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What Can We Learn From Wisconsin’s Political History?

Wisconsin Political History

Get an in-depth look at Wisconsin’s past – and how it influences the state’s present – by exploring its core political movements and issues.

The History of Wisconsin Government and Politics – On this Page are:

Socialist government in Milwaukee,
Development of the State Constitution,
Achieving Wisconsin statehood,
The role of Germans in politics,
The Wisconsin Idea,
Wisconsin in the Progressive Era,
History of some State institutions,
Legal history,
Recent history of the Governor vs public sector unions.

Financing Politics: Recent Wisconsin Elections

Adamany, David W.
University of Wisconsin 1969

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A Democracy of its own: Milwaukee’s Socialisms, Difference and Pragmatism

Benoit, Edward A. III
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee 2009

Master’s Thesis at UW-Milwaukee. Discusses the growth of socialism as a political force within the German community in Milwaukee, reviews the academic literature dealing with socialism in Milwaukee, and profiles three of the movement’s most important leaders there: newspaper editor and Congressman Victor L. Berger, Mayor Emil Seidel, and Mayor Daniel Hoan.


Berger, Victor L.
Milwaukee Social-Democratic Publishing 1913

Victor L. Berger was a leader in Milwaukee’s socialist and progressive movements, an influential member in the nation-wide socialist movement, and the first socialist to be a U.S. congressman. In this book he collected a variety of the articles and essays he had written over the previous ten years.

“What is the Matter with Milwaukee?”

The Independent Vol 68, 1910, 840-843

Berger, Victor L.

Newspaper editor and Socialist alderman of Milwaukee describes the 1910 victory by Socialists in city elections and answers the critics of socialism.

The Germans in Wisconsin Politics

Bruncken, Ernest
Milwaukee: Parkman Club 1896

Reprint of a 13-page paper.

“Milwaukee’s Socialist Government”

The American Review of Reviews Vol 42, 1910, 445-455

England, George Allan
New York

The author briefly covers the recent election of America’s first socialist city government, then describes the many social and political issues in Milwaukee that the new government will attempt to address.

Politics in Wisconsin

Epstein, Leon D.
University of Wisconsin 1958

Wisconsin and the Nation

Haven, Spencer
Chicago: Flanagan 1897

See our books on What is Business Administration PDF

County Government in Wisconsin, Vol 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Historical Records Survey, Public Works Administration
Madison: Wisconsin Historical Records Survey 1942

“”County Government in Wisconsin” fulfills the long-recognized need for a comprehensive statement of the general law regulating county government in Wisconsin. It is expected that it will serve as a handbook on the organization, structure, and evolution of county government and on laws relating to county records in Wisconsin”. From the Preface

First Constitutional Convention in Wisconsin, 1846

Holmes, Fred L.
Madison: State Historical Society 1905

This is a 25-page journal article, republished by the State Historical Society as a booklet.

The author describes the strong opposition to seeking statehood among voters in Wisconsin Territory in the 1830s and 1840s, and how sentiment changed in the mid-1840s. In his account of the Convention’s work on the Constitution, there is discussion of some of the more controversial proposals. For example, there was a determined attempt by northern delegates to redraw the northern boundary line to exclude about one-third of the current area of the State, which would have then been formed into a separate State called “Superior”. There was also heated discussion over a proposal to give negroes the same privileges, including voting, as white persons. It lost by a vote of 51 to 47, although a second proposal was approved to allow Wisconsin voters to decide the question.

See related historical documents at: Wisconsin History: Documents & Collections of Records

Wisconsin: An Experiment in Democracy

Howe, Frederic C.
NY: Scribner’s Sons 1912

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The Local Governments of Wisconsin

Kinsman, Delos Oscar
Whitewater, WI: Register 1913

This small book was intended to provide essential information for civics teachers.

Catechism of Wisconsin Institutions

Kustermann, Gustav, comp.
Madison: State Board of Control 1904

Brief synopses of information about State institutions, including schools for the deaf, blind and orphans; hospitals for the insane, a home for the feeble minded, industrial schools, a reformatory and the state prison. There are illustrations of each.

The Alleviation of Unemployment in Wisconsin

Lescohier, Don Divance and Peterson, Florence
Madison: Industrial Commission of Wisconsin 1931

This report, published during the Depression, lays out the development and scope of the unemployment crisis of 1930-31, details unemployment relief efforts in 15 populous cities and counties, describes existing public works projects, and proposes some additional actions.

