Missouri Statutes

On July 5, 1855, while meeting at Pawnee, the Bogus Legislature decided to adopt the laws of Missouri as the laws of Kansas, with only five votes against. [House Journal, 23] This initial vote was in the nature as to the sense of the Legislature; the statutes of Missouri were later considered one section at a time at the Shawnee Manual Labor School session. Early free- state critics were outraged. John Gihon wrote:

"This body was in session less than fifty working days...(yet they) discussed and adopted laws filling more than a thousand octavo pages. How this was accomplished would be a mystery to the uninitiated; for it would have required all the time occupied by the meetings to read, at a rapid rate, even a part of the enactments; but the mystery is revealed when it is understood that the Missouri code was adopted without the laborious formality of reading, with the simple instructions to the clerks to substitute the name of "Kansas Territory" wherever the "State of Missouri" occurred..." [Gihon, Geary and Kansas, 40]

Supporters of the Bogus Legislature could argue, on the other hand, that what was needed most in "lawless" Kansas Territory was a comprehensive and uniform set of laws. In its July 27 memorial to President Pierce, urging the removal of Governor Reeder, the Legislature stated as one of its accusations against Reeder his nonchalance about varying applications of law in the territory:

"...the people knowing of no laws in force, and the Governor, having no settled opinion upon the subject, appointing Justices of the Peace in various sections of the Territory, some of whom enforced the Pennsylvania, some the Ohio and some the Missouri code, acting, as a matter of course, under his instructions - still, with all these various imperative necessities urging his compliance, he heeded them not, but assumed himself to act as the law-making power, by prescribing the various codes above, and usurping the powers of the judiciary in issuing the writs.." [House and Council Journals, Appendices]

2nd Missouri Capitol Building
Jefferson City 1840

Destroyed by fire in 1911, when lightning struck the dome.

No one in 1855 would have considered writing the statutes of Kansas from scratch with all the models existing in the states. Missouri statutes themselves were founded on the laws of the District of (Upper) Louisiana adopted by the Governor and Judges of Indiana Territory at their meeting in 1804, with the addition of one law adopted in 1805. [Loeb, Beginnings, 227] The Missouri Statutes of 1845, Revised, which were copied in Kansas, had surely evolved since Missouri's admission to the Union in 1820, no doubt with borrowing from other states.

As a practical matter, the statute books of Missouri were those most available to the lawyers and judges of Kansas. Legal libraries were scarce in territorial Kansas. Governor Reeder's office, from which he was to administer the territory on behalf of the government of the United States, ...(consisted) of a few chairs, a writing table, some boxes used as bookcases and covered with newspapers for seating visitors, a letter press, a stove and some other crude contrivances."[Walton, Sentinel of the Plains, 107] Many Missouri lawyers came to Kansas, including a number of the legislators, and brought their copies of the Missouri Statutes with them.

When the free-state forces took over the Legislature in 1858, they did not throw out the entire "Missouri" statute book. They repealed the "Black Law", punishing "offenses against slave property" and enacted 471 pages of general laws and 399 pages of private laws, authorizing incorporation of all sorts of businesses (usually with free-state owners.) [Elliott, Grasshopper Falls, 170] But the basic structure of Kansas Law remained the Missouri Statutes for many years. Professor Wilson of the University of Kansas Law School called it a good 19th Century code:

"The main body of the law enacted by the first legislature was largely an adaptation of the statutes of the State of Missouri. Except for the provisions relating to slavery, it was probably a good nineteenth-century state code and much of its language remained in the law of Kansas well into the twentieth century. [Wilson, How the Law, 25]

Charles Clark