East Building Shawnee Indian Mission
Kansas State Historical Site, Fairway

The "Bogus Legislature" met here in July and August, 1855.

The First Kansas Territorial Legislature, meeting in 1855, was called the "Bogus Legislature" by its free-state opponents. Its thirty-eight members were chosen for office in an election in which 5,000 Missouri "voters," led by Senator David Atchison and his followers, took over the polls in Kansas Territory. The Bogus Legislature quickly adjourned from its appointed meeting place on the prairie, four days ride to the west, to the more convenient Shawnee Manual Labor School, near the Missouri line. Its pro-slavery members adopted the statutes of Missouri as the law of Kansas; they enacted the infamous "Black Law" with criminal sanctions for helping fugitive slaves, or even advocating that "persons have not the right to own slaves in [Kansas] territory"; and they disenfranchised territorial voters by appointing all the first county officials by legislative fiat.

Much of what followed in the unhappy history of "Bleeding Kansas" was a consequence of these actions. Most settlers had come to Kansas for cheap land without much thought for politics. Free-state organizers Charles Robinson, James H. Lane and others were able to turn the resentment the Bogus Legislators aroused into political action. Soon there was a Free-State political party and even a competing free-state Legislature. The pro-slavery forces fought back against these "unlawful" acts of free-state men, creating their own "Law and Order" political party and mobilizing the "Kansas Militia" to put down the free-state rebellion.

Who were the men in the Bogus Legislature? Were they all Missourians with no connection to Kansas? Free-State writers were quite dismissive of the Bogus Legislature. William Addison Phillips called them vagabonds:

"If the outrageous fraud by which the Missourians pretended to elect representatives for Kansas astonished the world, the proceedings of the conclave of vagabonds, assembled under this mob authority, were still more astonishing. Never did a less responsible body of men assemble under the pretence of making laws." [Phillips, Conquest, 98]

On the other hand, Allen Hazzard, editor of the pro-slavery Kickapoo Kansas Pioneer, visited a session of the Legislature and thought Kansas had cause to be proud of its leaders. He thought there was as much talent in the hall as in general assemblies in any of the states. [Caldwell, Annals, 87]

Charles Clark