Images de page
PDF
ePub

Territorial condition and become a part of Wisconsin was the enormous debt with which Illinois had burdened itself for the sake of internal improvements. If the northern counties could become a part of Wisconsin they would not be held for their share of this debt. The Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin discussed the matter freely in 1843 and 1844.

A committee to whom the question was referred expressed itself in such a way as to show its deep indignation and suggested that the matter might be settled by the Territory itself if Congress refused to give redress. The language sounded very much like a threat of secession. An address was sent to Congress asking for proper compensation for the loss of this territory. Four things were mentioned which Congress might do to pay Wisconsin for this lost land: one was to construct a railroad system between Lake Michigan and Mississippi; a second was to improve Fox and Wisconsin Rivers so as to make a national waterway between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River; the third was to connect Fox and Rock Rivers by a canal; and the fourth was to construct six harbors at designated places on the shore of Lake Michigan.

In case an appeal to Congress should not produce the desired results " we can take for ourselves and our State the boundaries fixed by the Ordinance, form our State Constitution, which should be republican, apply for admission into the Union with these boundaries, and if refused so that we cannot be a State in the Union, we will be a State out of the Union and possess, exercise and enjoy all the rights, privileges, and powers of the sovereign independent State of Wisconsin; and if difficulties ensue, we could appeal with entire confidence to the Great Umpire of nations to adjust them."

This address produced no effect on Congress. Wisconsin was very young and very much in earnest, but no one feared that its threats would end in actual secession. Wisconsin did not threaten to secede, only to become a State,

which its people believed they had a right to do under the Ordinance of 1787, and remain a State out of the Union. Wisconsin believed that it had a right to become a State when the population reached the required number of sixty thousand, but that Congress alone had the power to say when it should come into the Union.

It is probable that this threat of Wisconsin did not mean so much as it seemed to mean on the surface, but that the main object was to obtain concessions from the National Government as Michigan had obtained them in its dispute over the question of its southern boundary.

Favorable reports sent to Europe persuaded a large number of very desirable emigrants to go to Wisconsin. Other people came, induced by the cheap, rich land, who were not desirable. The most notorious of these was a Mormon leader, James Jesse Strang. Driven from the Mormon settlement at Nauvoo, Illinois, he claimed to have a revelation commissioning him to establish a settlement of Mormons in Wisconsin. He went to a place on White River which he named Voree, where he attempted to establish a settlement which should rival and, if possible, supplant Nauvoo. Strang succeeded in persuading a considerable number of persons to join the new community, of which he was the absolute ruler in both temporal and spiritual affairs. A branch settlement was established on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. This prospered so greatly that the island became the headquarters of the community. But, later, rebellion broke out in the community and Strang was assassinated. The fisherman who occupied part of the island burned the Mormon settlement and the inhabitants were forced to return to the mainland.

Another social experiment which failed to accomplish all that its founders and followers hoped for it, was tried in Wisconsin in the Territorial period. Fourierism had spread from France to America, and it was believed that under happier auspices than existed in France, harmony might be brought out of discord in the social relations. Fourier's

original idea was that all social problems would be solved by the association of congenial people in communities called phalanges. Each community was to be self-supporting, and the work so arranged that each person should engage in that occupation for which he was best fitted. A "Wisconsin Phalanx" was established at Ceresco, now Ripon, in May, 1844. The community of one hundred and fifty ate in common, but each family lived by itself. Work was done in common, and the profits were divided at the end of the year. The experiment was not a success in that it did not lead to other establishments of the same kind. The people were well cared for and prosperous under this system, but it was given up after seven years' trial because of the inequalities in the abilities of the different members, many of them feeling that they could do better if they were working independently. The lands were sold and the proceeds divided between the members of the community.

The population of the Territory increased with great rapidity in the period from 1840 to 1850. By the middle of the decade the population was far in advance of that required for the creation of a State. On the 6th of January, 1846, Governor Dodge, who was the last as well as the first governor of the Territory, submitted a message to the Wisconsin Legislature relating to State government and a committee was appointed which reported a bill in relation to the formation of a State government in Wisconsin.

According to this bill, every white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years, who shall have resided in the Territory six months next previous thereto, and who shall be either a citizen of the United States or shall have filed his declaration of intention to become such according to the laws of the United States on the subject of naturalization was authorized to vote for or against the question of forming a State government." This bill became a law on February 2, 1846. The question of State government was submitted to the people on the 17th of April in the

[ocr errors]

same year, and the returns showed that twelve thousand three hundred and thirty-four voted for, and two thousand four hundred and eighty-seven against it. On August 6th, an Enabling Act was passed by Congress "to enable the people of Wisconsin to form a constitution and State government and for the admission of such State into the Union."

On the 7th of September delegates were elected to the convention which met at Madison, October 5, 1846, and continued in session until December 16th. A constitution was prepared and submitted to the people, who had shown. their desire for a constitution, but this one contained features which to the majority of the voters were objectionable.

In the convention the question of giving the right to vote to free negroes was vigorously discussed and it was finally decided that the question should be submitted to the people in a distinct article, so that the controverted question might not imperil the acceptance of the constitution. This separate resolution provided that if the majority of people in Wisconsin Territory were in favor of equal suffrage to free persons of color, the following article should be inserted in the constitution: "All male citizens of African blood possessing the qualifications required by the first section of the article on suffrage and the elective franchise' shall have a right to vote for all officers and be eligible to all offices that now are or hereafter may be elective by the people after the adoption of this constitution." This resolution was defeated by a vote of fourteen thousand six hundred and fifteen to seven thousand six hundred and sixty-four. This defeat came because of the large number of Southern men who, as we have seen, had settled on the Mississippi. The German element was also opposed to negro suffrage, while the New England contingent was in favor of it.

There were also features in the constitution itself which aroused opposition and led to the rejection of the instrument. The following were some of the reasons which led to its defeat: The article relating to the property rights

of married women, which made property belonging to a wife personally separate from that of her husband. A second reason was the article on exemptions, which excepted forty acres of land, or the homestead not exceeding in value $1,000, when there was an execution or forced sale. There were some persons who strongly objected to the article prohibiting banks of issue. Others thought that the number of representatives in the legislature was too large. Another objection was that the judiciary was made elective.

The contest was spirited and resulted in the rejection of the proposed constitution and a new convention was ordered. The chief objection to this first constitution was its prohibition of banks and banking. With the continued increase in population there was a growing need of State organization, therefore a special session of the legislature was called in October, 1847. This provided for the election of delegates to a new constitutional convention, which came together at Madison, December 15, 1847. Giving the right of voting to negroes had been so decidedly disapproved by the people that that article required special attention, and in connection with that was linked the question of allowing the franchise to unnaturalized foreigners. The Article on suffrage was as follows:

"Section 1. All free white male persons, of the age of twenty-one years, or upwards, belonging to any of the following class of persons, shall constitute the qualified electors at any election authorized by this constitution or by any law:

"Ist. Citizens of the United States, who at the time of the adoption of this constitution by the people of Wisconsin were actual residents of the State.

"2d. Citizens of the United States, having become residents of the State of Wisconsin after the adoption of this constitution, and who shall have resided within this State for six months.

"3d. Persons not citizens of the United States, who at the time of the adoption of this constitution by the people were actual residents of Wisconsin, and had declared their

« PrécédentContinuer »