Happy 151st birthday, Kansas
This Jan. 29, our state will be 151 years old. Kansas was admitted to the Union two and a half months before the beginning of the Civil War — one of our nation’s most terrible times.
It’s important to recall our heritage, our roots and a bit of our state’s history, especially in celebration of another Kansas birthday.
The war between the northern and southern states officially began on April 12, 1861, after the shelling of Fort Sumter. The Kansas territory had been at war for years before it was officially admitted on Jan. 29, 1861, one year after Abraham Lincoln was elected president.
As a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the Missouri Compromise was overturned. That meant Kansas did not have to enter the Union as a slave state or a free state. The people of the Kansas territory were free to answer the slavery question on their own. This was called “self-determination,” and once a state, Kansas could decide its own destiny.
This was a period of bloody battles and fighting as both pro-slavery forces and abolitionists flocked into the Kansas territory. Both sides were determined to tip the balance of Congress in their favor. The term “Bleeding Kansas,” aptly described the tension and bloodshed of that period.
Sixty-six years later, during a much better period in our state’s history, state legislators adopted our flag. This flag depicts a history of peaceful coexistence between the natives of the land and the newly arrived settlers.
Like so many other states, the flag is the state seal set on a field of dark blue. In the foreground of the seal is a farmer plowing his field. A little further up is a wagon train with oxen-drawn schooners headed westward. Beyond these pioneers are Native Americans hunting bison.
The pioneers in the Kansas flag represent Manifest Destiny. This was the prevailing attitude of the United States government starting in the 1840s. The farmer and his field represent Kansas’ rich agricultural heritage. The seal also includes a steamboat churning its way down the Kansas River and was meant to represent commerce. Today, agriculture, manufacturing and service industries play an integral part of the Kansas economy.
Above the plains in the state seal are rolling hills and, above them, 34 stars representing Kansas’s entry into the United States’ expanding family of states. Above the stars is the state motto, Ad Astra per Aspera, Latin for “To the Stars Through Difficulties.” This is a tribute to the original settlers who dreamed so grandly when they left their homes and moved westward.
Just above the seal is the state crest, a sunflower above a bar of blue and gold. The sunflower is the state flower, and the blue and gold represent the Louisiana Purchase, which made the lands of Kansas a part of the United States. Beneath the state seal is the word Kansas in large, yellow block letters.
Kansas has several nicknames, including the Sunflower State, the Jayhawk State and the Wheat State. Our state is located in the Heartland; in fact, Lebanon is the town situated closest to the geographical center of the continental United States.
Kansas agriculture is proud to be part of this rich rural heritage of putting food on people’s plates and helping feed the world. This state’s farmers and ranchers wish our Wheat State a happy birthday Jan. 29.
— John Schlageck is a commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He was raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas.