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Kansas Day - An Alternate Anniversary

David Leahy, reporter and special writer for the Wichita Eagle, wanted to correct what he thought was a historical clerical error. He wrote an article called “Setting Kansas Right On Its Own Birthday,” on Sunday, February 3, 1935, explaining why he felt that Kansas Day was being celebrated on the wrong day. He felt that Kansas’ birthday should be February 9, 1861, rather than on January 29, 1861.

Leahy reasoned that the clerical error resulted from a historian who confused the birth of statehood with the act of Congress in authorizing the admission of the state.

The article described Kansas’ route to statehood as accidental. The U.S. House of Representatives introduced a bill admitting Kansas as a free state on February 12, 1860. Two months later the House approved the bill. Senator William Seward introduced a bill on February 21, 1860. The U.S. Senate, controlled at the time by proslavery supporters, referred the bill to committee and it was carried over to the next session. With the re-election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 control in Congress began to shift.

On December 6, 1860, Kansans held their first gubernatorial election. Charles Robinson challenged Kansas Territorial Governor Samuel Medary, winning 7,908 to 5,395. Medary resigned on December 17, and George M. Beebe, became acting governor. He advocated that Kansas maintain a neutral position in the looming civil war. Leahy claimed that his efforts to smooth the situation was a “fantastic scheme of establishing in Kansas a sort of republic within a republic—an independent nation.”

Southern states began to secede and Southern senators resigned.By January 21, 1861, the U.S. Senate had gained a free-state majority. Senator Seward took advantage of the timing to reintroduce the Kansas bill. With lightning speed, and to the surprise of many Kansans, it passed both bodies. President James Buchanan signed the bill making it official on January 29, 1861.

Freestaters in Leavenworth, after hearing that the bill had become law, celebrated by firing Old Kickapoo, a cannon once used by proslavery forces, toward their neighbors in Missouri. However, Beebe was not yet ready to relinquish control. On February 9, 1861, Governor-elect Robinson went to Topeka, the temporary capital, to be sworn in. His first act as governor was to assemble the first state legislature on March 26, 1861. According to Leahy, Governor Robinson followed a frugal budget: $20 per month for rent, $40 per year for fuel; $2,000 salary, $50 per month for a secretary.

Kansas Republicans formed the Kansas Day Club on January 29, 1892, to celebrate the state’s birthday. Several years later Kansas Democrats formed a club on February 22, the date when Kansas’ 34th star first appear on the national flag, as well as the birthday of George Washington, for a similar purpose. Leahy hoped by changing the state celebration to February 9, it could avoid much of the partisan politics. He proposed a diamond jubilee to be held on February 9, 1936. “It is primarily a matter of civil interest—a means of getting a lot of our Kansas neighbors to visit us and have a good old-fashioned Kansas celebration.”

Leahy’s campaign did not gain traction with many other Kansans. Kirke Mechem with the Kansas Historical Society supported January 29, when President James Buchanan signed the bill admitting Kansas to the Union, as the correct anniversary. Mechem said Kansas was following precedent of other states that observed birthdays on the date of admission.

Entry: Kansas Day - An Alternate Anniversary

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: February 2017

Date Modified: February 2017

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