Wisconsin had just became a state, prior to the Civil War, when Joshua Glover was apprehended alone, by an overpowering number of men, and locked up in southeast Wisconsin in 1854, after putting up a terrific and valiant fight, charged with having escaped from slavery in another state. He was bound in irons and held, awaiting an armed federal escort platoon to return him to a cruel fate to be determined at the sole discretion of the “Party” that claimed ownership of him. Sherman Booth was the founder and editor of the Abolitionist newspaper, the American Freeman (later to become, under corporate ownership and very different editorial policy, the current Waukesha Freeman). Sherman Booth led a group of Wisconsinites that burst in and effected Joshua Glover’s release from guards and restraints, and made good Glover’s escape via the famed “Underground Railway” to Canada and freedom.
The courageous editor of the American Freeman was subsequently arrested by federal authorities on a charge of violating the Fugitive Slave Act, which obliged anyone (even a resident of a state that prohibited slavery) to cause the physical capture, and return to her or his “rightful owner”, any person who had escaped from slavery in another state, and had somehow succeeded in getting to a so-called “free” state. But across Wisconsin there was an uproar of outrage, due to widespread and strong opposition to slavery, and especially to the detested Fugitive Slave Act. The Wisconsin supreme court ordered the release of Booth on a writ of habeas corpus, whereupon the U.S. supreme Court issued a warrant for Booth’s re-arrest. At this point, the Wisconsin legislature, in defense of Booth and of Wisconsin’s perceived interests, approved 1859 Enrolled Joint Resolution 4, which denounced the action of the U.S. supreme Court as “an arbitrary act of power” and declared it “void, and of no force”. The Wisconsin legislature thus affirmed the supreme court of Wisconsin, ordered Booth’s immediate release, and famously asserted that, “the government formed by the Constitution of the United States was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself”. Booth was not returned to prison, and the federal government abandoned its challenge of that 1859 resolution of the Wisconsin legislature, BUT – Not a single legislator (of the five senators and assemblymen) representing Ozaukee and Washington counties voted with the majority, in favor of this legislation, which was widely recognized, both then and now, as an anti-slavery, pro-human rights, and (interestingly) pro-states rights resolution.
[Note: For centuries, the legal concepts of “states rights” (along with “property rights”) have invariably been cited in the U.S. as justification for opposition to efforts to establish, defend, or extend human rights and civil rights. “States rights” and “property rights” were cited as a smokescreen argument against the abolition of slavery in the 1700s and 1800s, and have been employed as a smokescreen argument against enforcement of the 14th and 15th Amendments with regards to civil rights, including voting rights, for the entire 150 years since slavery was technically abolished. Paradoxically, “states rights” happened to have been on the same side as “human rights” in this particular Glover/Booth case, in Wisconsin. That fact ‘smoked out’ the crass core truth of the pro-slavery and the property-rights-trump-human-rights motivations of those who had been camouflaging themselves as harmless but stalwart defenders of the abstract principle of “states rights” against the “intrusions” of the federal government.]
Abraham Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery in the United States, and spoke publicly and critically about slavery. That’s why slaveholders and others who profited from and defended slavery – mysteriously including ALL of the officials representing Ozaukee and Washington counties during the 1850’s and 1860’s – so vehemently opposed his nomination and election for President. Lincoln won election in 1860 and re-election in 1864 as President of the United States, both in the nation and overwhelmingly in Wisconsin – BUT – Ozaukee and Washington counties resoundingly rejected Abraham Lincoln for President in both elections with vote margins in districts ranging from 3 to 1, up to 8 to 1, against Lincoln.
In April, 1861, Fort Sumter was attacked and taken by secessionist armed forces of the slave-holding states. This was the infamous “first shot” fired in what became America’s Civil War. The Wisconsin legislature quickly passed an emergency measure to materially support and “protect the federal government” from this blatant military attack, and commencement of all-out war – BUT – Both state senators who represented Ozaukee and Washington counties were among the eight (out of 28 total senators voting) who voted against this desperately needed emergency measure.
The only armed insurrection against the federal government during wartime that has ever occurred in Wisconsin, occurred in Ozaukee County during the Civil War. Over a hundred Ozaukee County residents were incarcerated at Camp Randall following this failed uprising. How’s that for ‘patriotic loyalty to ones country’?
Following the Civil War, three Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which defined the America we now know, were proposed by the Congress and passed to the states for ratification. All three amendments were resoundingly ratified by the states. The Wisconsin legislature, of course, ratified these three critically important, transforming amendments.
The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery in the United States of America.
(96 out of 117 Wisconsin legislators voted to ratify the momentous 13th Amendment.)
The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1867, defined citizenship in the United States and prohibited any state from depriving any person of the basic, essential rights of due process and equal protection of the law. Prior to this Amendment, the Constitution allowed each separate state to define citizenship, and only required the federal government (not the individual states) to respect those important rights.
