Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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WISCONSIN, a state of the American Union, formed from the northwest territory. (See TERRITORIES, ORDINANCE OF 1787.) Its area was included successively in the territories of Indiana. Illinois and Michigan, and was finally organized into the territory of Wisconsin, April 20, 1836. An enabling act was passed Aug. 6, 1843, and under its provisions a convention at Madison, Oct. 5-Dec. 16, 1846, framed a state constitution. An act was then passed, March 3, 1847, to admit the new state under this constitution, if it should be ratified by popular vote. It was rejected by the people, owing to its attempt to prohibit banks and banking, and Wisconsin remained a territory. May 29, 1848, the state was finally admitted under its first constitution.


—BOUNDARIES. As this was the fifth state erected from the northwest territory, which, by the ordinance of 1787, was to be divided into not more than five states, it would seem fitting that Wisconsin should have comprised all the remnant of the original territory. This, however, was not done: five and a half states were really formed, that portion west and north of the western end of Lake Superior being taken from Wisconsin and given to the trans-Mississippi territory of Minnesota. The boundaries of the state, as fixed by the enabling act and accepted by the first constitution, are as follows: Beginning in the middle of Lake Michigan, in latitude 42° 30' north (the northern boundary of Illinois); thence, with the Michigan boundary, through Lake Michigan, Green Bay, and the Menomonee, Brulé and Montreal rivers to Lake Superior; thence through the middle of Lake Superior to the St. Louis river at the head of the lake, up the St. Louis to its first rapids, due south to the St. Croix river, down the St. Croix to the Mississippi, down the Mississippi to the northwest corner of Illinois, and thence east to the beginning.


—CONSTITUTION. The constitution under which the state was admitted, still in force, was framed by a convention at Madison, Dec. 15, 1847-Feb. 1, 1848, and ratified by popular vote March 13. It forbade slavery; gave the right of suffrage to white males over twenty-one, on one year's residence, but with power to the legislature to extend the limits of the elective franchise on ratification by popular vote; fixed the numbers of the assembly at not less than fifty-four nor more than 100, to serve one year, and of the senate at not less than one-fourth nor more than one-third of the assembly, to serve two years; gave the governor, elected by popular vote, a term of two years; made the judiciary elective for a term of years, and removable by address of two-thirds of the members elected to each house; forbade the loaning of the state's credit, or the contracting of a state debt of more than $100,000 except in case of war or insurrection; and made Madison the capital of the state. Slight amendments were made in 1867, 1869 and 1870; in 1871 the legislature was forbidden to pass special laws in a number of specified cases; in 1874 county and municipal governments were forbidden to contract debts to an amount greater than 5 per cent. of their taxable property; and in 1882 the sessions of the legislature were made biennial.


—GOVERNORS. Nelson Dewey, 1848-51; Leonard J. Farwell, 1851-3; Wm. A. Barstow, 1853-5; Coles Bashford, 1855-7; Alex. W. Randall, 1857-61; Louis P. Harvey, 1861-2; Edward Salomon, 1862-3; James T. Lewis, 1863-6; Lucius Fairchild, 1866-72; C. C. Washburn, 1872-4; Wm. H. Taylor, 1874-6; Harrison Ludington, 1876-8; Wm. E. Smith, 1878-82; Jeremiah M. Rusk, 1882-4.


—POLITICAL HISTORY. In national politics the state was democratic until 1856, casting her electoral votes for Cass and Pierce in 1848 and 1852. In 1856, and at every presidential election since that year, the state has been republican, about 55 per cent. of the total popular vote being cast for the republican electors, except in 1876, when it fell to 51 per cent. In more local elections, the results have been closely similar. Until 1855 the state governments and congressmen were democratic, with the following exceptions: in 1851 Gov. Farwell was elected by a temporary coalition of whigs and free-soilers; and until 1852 the southeastern or Milwaukee district elected a free-soil congressman, the southwestern district a whig, and the northeastern district a democrat. The coalition of 1851 dissolved almost immediately, and for the next two years democratic supremacy was hardly disputed. Early in 1854 the organization of the republican party (see that title) was begun, and before July it had been completed, the whig and free-soil committees disbanding, and new committees of whigs, free-soilers and democrats, being appointed in their stead. In the fall elections the new party carried two of the congressional districts and the lower house of the legislature, and elected twelve of the twenty-five senators: the Milwaukee district was now democratic. In the following year, though the democrats carried the lower house and elected all the state officers except the governor, the republicans secured the senate, and, after a struggle, the governorship also. For this office the first official count gave Barstow (dem.) 36,170 votes, and Bashford (rep.) 36,012. Bashford claimed a miscount, took the oath as governor in January, 1856, and brought a quo warranto suit in the state supreme court against Barstow, who had also taken the oath. The assembly voted to recognize Barstow as governor, and the senate voted to recognize him as governor de facto until the decision of the supreme court. Barstow denied the court's jurisdiction, which the court after argument affirmed, Feb. 19. Barstow then withdrew from the case under protest, and left the office to Bashford. Since that time all the governors, with the exception of Gov. Taylor, have been republican, as well as the legislatures, the United States senators and the congressmen, with some exceptions, most of which are noted below.


