Kansas Legislative War of 1893

“The strained situation in Topeka suggests a new use for Kansas Avenue; too wide for a street and hardly wide enough for a cornfield, it would make a fairly roomy battlefield for the close and disparate fighting to which the Republicans and Populists will doubtless indulge if they ever get at it.”

If you think today’s Kansas House appears exceedingly one sided and the U.S. House dysfunctional, perhaps it’s time to take a look back at an earlier moment in Kansas history to a “war” within the Kansas legislature, as described above in the Kansas City Star from February 15, 1893.

When I first read this KC Star quote, as well as more information in a Kansas State Historical Museum display, I couldn’t help but think about the current Republican Party, the Tea Party, and a truly partisan stalemate stalling any hope of jobs creation and deficit reduction in our United States.

Can you picture two Republican Houses? The regular Republicans and the Populist (Peoples Party) Republicans? Then, there was the Democratic House. Kansas stopped working, too. Sound familiar?

Can you imagine the Speaker of the Republican House using a sledge hammer to batter open the chamber door to the House of Representatives?

Can you imagine the militia and a Gatling gun being called up to the statehouse?

Can you imagine the Shawnee County Sheriff, a Republican, deputizing as many as 200 men and providing them with arms?

All of this actually happened in 1893. Where people are nice!

Populism rose out of the 1880s economic depression in the United States, according to the University of Houston’s Digital History website, when farmers and working people reacted to prices set by railroads, lenders, grain-elevators, or in other words, big money controlled by corporations, banks, and the rail barrens.

The Populist platform the Digital History explained, “embraced government regulation and government ownership of railroads, natural resources, and telephone and telegraph systems,” while calling for a coalition of poor white and poor black farmers.

Populists “endorsed labor unions,” said the Digital History writers, and, “decried long work hours, and championed a graduated income tax as a way to redistribute wealth from businesses to farmers and workers.”

In other words, American working people were tired of money being concentrated in the hands of the few and saw government as the answer to their problems.

By Populism’s end, the secret ballot and voting rights for women prevailed, as did a Federal Reserve System, farm cooperatives, government warehouses, railroad regulations, and conservation of public lands. Not exactly the Tea Party agenda, though, but all of it designed to protect the workers.

My fascination with Kansas Populists came from my great-grandfather’s law enforcement background. John A. Miller, well-known family farmer from outside of Anthony, Kansas, became sheriff of Harper County from 1896 to 1898 on the Populist ticket.

To this day, I have no idea why only one term, but I do know the Populists fell out of favor about as quickly as they became a national phenomenon.

In 1892, a Populist, Lorenzo D. Lewelling, had been elected governor, while the Populists Party had taken the Senate two years earlier and believed, according to the Kansas State Historical Society, that the Populists had also “claimed 64 seats in the lower chamber.”

When legislative members resumed their seats in 1893, both Republicans and Populists “claimed a majority.” Real tension mounted in February when, as the historical society said, “Populists took sole possession of Representative Hall locking themselves in and Republicans out.”

Tensions reached a breaking point when the Populist House clerk, Ben Rich, was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace of the legislature.

Kansans of all stripes took to the streets and Speaker of the Republican House, George L. Douglas, “led members of and employees of the Republican House [including Osawatomie’s J.B. Remington, a House Rep.], who had all gathered at the Copeland Hotel on Kansas Avenue and marched to the Statehouse.

“A few guards tried to stop them but were easily swept aside. They gained entry to the Hall by applying a sledge hammer to the door of the House of Representatives.”

During the three-day crisis, the Populist governor ordered the Kansas militia from Wichita to bring a Gatling gun, while the Republican sheriff deputized an army of locals to face off against the military.

By February 15, Governor Lewelling raised the white flag and negotiated an agreement with the Republican Speaker and the “war” ended.

I wonder when and if the current state and federal gridlock will end, and this country can get back to work without tearing down established institutions placed there to protect us?


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Posted by admin on Sep 28 2011. Filed under Kevin Gray, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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