(91 out of 111 WI legislators voted to ratify the 14th Amendment.)
The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1869, prohibited any state from denying the right to vote to anyone on the basis of race, color, or “previous condition of servitude”.
(77 of 117 Wisconsin legislators ratified.)
BUT – Every state senator that represented Ozaukee County and Washington County during those five years voted without exception against ratifying all three of these basic human rights Amendments. No assemblyman representing Ozaukee County voted to ratify any of these Amendments.
Think about and absorb this remarkable legislative history. Ask yourself and each other why that truth has been buried so long and so deep.
More Wisconsin residents died in combat in the Civil War than the total that have died in ALL other armed conflicts in which the United States has ever engaged – combined! BUT – as far as I have been able to ascertain, No civic memorials to the Civil War or to those who died in combat in it, were raised in Ozaukee or Washington counties during the one hundred long years that followed that War. How’s that for “Support the Troops”?
The facts noted in the above instances were researched using only primary sources, including the official, hand-written Wisconsin Legislative Record, and the official Wisconsin Blue Book tabulations. Anyone can verify the facts that are summarized here using those primary sources. It is also important to note here that no instances that would contradict the pattern that is implied by the preceding compilation were discovered by the research used in preparing this very brief paper.
I don’t believe the explanation that I have heard for pro-slavery, anti-human rights legislative actions – alleging that newly arrived German and Irish immigrants were against the abolition of slavery because they were afraid that freeing the slaves would threaten their jobs and livelihoods. I don’t believe it because such immigrants filled Wisconsin, not just Ozaukee and Washington counties, and the statewide record in the matters noted above stands in stark contrast to the record in Ozaukee and Washington counties, and a few other pockets of reaction. And I don’t believe it because the great majority of the new immigrants from Europe had braved a dangerous voyage to an uncertain future in an unfamiliar land. They weren’t fearful people, afraid that other people who were even more severely oppressed here than the conditions they had suffered from in Europe might become liberated. The great preponderance of those farming ancestors, who settled right here in the year Wisconsin became a state were far more unsettled by the thought of moving to a nation in which large numbers of human beings were brutally enslaved, than by worries that a nation where all people were free, with basic rights, would for some strange reason be harder for them to make a living in than a nation where many of those working were not free, and were not compensated for their labor. The historical record of Wisconsin, taken as a whole, proves that is true without a doubt.
As far as those pockets of resistance to a brighter future, those pockets of resistance to advancing and defending basic human rights, those pockets of resistance to the arc of history moving towards justice – they existed here and there, around the entire country. And they persist to this day. You and I might even live in one of those pockets.
The question we should ask is “Why?” Why were Ozaukee and Washington county legislators and actions so out of step with Wisconsin as a whole, and so lock-step aligned with slavery adherents? It’s understandable (that doesn’t make it right, but it’s understandable) why wealthy white plantation owners in a slave state – and even perhaps the white citizens, in general, of a slave state – would defend, for a while, the history and the continued existence of the brutal, horrible institution of slavery. Their local and regional economy had grown to depend on slavery, and their “culture” and daily lives had become long accustomed to slavery. But that wasn’t the case in Wisconsin. So the question “WHY?” remains, with regards to these anomalous pockets of resistance, here and there. The answer may not be easy to find, but we owe it to ourselves and to the future to find it.
We know that if a chronic abuser (whether a substance abuser, or spousal abuser or child abuser, or other bullying human rights abuser, torturer, and exploiter) is not stopped and compelled to correct his behavior and attitude, that abuser will continue, and get worse, and the sickness will spread and be passed on from each generation to the next. That may be as true of entire communities and regions, as it is true of individuals. If we don’t face and examine the truth, but instead, ignore, deny, rewrite, and tolerate sanitized and false history, and refuse to provide the truth to succeeding generations, we perpetuate harm to them, to ourselves, and to others.
Newly published historical research on the legacy of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Milwaukee area
Patrick Jones, Associate Professor of History and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska, is the young author of this important, carefully researched, beautifully well written, “Selma of the North: Civil Rights Insurgency in Milwaukee“. The Milwaukee County Historical Society awarded it the “Best Book of 2009”, and the Wisconsin State Historical Society presented its 2010 Merit Award to Dr. Jones research. Especially if you make your home in Wisconsin, you ought to have this volume on your shelf (when it’s not in your hands or on loan to someone.)
During 2010 there (was) a free exhibit of the national traveling exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the “Freedom Riders”, in the Daniel M. Soref Learning Commons at 2311 E. Hartford Ave. in Milwaukee (UWM Libraries). Also on view in the Learning Commons was an exhibit drawn from materials that are included in the UWM Libraries “March on Milwaukee: Civil Rights History Project“. The extremely well done American Experience film “Freedom Riders“ appeared on public TV. I learned a lot that I didn’t know about this very dangerous and courageous direct challenge to Jim Crow laws and about specific official collusion with, and covering for, white supremacist terrorism.