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Politics, Elections and Government

If You Think It's Ugly Now In The Kansas Statehouse, You Should've Seen 1893

Talk about a house divided against itself.

Right now Republicans in the Kansas Legislature are fighting over how to close a more than $400 million budget hole.

It's a war of words, but nothing more.

That wasn't the case at the turn of the 20th century.

The election of 1892 in Kansas brought People's Party candidate Lorenzo D. Lewelling to the governor's office. Two years earlier the Populists took control of the state Senate. They now had the governor's chair, and the party believed it had also wrested control of the state House from Republicans.

But the Republicans thought differently. The party claimed 64 seats in the lower chamber and, thus, had control of the House. The Populists charged election fraud.

The Populists and Republicans both fought for control of the Chamber. Both elected their own speaker and leaders. Both passed minor legislation.

But, according to articles from the Kansas State Historical Society, it all came to a head in mid-February 1893.

Governor calls out militia

That's when the Populists took up arms and barricaded themselves inside the House chamber. The next morning the Republican Speaker George L. Douglas lead his followers into the Capitol, brushed aside a few Populists guards and bashed their way into the chamber with a sledgehammer.

It quickly escalated.

Populist Gov. Lewelling called out the National Guard, and the Legislative War of 1893 was engaged. 

Lewelling called up several militia companies, including Battery "A" of Wichita and instructed the men to bring their Gatling gun. The Guard arrived but, since it was composed almost entirely of Republicans and commanded by Col. J.W.F. Hughes, also a Republican, most of the units refused to obey the governor.

The "war" lasted only 48 hours after the Populists essentially surrendered and Republicans remained in control of the Kansas House.

The situation was finally resolved by the state Supreme Court, at the time justices were elected and dominated by Republicans, which voted 2-1 in favor of the Republican control of the House.

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