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Sauerkraut, Suspenders, and the Swiss: A Political History of Green County’S Swiss Colony, 1845–1945

Sauerkraut, Suspenders, and the Swiss: A Political History of Green County’S Swiss Colony, 1845–1945

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Sauerkraut, Suspenders, and the Swiss: A Political History of Green County’S Swiss Colony, 1845–1945

Lungime:
526 pages
7 hours
Editor:
Lansat:
Apr 18, 2012
ISBN:
9781475907513
Format:
Carte

Descriere

From the first Cheese Day in 1874 to the Great Limburger War of 1935, author Duane H. Freitag peers into the nooks and crannies of the tumultuous political history of Green County, Wisconsin.

In this previously untold story, Freitag pulls back the curtain to uncover how the Swiss immigrants who settled in southern Wisconsin influenced Green County politics from 1845 to 1945. Buffeted by wars, dairy industry economics, murders, epidemics, the temperance movement, and LaFollette progressivism, this immigrant group was heavily involved in each major election, asserting their political will in candidates and through the polls.

In addition to exploring the politics of the region, Freitag also discusses what caused shifts in Wisconsins political winds throughout this period by placing Green County elections against the larger context of political landscape of the United States as a whole. In doing so, he examines the history of America and demonstrates how Swiss immigrants and other Wisconsin cultural groups responded to the events that shaped the nation.

From the abolition of slavery to prohibition, the Great Depression, and concerns about Americas involvement in two world wars, Sauerkraut, Suspenders, and the Swiss demonstrates the remarkable story of Wisconsinand Americanpolitics.

Editor:
Lansat:
Apr 18, 2012
ISBN:
9781475907513
Format:
Carte

Despre autor

Duane H. Freitag grew up in the Swiss- American community of New Glarus, Wisconsin, and has been active in historical and cultural activities there. He retired in 2000 after a career as a newspaper reporter and editor with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Freitag lives with his wife, Jan, in Greendale, Wisconsin.

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Sauerkraut, Suspenders, and the Swiss - Duane H. Freitag

1845-1945

Copyright © 2012 by Duane H. Freitag.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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ISBN: 978-1-4759-0750-6 (sc)

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Contents

In memoriam

Illustrations

Preface

1  A legacy of political involvement

2  The first elections

3  Some Swiss become Republicans

4  Lincoln and the Civil War

5  Cheese changes the landscape

6  German press, Greenbacker politics

7  The LaFollette era begins

8  Ethnic pride and a new majority

9  New Glarus’ most famous politician

10  Progressivism takes root

11  Swissness and loyalty

12  Wine, women, and song

13  Depression and war

Afterword

Sources and additional notes

Endnotes

In memoriam

In honor of my immigrant ancestors, who permanently left behind their Alpine home and embraced a new life in Green County’s Swiss colony.

Illustrations

Green County and the Swiss colony / 2

Replica of site of first voting by Swiss immigrants / 9

Old Green County Courthouse / 26

Monroe’s first Turner Hall / 48

Town of New Glarus town hall / 93

Program from 600th anniversary of Switzerland event / 101

Handbill about President McKinley memorial service / 136

Monroe’s old Armory / 138

1902 Wisconsin women’s ballot / 140

Art Young pro-LaFollette cartoon / 146

Former circuit court room, site of many speeches / 211

State Treasurer Sol Levitan and his staff / 252

Turner Hall facade after building destroyed by fire / 272

Swiss-American politicians:

J. Jacob Tschudy / 23

Mathias Marty / 31

John Luchsinger / 56

Thomas Luchsinger / 78

Adam D. Schmid / 126

Isaiah M. Stauffacher / 139

Sam Blum / 139

Governor Emanuel Philipp / 177

E. J. Hoesly / 235

Clarence Lengacher / 250

Other individuals:

Robert M. LaFollette / 87

Sol Levitan / 119

Art Young / 144

John Becker / 193

Election results

Selected vote totals are used for each election year to reflect the overall pattern of voting or the votes cast for Swiss-Americans. The totals generally come from the official canvass of the vote, usually published in the local newspaper, and in some cases from the Wisconsin Blue Book.

