Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The nation's thirty-fourth state was admitted to the Union on January 29, 1861, after a brief but contentious history. Prior to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, what is now Kansas was occupied by Native Americans, including the Kaws, Osages, and Wichitas. A number of Europeans, including Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, had visited the area from 1541 on. Congress initially attached the northern portion of the Louisiana Purchase, to which Kansas was a part, to Indiana Territory. This area became part of Missouri Territory in 1812. After the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which provided for the admission of Missouri to the Union as a slave state, the area of Kansas was considered to be part of "Indian Country" and outside U.S. jurisdiction.

The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act was the prelude for the American settlement of Kansas. The act superseded the Missouri Compromise, giving settlers the right to determine whether Kansas should be a free or slave territory. An influx of proslavery advocates from southern states and abolitionists from New England ensued, resulting in bloodshed. The fiery abolitionist John Brown was active in the territory, leading his followers in a massacre of proslavery Missouri settlers at Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County on May 24, 1856. Later, in 1863, William Quantrill led his proslavery guerrilla forces in raiding and burning a number of Kansas farms and towns (including Lawrence) whose citizens opposed slavery.

Proslavery Democrats controlled the first territorial government and dominated in the early years. But by October 1859, after numerous attempts to draft a constitution, a document reflecting the views of Republican free-state forces was approved by a margin of nearly two to one. Statehood was delayed by national partisan divisions, which led Democratic senators from the South to oppose the addition of a Republican state prior to the 1860 presidential election. It was not until January 21, 1861, after a number of southern senators had left Washington in anticipation of the secession of their states, that Kansas received the necessary votes for admission; the Kansas statehood bill was signed by President James Buchanan eight days later.

Since the granting of statehood, Kansas has remained one of the most Republican of all states in national politics. The state's political culture has been characterized as "moralistic," and Kansans played prominent leadership roles in a variety of movements such as populism, progressivism, and prohibition. Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, from Abilene, served as the thirty-fourth president of the United States from 1953 to 1961. Two other Kansans have run (unsuccessfully) for president on the Republican ticket in this century: Gov. Alf Landon in 1936 and former U.S. Senate majority leader Bob Dole in 1996. Kansas's partisan tendencies survived even the powerful political forces that brought about the critical realignments of the 1890s and 1930s. While the agricultural depressions underlying the Populist Revolt and the New Deal enabled third parties and Democrats to gain occasional short-run advantage, there were few permanent voter shifts within the electorate, and the state in each instance quickly returned to its Republican predilections. Kansas rarely deviates from the Republican Party in its presidential voting, and it stands as the only state not to have elected at least one Democratic senator since the 1930s. Republicans hold a 45 to 30 percent registration advantage over Democrats, with 25 percent of registrants choosing to be independents. In 1998 a Republican was governor (elected by a three-toone margin), Republicans had strong majorities in both houses of the Kansas legislature, and three of the state's four congressmen were Republican.

The Republican dominance has always been a reflection of the state's socioeconomic population mix. Kansas has lacked the economic-cultural-racial diversity that often characterizes two-party competition in other states. Traditionally Democratic minority groups enjoy only a modest presence in the state. Of nearly 2.7 million residents in 2000, only 5.7 percent were African American, 7 percent Hispanic, 1.7 percent Asian, and less than 1 percent Native American. Despite an estimated 80,000 members of organized labor, most a.liated with the afl-cio, right-towork laws have impeded the development of a strong union movement that traditionally offers support to the Democratic Party.

Kansas has an image as a rural, agricultural state, but urbanization has taken place at a rapid pace, particularly in the suburbs adjacent to Kansas City and near Wichita. The number of farms has dwindled while the average size has increased, and the proportion of rural residents in the state is now less than 30 percent. While the rural-based agriculture and oil and gas industries still are important, wholesale and retail trade are now the largest components of the state's economy.

Kansas politics in recent decades has been dominated by divisions within the Republican Party between its rural and suburban wings on such issues as the redistribution of aid from wealthy suburban school districts to the poorer rural school districts. In the late 1980s and the 1990s, abortion policy led to major internal divisions in the Republican Party organization between Christian Right elements and social moderates. Republican factionalism has enabled conservative Democrats to win the governorship on a number of occasions.

Allan J. Cigler University of Kansas

Cigler, Allan J., and Burdette A. Loomis. "Kansas: Two- Party Competition in a One-Party State." In Party Realignment and State Politics, edited by Maureen Moakley. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992: 163–78.

Drury, James W. The Government of Kansas. Topeka: University of Kansas, Capitol Complex Center, 1997.

Frederickson, H. George, ed. Public Policy and the Two States of Kansas. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994.

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