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The Legislative War Of 1893 | Past & Present

Used with permission from the Kansas Historical Society

In these times when close elections are common and disputes over elections are tense, it is worth remembering that these have happened before. A striking example from Kansas history was the Legislative War of 1893.


In 1892, the newly formed Populist Party seemed poised to challenge both the Democrats and Republicans. A depression ended a decade of speculation and prosperity and the Populists tapped into the frustrations of farmers, laborers, and those who lost their investments.

The 1892 election in Kansas named a Populist as governor, Lorenzo Lewelling. The House of Representatives, however, was tied, with both Populists and Republicans claiming to have won a handful of disputed seats to give them the majority. Each “majority” elected a speaker and tried to run the chamber. Each was worried the other was trying to take over.


Rumors of a Republican takeover resulted in the Populists attempting to hole themselves up in the Statehouse. Soon after, the Republicans literally broke down the door and barricaded themselves in. Pleas from Gov. Lewelling to disperse were ignored and the state militia was poised. Gunfire was a real possibility. By February, however, the case went to the state Supreme Court that, with a Republican majority, ruled in favor of the Republicans. 


Lewelling’s political career was short and his tombstone at Maple Grove does not even mention that he was a Populist, as if he wanted to put it all behind him. Still, this colorful event in Kansas history reminds us that close, tense elections are nothing new and even when violence seemed likely, resolutions did ultimately present themselves. 

Jay M. Price is chair of the department of history at Wichita State University, where he also directs the public history program.