50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 34. Kansas

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. All of the posts so far can be found here

34. Kansas

Capital: Topeka

Nickname: The Sunflower State

Motto: Ad Astra Per Aspera

(To The Stars Through Difficulties)

About the State

The first European to explore Kansas was the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who traversed the region in 1541.  At the time, the area was home to Native Americans of the Wichita people, with the Osage Nation and Kansa migrating there in the 17th century.  Kansas was then claimed by the French as part of the Louisiana Territory, though neither they, nor the Spanish who took over the land in 1763 following the Seven Years’ War, established any settlements there.  France had regained the colony in 1800 and then, in 1803, sold all of the land under their control from the Gulf of Mexico up to the Canadian border – including modern-day Kansas – to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

From the 1820s to the 1840s, Kansas was an unorganised region that was set aside by the Federal Government to be used as “Indian Territory”, providing a home for Native Americans who had been removed from their land by settlers further east.  Various tribes including the Shawnee, Ottawa, Sac and Fox relocated there, but by the 1850s, European Americans had begun to illegally move into Kansas and petitioned for the whole region to be opened up for settlement.  As the Natives were pushed further west and south into Oklahoma, Congress had begun the process of creating the Kansas Territory.  This was accelerated in 1854 by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which overturned the previous north/south boundary that the Missouri Compromise had placed on where slavery would be accepting, allowing instead the territories to determine for themselves if they enter the Union as a free or slave state.

The Congressional Act resulted in Kansas being the only state that was settled by activists, since people on both sides of the slavery question moved there in order to vote on whether or not it would be free.  The Territory became the focal point of all of the tensions between pro-slavery and abolitionists, violence becoming so bad that the period between 1855 and 1858 was known as “Bleeding Kansas”.  One of the most fervent believers in racial equality at the time was John Brown, who helped lead the abolitionist movement in Kansas during these years and was alleged to have taken part in the Pottawatomie massacre – in which 5 pro-slavery settlers were killed in Franklin County.  Brown went into hiding and later was the leader of an unsuccessful raid on the Federal Armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, which resulted in his arrest and execution.  The hostilities mostly ended in 1859 when Kansas adopted a constitution outlawing slavery and two years later, on January 29th 1861 – with the nation on the brink of Civil War – it became the 34th state of the Union.

Kansas had very little in the way of supplies or armed militia to offer President Lincoln’s forces, but it continued to be the site of small-scale warfare between the pro and anti-slavery factions.  There were several battles fought in the new state during the conflict, but the most notable event was the Lawrence Massacre of 1863.  Across the border in Missouri, Union Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr. had imprisoned women who had assisted Confederate guerrillas, five of whom died when the roof of the jail collapsed.  In response, William Quantrill lead a raid into Lawrence, Kansas, burning the city and killing more than 150 people, including children.

The state grew in importance as the transcontinental railroad was extended through Kansas in the early 1860s, connecting it with other parts of the country.  Cowboys led their cattle drives to both Abilene – the city in which the famed gunfighter, Wild Bill Hickok had a brief spell as marshal – and Dodge City – famed for being a wild frontier town and home to Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday – as they were places where the ranchers could fatten up their herd on wheat before transporting them by train to other cities in the nation.  However, in the 1880s, quarantines were placed on Texas Longhorns in order to protect local cattle, effectively ending the drives as they were no longer worth the time and large companies had recognised the value in the market, so began building meat-packing plants closer to ranches.

In the early 20th century, Kansas became the epicenter of aviation experimentation, with pioneers like Clyde Cessna trying to take advantage of the winds in the state to assist them with their attempts to get airborne.  Wichita was the hub of this activity and it continues to have aircraft manufacturing facilities for companies such as Cessna and Learjet, while there it has two runways that were long enough to recover the space shuttle – when it was still operational – in the event of an emergency.  Agriculture is also a major part of the state’s economy and its average yearly yield of wheat is the equivalent of enough bushels to make 26 billion loaves of bread; while Kansas also ranks 8th in the nation for the production of both oil and natural gas.  The Sprint Nextel Corporation has its headquarters in Overland Park, while Wichita is the home of Koch Industries – owned by Charles and David Koch who were the far-right billionaires behind the Tea Party Movement.

The 15th biggest state in area and the geographical centre of the continental United States, 85 million years ago Kansas was at the bottom of a large inland sea – the Western Interior Seaway – which explains its vast plains and flat landscape.  With more than 2.8 million residents, it ranks 33rd in population in the United States and, although no Presidents have been born in Kansas, Dwight D. Eisenhower spent his formative years there, attending Abilene High School; and Charles Curtis – Vice-President to Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933 – was from Topeka.  The state is at the heart of “Tornado Alley”, with the cold air from Canada meeting with the warm air that comes North from the Gulf of Mexico to create storms that often lead to twisters.  There have been more F5 tornadoes – the highest categorisation – recorded there than in any other state; however, it does have an average of 262 days of sunshine each year, which has resulted in an abundance of sunflowers, giving Kansas its nickname.  Susan Madora Salter, the first female mayor in the United States, was elected to office in Argonia in 1887 and, in 1954, it was the Topeka Board of Education that was part of the Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs Board of Education that overturned segregation in schools.

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 6

2008 Result: McCain 56.8% Obama 41.4%

Latest Poll: Romney+9%

Since 1940, the Democratic candidate has won the state of Kansas in a Presidential election just once – in 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in a landslide.  That’s 17 Republican victories in the last 18 contests in the state and the GOP look likely to extend that run in November, as Mitt Romney has a substantial lead in the polls.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: Similar to Oregon, the Congressional elections in Kansas are unlikely to have much drama unfolding this November.  There are no Senate contests there this year – both seats in the state are currently held by Republicans and there has not been a Democratic Senator for Kansas since 1938 – and the four incumbent Representatives of the House, all of whom are GOP, are expected to win another term.

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