The English Bill
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)

On April 13, while the question of admitting Kansas under the Lecompton constitution was before Congress, the United States senate voted—30 to 24—for a conference committee. The next day the house, on motion of William H. English of Indiana, by a vote of 709 to 108, agreed to such a committee.


James S. Green of Missouri, R. M. T. Hunter of Virginia, and William H. Seward of New York, were appointed on the part of the senate, and Mr. English, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia; and William A. Howard of Michigan on the part of the house. On the 23d Mr. English reported a measure—the work of the conference committee—which has become known in history as the "English Bill," Seward and Howard dissenting to its introduction. The principal provisions of this bill were the clauses in the preamble and section 1 of the bill itself, the former relating to the changes made by Congress in the ordinance passed by the constitutional convention, and the latter to the submission of the constitution to the people. The provision of the preamble was as follows:

"Whereas, Said ordinance is not acceptable to Congress, and it is desirable to ascertain whether the people of Kansas concur in the changes in said ordinance hereafter stated, and desire admission into the Union as a state as herein proposed: therefore,

"Be it enacted, etc., That the State of Kansas be and is hereby admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever, but upon this fundamental condition precedent, namely: That the question of admission with the following proposition, in lieu of the ordinance framed at Lecompton, shall be submitted to the vote of the people of Kansas, and assented to by them, or the majority of the voters voting at an election to be held for that purpose, namely: That the following propositions be and the same are hereby offered to said people of Kansas for their free aceptance,"[sic] etc.

Then follows the six propositions relating to land grants, viz: 1. That sections 16 and 36 in each township should be given the state for the benefit of the public schools. 2. That 72 sections, to be selected by the governor, should be granted for the support of a state university. 3. That 10 sections, also to be selected by the governor, should be granted to the state for the erection of public buildings. 4. That all the salt springs within the state, not exceeding 12 in number, should be the property of the state. 5. That 5 per cent. of the proceeds of sales of public lands within the state should be paid to the state to aid in the construction of highways. 6. That the state should never tax the property of the United States. These provisions were substantially the same as those in the act of admission which was signed by President Buchanan on Jan. 29, 1861, and would no doubt have been accepted by the people of the state in 1858 had it not been for the bitter feeling growing out of the arbitrary course of the Lecompton constitutional convention. (See Constitutional Conventions.)

Section 1 of the bill, which provided for the submission of the constitution to a vote of the people, in connection with the propositions of the preamble, was as follows:

"That the State of Kansas be and is hereby admitted into the Union, on an equal footing with the original States, with the constitution framed at Lecompton; and this admission of her into the Union as a state is here declared to be upon this fundamental condition precedent, namely: That the said constitutional instrument shall be first submitted to a vote of the people of Kansas, and assented to by them, or a majority of the voters at an election to be held for that purpose. At the said election the voting shall be by ballot, and by indorsing on his ballot, as each voter may please, 'For proposition of Congress and admission,' or, 'Against proposition of Congress and admission.' The president of the United States, as soon as the fact is duly made known to him, shall announce the same by proclamation; and thereafter, and without any further proceedings on the part of Congress, the admission of the State of Kansas into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatever, shall be complete and absolute; and said state shall be entitled to one member in the house of representatives in the Congress of the United States until the next census be taken by the Federal government. But, should the majority of the votes be cast for 'Proposition rejected,' it shall be deemed and held that the people of Kansas do not desire admission into the Union with said constitution, under the conditions set forth in said proposition; and in that event the people of said territory are hereby authorized and empowered to form for themselves a constitution and state government, by the name of the State of Kansas, according to the Federal constitution, and may elect delegates for that purpose whenever, and not before, it is ascertained, by a census duly and legally taken, that the population of said territory equals the ratio of representation required for a member of the house of representatives of the United States; and whenever thereafter such delegates shall assemble in convention, they shall first determine by a vote whether it is the wish of the people of the proposed state to be admitted into the Union at that time, and, if so, shall proceed to form a constitution, and take all necessary steps for the establishment of a state government, in conformity with the Federal constitution, subject to the limitations and restrictions as to the mode and manner of its approval or ratification by the people of the proposed state as they may have prescribed by law, and shall be entitled to admission into the Union as a state under such constitution, thus fairly and legally made, with or without slavery, as said constitution may prescribe."

The remaining sections of the bill described how the election should be held, etc. On the 30th it passed the house by a vote of 112 to 103, and the senate by a vote of 30 to 22. President Buchanan signed it on May 4. The submission of the Lecompton constitution to the people did not please the pro-slavery press, which denounced the bill as the "English Swindle," and some of the free-state men expressed their dissatisfaction with the measure because there was a possible contingency of Kansas being admitted under a constitution to which they were so bitterly opposed.

However, on June 3 Gov. Denver issued his proclamation calling an election under the bill for Aug. 2, when the Lecompton constitution and the propositions of Congress were defeated by a vote of 11,300 to 1,788. As a matter of fact the English bill may have been a wise measure. It gave the people of Kansas an opportunity to express themselves on a question that Congress had tried to settle without their voice, and it paved the way for the Wyandotte constitution, under which the state was finally admitted.

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