Preface

For much of my life I have wondered how my ancestors voted politically. Even though they were early immigrants to the Swiss settlement in Green County, Wisconsin, I was still surprised to find some relatives among those whose political story is told in Sauerkraut, Suspenders, and the Swiss. Not surprising, however, was to see the evolution of political feelings that has left much of the county rather conservative while the area adjacent to Dane County and Wisconsin’s state capital more liberal/progressive.

After retiring from the newspaper business, my journalistic curiosities about the Swiss settlement were again aroused. While volunteering as a tour guide at the Swiss Historical Village at New Glarus—a very fine outdoor museum that showcases the unique history of the community—I set about researching the early days of the Swiss colony. I have documented and written a number of titles, all of which helped form a solid background for this discussion of the political history of the community: Pioneer Cemetery of New Glarus, a research paper issued in 2003, unveils facts about the almost-hidden cemetery that lies in the center of the village’s business district; Disposition of Swiss Colony Land, a similar paper issued in 2005, reveals what happened to the 1,200 acres of land purchased for the colony in 1845 by the Emigration Society of Canton Glarus, Switzerland; Searching for a New Home and The Planting of New Bilten, both written in cooperation with Robert A. Elmer, were published in the Swiss American Historical Society’s Review magazine in 2005 and 2008. The former fleshes out the diary kept by Appeals Judge Niklaus Dürst on his journey to select the site for New Glarus. The latter tells the full story of a second group of Swiss colonists who came to the area in 1847.

While this volume is both an ethnic history and a political science study, my hope is that whether you read it chronologically or skip around to years of interest, the people and their times come alive again. The Swiss immigrants were at first Democrats with mixed feelings about Abraham Lincoln. Later they mirrored a national shift to the Republican Party. While much of their politicking was done in their native Swiss-German, that declined in the early 20th Century and came to a blunt end during World War I. Due to the presence of Sol Levitan, an immigrant Jewish peddler who settled among the Swiss, many of his neighbors followed him in supporting the progressive ideas of Robert M. LaFollette.

For the Swiss, the on-going temperance issue was a nuisance, although there certainly were some adherents to that point of view. And when it came to women’s suffrage, they were like most of their fellow Americans and progress there came about rather reluctantly.

Much of this story takes places at Monroe, the county seat, which also proudly extols its Swiss heritage. There, and at nearby Monticello, we see the Swiss and American traditions merge much sooner than at New Glarus.

Today New Glarus is also the home of the Swiss Center of North America. I had a small role among the many who were involved in getting the cultural center established. To my everlasting delight, that included accompanying then-Governor Tommy Thompson on a business development trip to Switzerland. Later, in 2002, when Canton Glarus observed its 650th anniversary of being part of the Swiss confederation, I had the joy of helping represent New Glarus at their festivities. Mein Herz schlagt noch schnell in Glarnerland [My heart still beats fast in Glarus],

Special thanks to Roger K. Miller of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, for his literary advice and encouragement, and to Robert A. Elmer of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, whose extensive knowledge of Swiss colony families and history was often relied upon.

1

A legacy of political involvement

The Swiss who settled in Wisconsin’s Green County left a discernible and proud political legacy, stretching from the start of the Swiss colony in 1845 through World War II. That legacy reflects a statewide pattern among many ethnic voters: an early preference for the Democratic Party and a subsequent shift to the Republican Party. However, a closer look at individual elections reveals some amazing stories as the Swiss-Americans confronted various national and local issues.

Their involvement in politics was not without mild epithets being hurled at them—to some the Swiss immigrants were clod-hoppers, limburger, and sauerkraut. But that pales in comparison to the anti-Jewish bias that Solomon Levitan, the Swiss colony’s most famous politician, faced throughout a career that included serving as state treasurer. Levitan often overcame the bias with his folksy story-telling. As this political story unfolds, it is spiced with that lore, including how a chance meeting with the young politician Robert M. LaFollette prompted then-peddler Levitan to sell him a pair of suspenders and support him ever after.

