Visitors pouring into Lecompton for the annual Territorial Days celebration in June generate a crescendo of color and energy that recalls a brief period when this sleepy village served as the territorial capital. Then, the nation’s attention focused on this fledgling town along the Kansas River (10 miles east of Topeka) as crowds came to argue whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state.
The annual celebration centers on Constitution Hall, a National Historic Landmark since 1975. A proslavery constitution was hammered out in the restored white clapboard building. The resulting hue and cry ultimately led to abolishment of the proslavery laws. Lecompton later was “punished,” and territorial business moved to Lawrence.
But for a time, Americans from coast to coast could point out Lecompton on a map. The town was mentioned 55 times in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Historians argue that events in the village fractured political parties, allowing Lincoln to win the presidency and, consequently, the South to secede from the Union.
During Territorial Days, the hall is open for tours. Over at the limestone Territorial Capital Museum on Saturday and Sunday, audiences are encouraged to cheer and jeer as abolitionist John Brown, suffragist Clarina Nichols and other Bleeding Kansas-era figures argue their causes.
More about Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area
The border war was one of the most bitter and important conflicts leading to the Civil War. But it’s just one of the great struggles that unfolded in eastern Kansas. The Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, designated in 2006, recognizes the region’s key role in a parade of events and movements, including the trails and forts that served waves of pioneers and the role in ending school segregation of the Brown v. Board of Education case that started in Topeka. The National Heritage Area includes sites, towns and battlefields that dot 29 Kansas counties and a dozen in Missouri, a 31,021-square-mile area that’s as large as the state of South Carolina.
Organizers want to promote the region’s already abundant attractions, ranging from relatively well-known sites like Fort Scott National Historic Site and Marais des Cygnes Massacre State Historic Site, to lesser-known places like Black Jack Battlefield and Park, southeast of Lawrence near Baldwin City. Signs and brochures help communities tell their stories and from a variety of points of view.