A Brief History of Topeka

The capital city of Kansas, Topeka has a rich history as one of the most important areas in the region’s foundation. Formally founded in 1855, the city’s name, as you may have guessed, is of Indian origin, and is believed to have been suggested by Joseph Names, a man whose heritage was rooted in the Kansa tribe (from whom the state, as you may also have deduced, takes its name). Topeka has, from its founding onwards, been steeped in the struggle for personal freedoms. For many people the name is associated with the civil rights movement, thanks to the famous Brown Vs The Board of Education case (more on which later) but even before that Topeka was a central location in the historic battles for equality that run through the history of the USA. It was one of the first ‘free state’ towns in the country and once the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 opened up the area for settlement, there was an influx of anti-slavery men who wanted to live in a territory where the practice of slave ownership would be illegal. Of course, as slavery was not only ongoing, but vigorously supported elsewhere, those in favour of it also moved into Kansas hoping to sway the tide of opinion in their favour. (The concept of popular sovereignty meant that it would be down to those living in any particular territory, to vote on the issue, with there being no federal law to dictate on the matter.) This conflict between those who were for and those who were against slavery was not left to the ballot box. Indeed, it was the basis for a bloody civil war that earned the state the nickname ‘bleeding Kansas’. The depth of the division between pro-slavery and abolitionist factions in early Kansas cannot be understated. Indeed, at one point, there were two governments vying for legitimacy there. Topeka’s role in all this was as a stronghold for those looking to put an end to slavery and join with the union (the states to the north.) This is why most of the first inhabitants of Topeka were ‘Yankees’ from New England. The ‘Topeka Constitution’, which was drawn up by these men, was declared an act of revolution by its opponents and helped to spark the open violence that ran from 1855-1859. Eventually, the state was admitted to the union in 1861 (it was the 34th). This, of course, was not an end to the conflict. Just three months later the entire nation was thrown into civil war. Once the war had been won, Topeka went from strength to strength. Washburn University was founded, the...

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