Miriam Theiler, in her centennial history of New Glarus, noted that about two-thirds of the voters in the Swiss community that was centered there generally supported the Democratic Party. Politics is but another instance of conservatism among these Swiss settlers, she wrote, for they adhered, for decades, through all changes, to the political creed they first embraced when they came to America. For a man to change his political beliefs was quite as rare as for him to change his religion. However, Theiler was repeating almost verbatim a comment made in the 1890s by John Luchsinger, a prominent local Swiss-American politician and historian of that era. Election returns from 1894 and later show that the Democratic tendency was no longer dominant. Theiler did acknowledge that younger generations had leaned toward the Republican Party-a fact that helped make Green County a Republican stronghold for many years-and that deserving persons known to the Swiss community were often supported without regard to party affil-iations.¹

Green County’s Swiss were concentrated in the towns of New Glarus and Washington. As the colony expanded there was also a significant impact on the towns of Mt. Pleasant, Exeter, and Monroe (including the city), and to a lesser degree Sylvester, Jordan and Clarno. For comparison purposes, this study focuses on vote totals from the five shaded areas.

To the extent that the early Swiss settlers voted for Democrats, they were in concert with two major European groups who were pouring into Wisconsin in the same 19 Century period-the Germans and the Irish. Democrats were generally able to lay claim to being the party of those ethnic minorities (and others) because they succeeded in getting votes from immigrants who at times felt excluded due to their highly distinctive culture. An exception in Wisconsin was the Norwegians, who soon arrived in big numbers and were more inclined to vote Republican after the Civil War years.¹

In inspecting the details on voting in Green County, it can be seen how the original preference for the Democratic Party evolved with the changing socio-economic status and other factors. One is able to watch those changes occur because for much of the period from the beginning of the Swiss colony in 1845 to 1945 the Swiss culture was distinctive and concentrated in a homogeneous area in the north central part of Green County. Over time, the picture becomes a complex political tapestry that encourages one to limit generalizations about ethnic voting.b While party loyalty seems to be extremely strong, that was a fact that continued on both sides of the political spectrum all across the state. Political scientists note that in Wisconsin’s rural counties that were settled by Germans, Democrats continued to be favored well into the 20th Century, continuing a pattern that was established by 1860. Similarly, an 1893 study of voting patterns in the Wisconsin Legislature showed that a third of roll calls found legislators uniformly backing party stands, especially on social issues. ²

It is somewhat surprising to see the extent to which the Swiss immigrants and their descendants took part in politics, given that historians have implied that the Swiss were a bit less interested than other early immigrants. Voter turnout seems rather heavy in the early years. By the 1890s, candidates and party activists were more numerous and cultural assimilation was well underway. At times a candidate’s Swissness helped obtain votes, although more often it was a matter of supporting the hometown candidate.³

What may seem incongruous is to say that the Swiss colony’s most famous politician was someone who was not Swiss. That can be explained, however, using Sol Levitan’s own words from a speech that he made at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C., in 1938: I settled down in a Swiss community in New Glarus, Wisconsin. These people were very democratic, very industrious, economical and kind-hearted. I learned to speak the Swiss language, and was considered one of them, entering into their social life practically every way. In a similar vein, the New Glarus Post printed a letter in 1931 that Levitan had received from an A. Baumgartner of Zurich, Switzerland. Baumgartner was born in 1844 and had relatives in New Glarus who praised Levitan. I know how much you are esteemed by all… and I also know that, generally speaking, you love Switzerland and the Swiss people, he wrote. The fact that you are looked up to is a great thing.

The early Swiss immigrants who came to Green County lived in a time of intense political turmoil, both in Switzerland and in the United States. While there were a handful of Swiss in southwestern Wisconsin in the state’s formative years, including some who had been part of Lord Selkirk’s Red River settlement in Canada, the most significant immigration began with the settlement of New Glarus in August of 1845 as an emigration project of Canton Glarus, Switzerland. Their native country had undergone profound changes. Napoleon’s France had overrun Switzerland in 1798 and set up a new national government. Swiss independence and neutrality were restored in 1815, but the loose confederation that followed saw continued strife between conservative and liberal factions (with religious overtones). There was even a brief war-the Sonderbund-before Switzerland developed a new constitution in 1848, which was modeled on that of the United States. And it should also be noted that the Swiss from Canton Glarus in particular had a long history of democracy as reflected in the renowned Landesgemeinde, an annual outdoor meeting of all of the voters that was first documented in 1387 and is still the supreme authority of the canton. Upon arriving in Wisconsin, the Swiss immigrants found a nation that was split into raucous factions who had been for and against President Andrew Jackson. The Jacksonian Democrats, generally dominant on the frontier including in the nearby lead mining territory of southwestern Wisconsin, reached out to immigrant groups to secure their votes. The anti-Jackson partisans, who became known as the Whigs, were centered in the industrial northeast and although they certainly had their adherents in Wisconsin, they were not always a significant factor. There was also an active anti-slavery or Free-Soil movement, which had a strong following in Wisconsin under the Liberty Party banner, as well as a latent anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know Nothing movement that gained strength in the 1850s.c

