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The men who drafted the Kansas Constitution helped to shape those early critical years and develop the legacy that has become Kansas. But who were they, and what were they like?

On July 5, 1859, the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention convened with 52 delegates. The average age of these delegates was 35, most of them being in their early twenties and thirties. Therefore, it was a common occurrence for the men to engage in juvenile behavior during sessions, such as throwing paper wads at those who were speaking. In fact, the settlers were comprised of such a young group that anyone over the age of 40 automatically acquired the prefix "Old" before his name.

One of the delegates, James Hanway, was a neighbor and friend of the famous abolitionist John Brown and even served in John Brown, Jr.'s militia company. Even though he was only 50 years old at the time of the Wyandotte Convention, the Daily Times described him as "an elderly gentleman, quietly observant of the proceedings, never speaking, but at the right moment making the right suggestions to those who do."

A much younger delegate, John James Ingalls, was 26 years old at the time of the convention and was the man who coined the phrase "Ad astra per aspera," which became the state motto. Ingalls also designed the original seal of Kansas with a single star rising to a constellation of stars, representing Kansas rising to join the other states in the Union. However, the seal was modified to its current look before the Legislature approved it.

Benjamin Franklin Simpson, being the youngest delegate at age 23, was elected to serve as Kansas' first attorney general and only resigned in order to serve in the Civil War. He went on to become a speaker of the House in Kansas, served in the Kansas Senate, was a United States marshal for the District of Kansas and a Supreme Court commissioner.

Of the 35 Republicans and 17 Democrats present at the convention, 18 were lawyers, 16 were farmers, eight were merchants and three were physicians. There was also a mechanic, a land agent, a printer and a surveyor.

John James Ingalls image
John James Ingalls
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Fifty-two ordinary men, mainly young men, created something extraordinary…a symbol of freedom and order in the midst of an epic battleground in our nation.