Mills and Boon free online reads here at Century Past

The Wisconsin Idea

McCarthy, Charles
NY: Macmillan 1912

The “Wisconsin Idea” dates from the turn of the 20th century. It was the belief that the state’s public universities should serve the state’s citizens in practical ways, through activities such as educational outreach to the public, and by advising on public policy. An originator of the idea, UW President Charles Van Hise, declared in 1905, “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every family of the state.” He created the university’s extension division, which oversaw summer courses and other programs that brought university knowledge directly to state citizens.

Contents:-The Reason for It -The Soil -The Regulation of Business affected by a Public Interest -Electoral and Governmental Changes -Educational Legislation -Labor, Health, and Public Welfare -Administration -The Legislature -The Law and Economic Progress -Conclusion -Bibliography

People’s Party Platform – Milwaukee, 1896

Milwaukee’s People Party

This 3-page party platform (followed by the German version) is an early statement of the positions held by Milwaukee’s socialists.

“A Constitution of Democracy – Wisconsin, 1847”

Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol II, 1915-16, 3-24

Paxson, Frederic L.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Mississippi Valley Historical Association

The author’s contention is that Jacksonian democrats, who saw their movement as a “revolt of the people against autocracy and aristocracy”, and represented “.. an uprising of the frontier against the older communities”, put their views on government into new state constitutions throughout the Mississippi valley in the years from 1837 to 1851. He supports his argument by examining the personal experiences and political positions of various Wisconsin men who were influential in shaping Wisconsin’s 1847 state constitution.

The Movement for Statehood 1845-46

Quaife, Milo M., ed.
Madison: State Historical Society 1918

Volume 1 of the Society’s 3-volume Constitutional Series. This volume contains, according to the editor, “…available documentary records of official proceedings and popular discussion attendant upon the assembling of the first Wisconsin constitutional convention in the autumn of 1846.”

The Convention of 1846

Quaife, Milo M., ed.
Madison: State Historical Society 1919

Volume 2 of the Society’s 3-volume Constitutional Series. This volume contains, according to the editor, “…the official journal of proceedings of the Wisconsin constitutional convention, together with the debate, in so far as the latter can now be reconstructed from existing sources of information.”

The Struggle over Ratification, 1846-1847

Quaife, Milo, ed.
Madison: State Historical Society 1920

Volume 3 of the Society’s 3-volume Constitutional Series. This volume contains, according to the editor, “…the story of the doings of the convention of 1846 as contemporaneously reported for certain newspapers of the state [followed by] a presentation of the discussion over ratification which ended in the decisive rejection of the constitution by the voters at the election of April 6, 1847.”

See related historical documents at: Wisconsin History: Documents & Collections of Records

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The Bench and Bar of Wisconsin. History and Biography, with portrait illustrations

Reed, Parker McCobb
Milwaukee: Reed 1882

The author explains in the Preface the significance of the volume in this way: “It cannot be denied that members of the bar have been more prominent actors in public affairs than any other class of the community.” “Fully impressed with the prominent part that members of the bar have taken in public affairs, the weight of influence they have, as a class, exerted in the community, and the dignity they have imparted to the profession, it is the purpose of this volume to place on permanent record the lives of those men who have been chiefly instrumental in making the history of the bench and bar of Wisconsin. Their history is largely the history of the state.” [my emphasis]

More than they Bargained for: Scott Walker, Unions, and the Fight for Wisconsin

Stein, Jason and Marley, Patrick
University of Wisconsin 2013

In March 2011 Governor Scott Walker repealed most of the 1959 labor law that allowed public employees to bargain with their employees. 15 months later Walker became the first governor in the nation to survive a recall election. This book recounts that battle between the unions and the governor, which “drew the attention of the country and the world”. Jason Stein and Patrick Marley, as reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, covered “the wildest sixteen months in Wisconsin politics since the era of Joe McCarthy”. -Book cover

History of the Territory of Wisconsin, from 1836 to 1848…

Preceded by an account of some events during the period in which it was under the dominion of kings, states or other territories, previous to the year 1836

Strong, Moses McCure
Madison: Democrat Printing 1885

An 1885 act by the state legislature authorized the purchase of up to 2,000 copies of this book for schools, public libraries, other state societies, public officers, and members and employees of the legislature.