While all this political ferment swirled about them, the county’s first Swiss immigrants were likely mostly focused on getting settled in the New World. To the extent that they were involved in bigger affairs, it was most frequently expressed as griping about how Canton Glarus’ Emigration Society was treating them.d But state and national politics soon intruded. The Territory of Wisconsin was preparing for statehood and the Swiss began to have contact with government on a more individual level as census takers came to their homes in 1846 and 1847. Politicians were also reaching out to the Swiss not long after the initial settlement. A story reflecting that is recorded in Butterfield’s 1884 History of Green County.e Christopher Martin, an immigrant Irish farmer from the Town of Monroe, was passing through New Glarus and for some reason was treating some of the villagers-perhaps he was just trying to help out those who he perceived as poorer. He noticed the people gathered in a little group and looking at him from time to time, talking amongst themselves; pretty soon he treated again, their curiosity was so aroused that one of the group constituting himself spokesman for the rest, walked up to Mr. Martin and asked him: ‘Bees you von politic man?’ ‘No,’ says Mr. Martin. At this the man seemed astonished and exclaimed: ‘Vell vat for you treat us then?’ showing by this that politicians had already been tampering with them. On the other hand, one wonders if anyone was paying attention to politics in the early years. Joshua Wild, a Swiss immigrant who came to Green County in 1850, noted in his autobiography that when he served briefly as postmaster in New Glarus in the early 1850s there were no newspapers and very few letters for which I was responsible.f If the average person in the Swiss colony did see a newspaper, it most likely was one obtained when someone hauled wheat to the Milwaukee market. That community already had a German language newspaper as early as 1845. A German language paper also appeared in Madison in the 1850s.⁵

2

The first elections

The question of statehood for Wisconsin was first put to a vote in 1846. For immigrants, it was a heady thing—the state’s constitutional convention had proposed that every white male age 21 or over who had resided in Wisconsin for six months and was either a citizen or had declared his intention to become one could vote on the question of statehood. For various reasons, the first proposed state constitution was rejected as being too utopian. A second, more moderate proposal for statehood was approved by voters in March of 1848.a It seems likely that the possibility of being able to participate in that vote was a principal reason for groups of Swiss starting to go to the courthouse in Monroe in 1847 to file citizenship papers. Technically, it was possible that many of the Green County Swiss could have taken part in the 1848 vote, although there is no known record showing whether any of them did. Naturalization and elections continued to go hand-in-hand for years, as is noted in Helen Bingham’s 1877 History of Green County: Usually before an election each party had an agent at the colony who offered to pay the naturalization fees of all who would vote for his candidate.¹

1848-1850

Based on the earlier territorial stand, Wisconsin’s new state constitution contained the most liberal voting law in the country. It allowed what became known as declarant alien voting. As with the territorial vote, immigrants who had lived in the state a year and had filed their declaration of intention could participated

Following statehood, school districts as we know them today came into being and the town governments were organized. Therefore, some of the first expressions of secular voting in the Swiss colony were in nonpartisan local government elections.⁰

Since the founding of New Glarus in 1845, there had been several efforts at operating schools. Jacob Ernst, who joined the colonists that first fall, ran a German-language school starting in the winter of 1846-’47 with meager resources. Then J. Jacob Tschudy, who had arrived from Switzerland in 1846 to manage the colony, organized a school district under the territorial laws. Classes were held in several homes. With statehood, New Glarus School District #1 was established and in 1849 a log schoolhouse was constructed on colony land that had been set aside for that purpose.d

This replica of the first schoolhouse at New Glarus, which was also used as the town hall and church, is in the Swiss Historical Village at New Glarus. The first Swiss colony voting took place in the original building.