—In 1856 the republicans again elected the governor, a majority of both houses of the legislature, and as a consequence the United States senator (Doolittle): the democrats again elected the other state officers. This was the last election for many years in which the result was close or doubtful. Since 1863 the Fond du Lac district has always chosen a democratic congressman; and to this must be added the northeastern or Green Lake district in 1859-65, the Milwaukee district in 1863-5 and 1871-85, the Winnebago district in 1875-85, and the general democratic success in 1882. In all other congressional elections the republicans have been successful, having usually five of the six congressmen from 1861 until 1871, and five of the eight congressmen from 1871 until 1881. In the election of 1882, under a new apportionment, the state was entitled to nine congressmen, and the democrats were successful in six of the districts.


—In state politics the most interesting issues have been the Graham law in 1872, and the Potte law in 1874. The former was an act requiring a license for the sale of liquor, together with a bond for the payment of any damages recovered against the seller by a town for the support of an intoxicated person, or by any person injured in the means of support by the sale of liquor to husband, wife, parent or child. It was decided constitutional by the state supreme court in 1873, and, with other moving causes, led to a slight republican reverse in that year; the liberal republicans and democrats elected Taylor governor. March 11, 1874, the Potter law was passed. It was a general railroad law, fixing railroad rates for passengers and freight, and creating a board of commissioners to enforce the law. The railroads took the case to court, and in the interim refused to obey the law; but the case was decided against them by the state court and the federal circuit court, and steps were at once taken to revoke the charters of the railroads for their violation of the law. For the time the railroads yielded, but the good understanding between the "grangers" (see that title) and the democrats gave the latter most of the state officers, and their candidate for governor, Taylor, was only defeated by the close vote of 85,155 to 84,314. But throughout these slight vicissitudes the republicans retained control of the legislature, except that in 1875 their regular candidate for United States senator, Carpenter, was defeated by Cameron, also a republican, through the votes of democrats and "bolting" republicans. The legislature in 1882-3 stands as follows: senate, twenty-four republicans, nine democrats; house, seventy-eight republicans, twenty-two democrats.


—Among the political leaders of the state have been the following: Angus Cameron, republican United States senator 1875-85; Matthew H. Carpenter, republican United States senator 1869-75 and 1879-81; Lucien B. Caswell, republican congressman 1875-83; Orsamus Cole, whig congressman 1849-51, state chief justice at present (1884); P. V. Deuster, democratic congressman 1879-85; Henry Dodge, governor of Wisconsin territory 1836-41, delegate to congress 1841-5, democratic United States senator 1848-57; James R. Doolittle, state circuit judge 1853-6, republican United States senator 1837-69, democratic candidate for governor 1871; Charles Durkee, free-soil congressman 1849-53, republican United States senator 1855-61, governor of Utah territory 1865-70; Charles A. Eldredge, democratic congressman 1863-75; Richard Guenther, republican congressman 1881-5; George C. Hazelton, republican congressman, 1877-83; Timothy O. Howe, state circuit and supreme court judge 1850-55, republican United States senator 1861-79, postmaster general under President Arthur; Wm. Pitt Lynde, democratic congressman 1848-9 and 1875-9; Halbert E. Paine, republican congressman 1865-71; E.g. Ryan, chief justice of the state supreme court; Philetus Sawyer, republican congressman 1865-75, and United States senator 1881-7; Cadwallader C. Washburn, republican congressman 1855-61 and 1867-71, and governor 1872-4; and Charles G. Williams, republican congressman 1873-83.


—The state was named from its principal river, the Wisconsin, "Ouisconsin," a mixed French and Indian word, said to mean "westward flowing."


—See 2 Poore's Federal and State Constitutions; 2 Hough's American Constitutions; Wisconsin Historical Society Collections; Lapham's Wisconsin: Its Geography and Topography (1846); Smith's History of Wisconsin (1854); Love's Wisconsin in the Rebellion (1866); 2 Wilson's Slave Power, 409; Wisconsin Reports; Tribune Almanac, 1846-83; Appleton's Annual Cyclopædia, 1861-82; the acts of April 20, 1836, and March 3, 1847, are in 5 Stat. at Large, 10, and 9 Stat. at Large, 178.


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