Long before there were airplanes and Kansas was deemed “flyover country,” Kansas was making history. On Sunday we’ll celebrate Kansas Day, commemorating the admission of Kansas as the 34th member of the United States in 1861.
Our state motto, “Ad astra per aspera,” is a Latin phrase meaning, “through hardship to the stars,” or “to the stars, through difficulties.”
First populated by Native Americans, Kansas became a territory created by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. That year the city of Bald Eagle was founded on the south bank of the Kansas River, and in 1855 it was renamed Lecompton and the territorial legislature chose it to be the official and permanent capital of the Kansas Territory.
The territorial motto, “Populi voce nata,” means “born from the voice of the people,” or is often translated as “born of the popular will.” In 2021, artist Rick Wright painted a mural featuring the motto on the south wall of the former Lecompton High School gym.
The mural is titled “Resilience,” which could also sum up the ethos of Kansas – and its territorial capital for that matter. It depicts a landscape with a bald eagle emerging from the clouds above the Kansas River. On each side of the eagle are wagons and buildings, including Constitution Hall.
Then as now, the voice of the people and the “popular will” may not have reflected our best or truly represented who most of us were/are. The Lecompton Constitution drafted for the state of Kansas was strongly pro-slavery and excluded free people of color from its bill of rights. Voting fraud and violent intimidation were championed in defense of “state’s rights.” Opponents championed an anti-slavery constitution. Eventually, the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act set in motion events that caused the state to be dubbed “Bleeding Kansas” and eventually led to the Civil War.
Today, Lecompton bills itself as the “Birthplace of the Civil War, Where slavery began to die.” Lecompton has become a small town, but its impact on United States history has not been forgotten. Topeka is the capital where our legislators are tasked with hearing the voice of the people – and being able to distinguish the loud, dramatic yammering of a few from the still small voice of conscience that we truly hope guides most of us, most of the time.