Until statehood, Green County operated with a Southern-style county commissioner government. Now it had to set up New England-style town boards in each township, with the chairmen of those boards constituting the county board. On January 10, 1849, the county ordered that town government elections be held in every township in the county-except New Glarus, which was instead attached to the Town of York. Nothing was recorded as to why New Glarus was not included, but it no doubt had to do with language and uncertainties about citizenship. Later that year residents of the township petitioned the county board to organize their own government, and on November 16, 1849, the board ordered an election to be held the following April in the new log schoolhouse. John Westcott, 61, one of a handful of Yankees living in the Town of New Glarus, not only presided at that first meeting but was selected as the first chairman of the newly created town board. His son, Jefferson F. Westcott, 24, was selected as clerk.e Joseph Trogner, 39, an immigrant from Germany, and Henry Hoesly, 32, who was part of the original 1845 Swiss colony, were the side supervisors. The younger Westcott recalled in later years that he and his father took care of most of the official duties at first because of the language problem. Within a couple of years, all of the town government positions were generally held by the Swiss.

In the concurrent years there were national and state partisan elections, but participation by the Swiss is unknown. Likewise, their knowledge of and opinions on the Mexican War and the slavery issues involved in Kansas statehood are not known. In the first voting after statehood, Green County narrowly supported the Democrats in presidential, congressional, gubernatorial, and legislative elections. Nationally, the Whigs regained power with the election of Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor as president in the fall of 1848. In Green County, the Whigs likely had the support of many of the Yankees who were settling in the area.f Indeed, when Monroe finally got a permanent weekly newspaper in 1851, the Monroe Sentinel was at first a voice for the Whig point of view.³

1851

The first election in which we can reliably detect the Swiss vote is from the fall of 1851. At that time state administrative officials were elected for two-year terms in odd-numbered years, a practice that continued until the 1880s. In the Legislature, assemblymen were elected each year and state senators served for two years, which continued until an 1881 constitutional amendment doubled the length of the terms.

Don A.J. Upham, a widely known Milwaukee lawyer, was the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor in 1851. He hoped to replace Cassville Democrat Nelson Dewey, who was the state’s first governor but was not running for re-election. However, when the votes were counted, Upham narrowly lost to Whig Leonard J. Farwell.h It turned out to be the Whig Party’s last triumph in the state. The victory was attributed not only to the fact that Farwell had the support of the Free-Soil movement, but that he also benefited from a banking referendum that was on the ballot. Wisconsin voters, who once held the frontier populist disdain for banks, had by this time changed their mind and now strongly supported chartering banks for the economic well-being of the state.

Despite his loss, Upham managed to carry Green County, 530504. The vote led the now-Democratic Monroe Sentinel to crow that Green County remained true to the interests of the Democratic Party… . Here she stands, as she has stood for years, upon the Rock of Democracy. A closer look at the election returns shows that the Democratic rock was definitely a solid one in the Town of New Glarus-of the 45 votes cast, Upham received all but one. And the turnout there was pretty good too-roughly seventy percent. Democrats also did well in the Town of Washington and the Town of Mt. Pleasant, perhaps in part reflecting a solid Swiss vote. Whigs had strength in the adjacent townships of York and Exeter. By this time the Swiss made up about sixty-two percent of the homes in the Town of New Glarus and about forty-three percent in Washington, where a second organized group of Swiss from Canton Glarus had settled in 1847/

When it came to picking representatives for the Legislature, a different pattern emerged. For both state senator and assemblyman, the vote was nearly evenly split, with Democrat Thomas S. Bowen endorsed for the Senate and Whig Truman J. Safford for the Assembly. Both also carried the county.

