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Legislative War Artifacts

Sledge hammer used by Republicans to smash through House chamber doors during Legislative WarBoth the Populist and Republican parties claimed control of the Kansas House of Representatives during the Legislative War. The collections include this sledge hammer used by the Republicans to smash the chamber doors and regain control.

The People's or Populist Party was a significant third party movement in Kansas politics during the 1890s. Its adherents promised to protect government from the influence of corrupt politicians and big business.  The peak of the Kansas Populists' dominance came with the fall elections of 1892, when the ticket won the governor's office, four congressional seats, and control of the state Senate.

The status of the House of Representatives was much murkier, though, with both Populists and Republicans claiming control of that hall. The Populists charged the Republicans with election fraud, and a strange situation came to pass.

Picture frame  made from fragments of House doors

Two Parties, One Chamber

Both a Populist-led and a Republican-led House were seated in early 1893. Both were called to order, and both sent messages to the governor and Senate that they were ready to do business. They sat in the same chamber, agreeing to meet at separate times. The Populist governor, Lorenzo Lewelling, and the Populist-controlled Senate naturally recognized only the Populist House.

On February 14, 1893, the clerk of the Populist House was arrested for disturbing the peace, a complaint generated by Republicans. After he was rescued by friends, both sides began to organize supporters for a confrontation.

The War

The next morning the Republican House, led by Speaker George Douglass, marched on the Capitol and demanded entry to the House hall. Using this sledge hammer (top, right), they smashed the doors and took control of the chamber. The Populists met in another room in the Capitol. This act led the Shawnee County Sheriff to deputize several hundred citizens to maintain order in the city.

While they both continued to meet, the Republic and Populist houses passed legislation regarding use of a secret ballot and changes in the state's mortgage laws. A measure for railroad regulation passed by the Populists was not recognized by the Republicans.

Club used by deputized

Eventually, the Kansas Supreme Court decided in favor of the Republican House, and the Populists disbanded.

The Society owns several artifacts from what is known as the "Legislative War." These include the chamber doors shattered by the Republicans, a club (bottom, right) carried by one of the county's deputized citizens, and a picture frame (center, right) made from scraps of the shattered doors and containing a photo of Republicans peering through the holes. All these artifacts may be seen on display at the Kansas State Capitol Visitor Center.

Entry: Legislative War Artifacts

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 1997

Date Modified: October 2022

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.