The author stated in the Preface that, “…the principal design of the work is to present a history of Territorial Legislation…, the design has been departed from so far as to incorporate into each chapter the most important of the contemporaneous events of the period to which it relates, although they may have no direct connection with legislation.” He also maintained that this is a compilation rather than an original history, because he relied so heavily on the written works of others.

Contents:-Early Explorations of ‘Florida’ and ‘Louisiana’ – 1512 to 1719 -Wars with Fox Indians – 1712 to 1746 -The Langlade Family – 1745 to 1800 -Jonathan Carver’s Explorations – 1766 and 1767 -Progress of Settlements in the Northwest, and Transfer to British Jurisdiction – 1705 to 1775 -Under American Jurisdiction – 1787 to 1820 -Green Bay – 1634 to 1836 -Prairie du Chien – 1680 to 1830 -Chequamegon – Portage – Milwaukee -New York Indians – 1820 to 1839 -The Lead Mines and Winnebago War – 1822 to 1828 -The Black Hawk War – 1831 and 1832 -Civil Government – 1512 to 1834 -Legislation previous to 1835 -Wisconsin in a Transition State – 1835-6 -Organization of Wisconsin Territory -Territory of Wisconsin – 1836 [followed by chapters of the same title for each year through 1848] -Milwaukee and Rock River Canal

The New Citizenship: Origins of Progressivism in Wisconsin, 1885-1900

Thelen, David P.
University of Missouri 1972

The Government of Wisconsin

Thomas, S. M.
NY: Macmillan 1929

A short civics book for students.

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“The Boundaries of Wisconsin: with a general historical survey of the division of the Northwest Territory into States”

Wisconsin Historical Collections Vol XI 1888

Thwaites, Reuben Gold
Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society

This was a 50-page article that was republished by the Historical Society as a booklet. It explains every change in the boundaries of the Northwest Territory from 1783, when the territory was transferred to the U.S. by Great Britain in the treaty that followed the Revolutionary War. Beginning about 1834, the author focuses on efforts by residents of Wisconsin territory to attain statehood, and explains the various boundary issues that arose for Wisconsin from the mid- 1830s through the second constitutional convention of 1847-48 and beyond.

A Political History of Wisconsin

Thomson, Alexander McDonald
Milwaukee, Williams 1900

The author moved to Wisconsin in 1849 to farm, and in the 1860s and 1870s was a State legislator and newspaperman. About half of this history covers the period from when Wisconsin was part of the Northwest Territory to the beginning of the Civil War.

Contents:-The Ordinance of 1787 -Drawing Party Lines -Politics in the Territory -The Territorial Delegates and the Defeated Candidates -Steps Toward Statehood -The First Governor -Farwell and his Contemporaries -The Hubbell Impeachment Trial -The Glover Rescue and Sherman M. Booth -Organization of the Republican Party -Barstow and the Balance -Maneuvering for the German Vote -The Stormy Time before the Civil War

The La Follettes of Wisconsin: Love and Politics in Progressive America

Weisberger, Bernard A.
University of Wisconsin 1994

The Government of the People of the State of Wisconsin

Wilgus, James Alva
Philadelphia: Eldredge & Brother 1897

Wisconsin State Parks

Wisconsin Conservation Department
Madison: Wisconsin Conservation Department 1933

A small booklet with a couple of pages and a photo on each of Wisconsin’s state parks.

Progressivism and the Wisconsin Idea – Webpage

Wisconsin Historical Society
Wisconsin Historical Society

From the Wisconsin Historical Society’s online series, “Turning Points in Wisconsin”. It consists of an article on the topic followed by links to related online articles, books and manuscripts.

General Relief in Wisconsin 1848-1935

Wisconsin Public Welfare Department
Madison: State of Wisconsin 1939

A history of the work of welfare and relief agencies in the state.

An Airport System Plan for Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Planning Board, prepared
Wisconsin State Planning Board 1940

A typed report laying out a detailed plan for airport facilities around the state, including a chapter on how the Wisconsin plan would fit into a National Airport plan.

An Exposition of the Constitution of the State of Wisconsin

Wright, Albert Orville
Madison: Midland 1897

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