Results of voting November 4, 1851

Governor State Senator Assemblyman

On the banking issue Town of New Glarus voters split, with 22 voting yes and 23 no. York and Exeter, which generally voted Whig, said yes while Washington and Mt. Pleasant said no. The statewide vote was 31,219 in favor and 9,126 against. Wisconsin had been typical of most Midwestern states up to this time, forbidding the Legislature from giving corporations banking powers. Fresh in many people’s memory was the financial collapse of banks in 1838. There was little regulation as we know it today and the banks were often poorly run. However, the new state was much in need of a sound system of money and credit. For a number of years before and after statehood, Alexander Mitchell’s Marine Fire and Insurance Company of Milwaukee issued certificates of deposit that became de facto paper currency in the state. It is possible that some New Glarus area farmers who hauled their wheat to Milwaukee for sale received the certificates for payment. Under the newly approved state constitution, if banking powers were ever desired the issue had to be put to the people in the form of the question: banks or no banks. Banks carried the day in 1851 and the Legislature then drew up a plan for bank charters.⁵

1852

The continued solid Democratic vote in the Town of New Glarus was very evident a year later during the 1852 presidential election. Although Democrat Franklin Pierce was rather obscure and there were deep divisions within his party, neither the Whig Party’s Gen. Winfield Scott nor Free-Soil candidate John P. Hale received any votes in the Town of New Glarus. Pierce was also backed by a majority of the voters in Green County and in Wisconsin. The Free-Soil movement showed some strength in the Town of York.⁶

The same local Democratic pattern was reflected in the vote for Congress. By this time Wisconsin had three congressional districts and Green County was in the 2nd District, along with most of the western and southwestern parts of the state.j Democrat Ben C. Eastman, who was first elected to Congress in 1850, was re-elected. He was a Platteville lawyer and had previously served as secretary of the Territorial Council. He also carried Green County.

The Democratic candidate for Assembly, Thomas Fenton, also won the county. He replaced Whig Truman J. Safford, continuing a series of assemblymen who served only one term at Madison.

Results of voting November 2, 1852

The banking referendum was on approving the so-called free banking law that the Legislature had drawn up after the voters gave the go-ahead in 1851. The law was focused on regulating the bank notes that were used as paper money. While Wisconsin’s Democrats had generally backed the legislation, the Monroe Sentinel did not, saying We believe that there is sufficient intelligence in the people of Wisconsin to ward off an evil of this magnitude. Apparently many Green County voters agreed. Statewide, however, the law was approved by a vote of 32,826 to 8,711. The new law did result in an increase in credit that greatly helped the state’s economy. However, the law was later termed deficient in many ways and starting in 1858 was frequently amended.⁸

1853

Town voting statistics for 1853 were not found, which is too bad because the ballot included a referendum on state liquor laws. The anti-alcoholic movement in the United States had grown steadily since the 1830s and had migrated to Wisconsin with New Englanders. After statehood, every liquor vendor in Wisconsin had to furnish a $1,000 bond against potential bad behavior by customers. By 1851, Maine completely prohibited liquor and that became the goal of some Protestants in Wisconsin-especially Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Their view was reflected in stands taken by the Whig and Free-Soil parties.

For cultural reasons, temperance was strongly opposed in the heavily German areas of eastern Wisconsin, and likely was also in the Swiss areas of Green County. Indeed, when the Reverend Wilhelm Streissguth arrived in New Glarus in 1850 to organize a Swiss Reformed church congregation, he soon wrote home to Switzerland that one of the issues he would have to deal with was the frequenting of taverns. The local church council decided not to take too radical a stand at first and the start of regular Sabbath services helped occupy some of the settlers’ time on Sundays. Nevertheless, Streissguth wrote that It is a well-known fact that observance of the Holy Sabbath is strictly enforced in this country; but here the saying goes, where there’s no complaint, there’s no judge.⁹ While New Glarus did not have a brewery until 1867, Monroe had had one since 1845.k

Yankee support helped Green County back the temperance measure, 910 to 619, and it also won statewide, roughly 27,000 to 24,000. The ballot question was whether the state should adopt the Maine Law, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Even the great showman P.T. Barnum had toured the state in support of the cause. Although enabling legislation passed the Assembly in 1854, the measure stalled in the Senate. A different bill passed the Legislature the next year, but was vetoed by the Democratic governor because he thought it would allow unreasonable searches and seizures. The temperance issue then slowly faded into the background for a while as the slavery and state’s rights issues became dominant.¹⁰

It is appropriate to mention here that in the early years there frequently was a connection between voting and liquor and the Swiss were probably not exempt from that situation. Years ago the State Historical Society of Wisconsin published the contents of a pamphlet written in 1853 by a German immigrant, Christian Traugott Ficker, in which he described Wisconsin life for his friends back home. In writing about government and elections he said, Shameful things happen among a free people in connection with these matters… intoxicating liquors of all kinds are used in the election at the expense of such office seekers, and not infrequently they attain their goal. Ficker also described the raucous victory celebrations after the elections.

