George W. Smith (1806-1878)
An early settler in Lawrence, Judge Smith was a prominent figure in Territorial Kansas.
[Kansas State Historical Society]
George Smith was born in Pennsylvania, was educated in the law, came to Kansas early and quickly became well known in free-state circles. He was elected chairman of the Big Springs meeting in September 1855 and was a member of the Topeka Convention. [Dawson, 1868 Legislature, 277] He had a brief military career as colonel of the 5th Regiment of the First Brigade of Kansas Volunteers in the Wakarusa War. [KSHS, Muster Roll Captain Brown's Company] He served on the Executive Committee appointed by the Topeka Convention, providing a provisional government for the Territory.
In May 1856, Smith was charged with "high treason" by the Lecompton pro-slavery Legislature and was confined at a prison camp in Lecompton until September, along with six other free-state activists. In July, the men wrote to the free-state legislators, then meeting in Topeka. Anticipating Colonel Sumner's order, they warned of the possibility of "tyrannical usurpation of power" by the Federal Government, interfering with the "Constitutional right to meet as a Legislature, complete the State organization, and pass all laws necessary to the successful administration of Justice." If a Federal officer should serve legal process for any charge other than meeting as a legislature, on the other hand, no resistance should be made and "all persons against whom indictments are known to be pending...should not be found at the Capitol..." [KSHS, James Blood Collection]
Free-State prisoners George W. Brown, John Brown, Jr., Judge Smith, Charles Robinson, Gaius Jenkins, Henry H. Williams, and George W. Deitzler at the Lecompton Prison Camp, 1856. [New York Public Library]
Smith was nominated as the Free-State Party candidate for Governor under the Lecompton Constitution of 1857 and won, though never taking office. He was among those who thought it wise to accept the Lecompton Constitution despite its slavery article, win state office and then call another convention for revision of the constitution. A provision in the constitution, however, provided for amendment only after 1864. A Free-State Convention in Lawrence voted to oppose Lecompton and stay loyal to the "Topeka Movement." Smith was one of those who held a "bolting" meeting the next day, nominating a slate for the state election. [Hodder, English Bill, 230] Many "die-hards,...remained loyal to the Topeka constitution." One clergyman wrote to the American Home Missionary Society in March 1858 bitterly attacking "the party of bolters, who contrary to their decision of December 2, had nominated a ticket and by the most barefaced misrepresentations obtained the votes of three thousand to five thousand nominally free state men for G. W. Smith." [Hickman, Bodwell, 349ff.]
George Smith was a founding member and one of the first vestrymen of Trinity Episcopal Church in Lawrence in 1858. The parish was the eighth organized in Kansas and is now the oldest Episcopal church building in the state. [Wright, Trinity Episcopal Church] Also in 1858, Smith was an incorporator of the Leavenworth, Delaware City and City of Lawrence Railroad Company with a capital stock of $1,500,000. [Blackmar, History, Vol. 2, 535] He attended the Kansas Railroad Convention in 1860 and represented Douglas County in the Kansas Legislature in 1886. He was elected Speaker of the House in 1868. [Dawson, 1868 Legislature, 277]