town of Lawrence. At this point in 1855, the Kansas Territorial Legislature was comprised mostly of pro-slavery members who had been elected through questions elections. This legislature is often referred to as the “Bogus Legislature”, due to the fact that in many districts from which these men were elected, the vote count often numbered pro-slavery votes much greater in number than the actual population of the district. These “bogus” numbers can be attributed to Missourians and southerners from many other states traveling to Kansas to vote for the pro-slavery government.
To support the legislature, Constitution Hall was built in 1856 by Sheriff Samuel Jones. Jones was a major player in several Bleeding Kansas events such as the Wakarusa War and the Sacking of Lawrence. In the fall of 1857, the building was the location of the Lecompton Constitutional Convention, which produced the Lecompton Constitution which would have seen Kansas join the Union as a slave state. Obviously, this constitution was not approved by the U.S. Congress. Eventually, free-state forces took control of Kansas and submitted a free-state constitution which was accepted by the U.S Congress and Kansas became a state on January 29, 1861, at which time the capital was moved to Topeka.
Lecompton is a nice little town with only 654 residents. There are several historic sites to see in town including Constitution Hall, The Democratic Headquarters, Lane University (now the Territorial Capital Museum), and the Former Lecompton City Jail. All are interesting and free to visitors. Make sure you stop by Aunt Netters Café, just across from Constitution Hall. The food is excellent.