Ad Astra per Aspera and happy Kansas Day to all Kansans.
While we celebrate today as our state’s birthday, this land has existed long before it was called “Kansas.” It was home to Native Americans including the Wichita, Pawnee, Osage, and Kansa peoples, among others, long before European colonization. Before being purchased by President Jefferson, it had been part of France, Spain, Mexico, and the Republic of Texas.
Early explorers dubbed this place the “great American desert.” The federal government paid people to plant trees here. When it was opened to settlement by the U.S., people moved here not for opportunity but belief in a cause – freedom – and with a conviction to live their values.
Kansans born or moving here today might be surprised to learn that history. After all, Kansas is now a center of agricultural production of wheat, sorghum, soybeans and many other crops. In some of our rural counties, the cattle outnumber the people living there. Our roads and infrastructure provide a way to get these things to market – and to the people who need them.
Put another way: Kansans took a desert and found a way to help feed the world.
In the years leading up to statehood, Kansas was scarred by skirmishes with pro-slavery raiders from Missouri who wanted to make Kansas a pro-slavery state as well. It was only after many bloody battles – between what were basically local militias, ours known as the “Jayhawkers” – that Kansans voted to make our state Free. It’s why the term “bleeding Kansas” exists in American culture, why John Brown’s mural adorns a wall in the Capitol, and why you can’t make a left turn in Lawrence, Kansas without driving by “Free State <something>” (and why the KU mascot is a “Jayhawk”).
It may be a result of our politics, or because of them (or a little of both), that these seem like accomplishments of a bygone era – but they’re not. Today, Kansas is home to major industry and business, including the second largest privately held company in the nation. Helium was discovered here, and a Kansan invented the first microchip. World War 2 Commander and President Dwight Eisenhower claimed Abilene, Kansas as his home, aviator Amelia Earhart pioneered the sky after she took off from Atchison, and Carrie Nation began her Temperance movement in Medicine Lodge. A Kansan recently won an Oscar for writing a screenplay about a Black cop infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan, and another real Kansan has won numerous acting awards for playing a fictional one who moves to England to coach soccer and winds up inspiring even the British with his classic Kansas wit and charm.
At the same time, we’re not immune from negativity and doomsday mentality that seems to pervade much of modern American life. We too can feel stuck in a hamster wheel, not remembering when we agreed to get on, but also afraid to stop running. Thankfully we now have the benefit of the experiences and lessons taught by Kansans who have come before us, should we choose to heed their advice.
We formed Kansans First as a bi-partisan organization to help moderate voters organize and make change on key issues like high-quality public education and child care, Medicaid Expansion, and other issues that impact the day-to-day lives of Kansans.
We recognize that the best solution is found by listening to different viewpoints, taking in new information and learning, and building consensus that will withstand the test of time. That spirit has been squashed in our state legislature recently, with hyper-partisan lawmakers taking positions of leadership and pushing their ideological agenda despite the caution that evidence and common-sense would dictate. We hope Kansans across the state, without regard for partisanship or other divisions, will join us by signing up at www.KansansFirst.org/join to receive our Kansan-focused newsletter and find other resources on the website.
The authors of our state motto could have kept it short and simple – “Ad Astra” could have worked – but they valued foresight and pragmatism over expediency, and they knew what it would take for Kansans to reach the stars. So, on this Kansas Day, Ad Astra per Aspera Kansans – To the stars through difficulty, but to the stars all the same.