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First Territorial Capitol

First Territorial CapitolThis building was the capitol for only five days in 1855, but many believe that the actions of the legislature that met here led directly to the Civil War. Governor Andrew Reeder, pictured at left, picked this location, away from the proslavery influence of Missouri, where the legislature would choose a permanent seat of government, create a constitution, and decide if Kansas would be a free or slave state. Instead the legislature kicked out the antislavery members and passed a bill to move the government to Shawnee Mission near the Missouri border.

Governor Andrew H. Reeder

Early in the summer, on July 2, 1855, members of the Kansas territorial legislature journeyed to the town of Pawnee, adjacent to the Fort Riley military reservation, to attend the first session  called by Governor Andrew H. Reeder. When they arrived, however, they were dismayed to find that despite the building boom that had been underway in Pawnee since the governor's plans for the session had become known, the stone structure that was to serve as the first territorial capitol was far from ready.

The two-story structure was approximately 40 by 80 feet and built of native stone. "It had neither floor nor roof," complained one member who arrived on Saturday, June 30.

However, he continued in a letter to the Atchison Squatter Sovereign, "by working all day Sunday and Sunday night, the roof and floor was finished, but the floors were not completed while we stayed—so we had to legislate with open doors." The lower floor was used as the house chamber, while the council or senate occupied the second floor.

Most of the legislators who came to Pawnee were sympathetic to the proslavery cause. They had been elected on March 30, 1855, with the aid of Missourians who had crossed the border to vote. The election had been contested by the free-state partisans, but the fraudulent votes helped to overwhelm them. Because of this illegal selection of representatives, the legislature became known to antislavery Kansans as the "bogus legislature," and the laws it passed were called the "bogus laws."

Members of this first territorial legislature were young men. Only five of the 39 were over 50, while 11 were under 30. One, Alexander Johnson, was a real rarity—a Kansas native, born in 1832 at the Shawnee Methodist Mission in present-day Johnson County.

Since most of the legislators were from the border towns with interest in Missouri, they wanted the administrative center located in the eastern part of the territory where their strengths lay. The legislature passed a bill on July 4, 1855, providing for the temporary establishment of the capital at the Shawnee Methodist Mission. Two days later the governor vetoed it on the grounds that the legislature had overstepped the authority conferred upon it by Congress. Both houses promptly passed the bill over the governor's veto and adjourned. The reconvened at Shawnee Mission on July 16, 1855.

The Kansas Legislature requested in 1901 that Congress allow the state to preserve the building where the first territorial legislature was held. It was not until 1927 that the state legislature added an appropriation to the budget for maintenance and repair. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and today operates as First Territorial Capitol Historic Site.

Entry: First Territorial Capitol

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: August 2002

Date Modified: November 2021

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.