Although the Whigs’ temperance effort carried on Election Day in 1853, it was the Democrats who won the governorship. Democrat William Barstow of Waukesha defeated independent candidate Edward Holton for governor, with Green County narrowly backing Barstow, 769 to 748. Holton, a temperance man, was a wealthy Milwaukee merchant and abolitionist. Barstow carved out a middle ground on the temperance issue and apparently gained the Germanic vote. With the Whig Party fading away, its gubernatorial candidate-Henry Baird, a prominent Green Bay lawyerl-was a distant third and received only 152 votes in the county.

Democrats continued to hold Green County’s legislative seats, with Frederick H. West winning the Senate post and Abner Mitchell the Assembly spot.

The political air in Green County was excited this year by the extension of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad line through the southern part of the county. The Janesville branch of the line had been completed as far as the new community of Brodhead. Also, the first election for the newly established Wisconsin Supreme Court was held in 1853, but little attention seemed to be paid to that in Green County.¹³

3

Some Swiss

become Republicans

1854

By the fall of 1854, politics was changing dramatically. The Whig Party had all but disappeared, the Democrats remained deeply split, and a new Republican Party had emerged. The Republicans in Wisconsin’s 2nd Congressional District, which included Green County, held a convention in Mineral Point with prominent former Democrats, Whigs and Free-Soilers among the crowd. Official delegates from Green County were former Monroe Sentinel editor Reverend John Walworth,¹ Joseph Smith (who was elected sheriff this year), and Charles Thompson. The Monroe newspaper, now owned by N. L. Stout and George W. Tenney, was supporting the new party. The convention was chaired by David Atwood, editor of the daily State Journal of Madison. The delegates chose as the new party’s first candidate for congress the prominent Mineral Point lawyer, land speculator, and now banker, Cadwallader C. Washburn.¹

Hopes were high in the fall, but when the election results were counted the new Republicans encountered mixed results. Washburn and Amos D. Kirkpatrick, the Republican candidate for the Assembly, won their contests. However, the Sentinel editor lamented that in the Town of Monroe, the whole or nearly, foreign vote was thrown against the Republican ticket… . a good many of the foreign voters in other parts of the county did not vote at all. Indeed, there was a dramatic drop in the number of voters in the towns of New Glarus and Washington. The paper felt that the foreigners-not just the Swiss, but Germans and Irish as well-had been duped into thinking Republicans were Know-Nothings in disguise.

Actually, there was another reason that was probably the primary cause of the small voter turnout at New Glarus-cholera. The colony was reeling under the loss of 22 adults in the course of the year and many people were loath to make contact with others for fear of the disease spreading even more. Since the Monroe newspaper had little contact with that part of the county, there appears to be no mention of the tragedy in its news columns. However, on August 16, the Sentinel noted that there had been about 30 deaths in Freeport, Illinois, due to cholera and two fatal cases in the Town of Jefferson. The feeling in New Glarus was that cholera was brought to the community by a family that came from Freeport.b

Results of voting November 7, 1854²

1855

The following year it was more of the same, with the Monroe newspaper grousing that in 1855 Republicans had to contend with Know Nothings, the Silver Grey Whigs, the Old Line Democrats, and every other conglomerate issue on earth… . Temperance men were found working in the harness with every shade of whisky.³

Vote totals were back up and the preference for Democrats continued in the areas of Green County where Swiss immigrants were concentrated. However, statewide the election was a mess. William Barstow, the incumbent Democratic governor whose first term was plagued by irregularities with state funds, was at first declared the winner. Republicans suspected fraud and when Barstow was sworn into office on January 7, 1856, they also had their man sworn in—Coles Bashford of Winnebago County. The State Supreme Court examined the situation and, when evidence showed that nonexistent precincts had been counted for Barstow, the governor resigned. Lieutenant Governor Arthur MacArthur, a Democrat, became acting governor. The Supreme Court soon ruled in favor of Bashford and MacArthur yielded the

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