Abraham Lincoln Could Have Been First Member of Wisconsin 14

Well, not exactly. But as an Illinois Whig Congressman in 1837, Lincoln and several others jumped out the window of the Illinois house to prevent a key vote in precisely the same manner to prevent a quorum.

Lincoln and the others were disappointed to discover that sufficient members were present to take a vote and they lost. Lincoln had been a key proponent of internal improvements in Illinois like railroads, road improvement, and canals. The Whigs got a major infrastructure spending bill through the Illinois legislature just prior to the Panic of 1837.

Speculation in Western Land and on Wall Street, along with the weakening of the nation’s banks via President Jackson’s killing of the Bank of the United States and preventing its re-charter led to economic collapse. The economy went into crisis and tax revenues shrank, and a budget crisis ensued. Does this sound familiar? Not that this is a hit on capitalism at all!

Lincoln’s career took a hit but the future President of the United States was undaunted. It was reported in the Illinois press that the sight of the six-foot-four Lincoln leaping from a lower window of the state house was less than dignified.

The Wisconsin 14 have been almost destroyed in the nation’s press as having done something terrible and irresponsible. But what they are doing is using a kind of legislative non-violent disobedience to prevent a greater wrong.

It is time for Wisconsin to understand that the actions of the Governor and the Republicans in the Legislature have been irresponsible and immoral.

Had the Wisconsin 14 walked out over the cuts in pension and health benefits alone, and there had not been the public outcry by working people at the time they might deserve censure or even worse. But the Governor and his people insist on going for the jugular of labor.

You hear Republicans in Wisconsin saying “we won the election” as if it is an excuse to punish political opponents in any manner they choose. The attitude raises the darkest and most troubling questions about governing all the people. Do they or will they propose to lock up and “reeducate” all political opponents in the State? They may as well. They are acting like the Constitution of the United States does not provide the equal protection of the laws nor does the Bill of Rights within that Constitution any longer protect the rights of the minority.

Whose government is it anyway? Is this just a state only for Republicans from now on with one party rule? This is no idle comment to score political points but a real question raised by the Governor and his attitude toward his political opponents.

In the broadest of terms, the Wisconsin 14 left the state and prevented a quorum and held up State Government to protect a minority whose rights were about to be assailed for reasons that are questionable and worrisome. The offer of the state’s public employee Unions to fully meet the Governor’s pre-election program and demands and the Governor’s refusal to even speak with them is all the evidence that any intelligent voter of any party requires to conclude that he’s wrongheaded and perhaps worse. When he ran for Governor no mention was made that his election would equal the end of collective bargaining in Wisconsin.

To suprise political opponents with such a major change and try to pass it into law in less than a week to stifle debate demands the recall of Governor Walker, even if he has only been in office for less than two months.

Struggles For Justice is waiting for the Democratic Party and labor and any opponents of the Governor and the infamies he and his henchmen have perpatrated require a full investigation of just what and who pushed the Governor to act as he did. The parallel moves by other Repubican governors in other states is no coincidence.

Lincoln would very well understand what the Wisconsin 14 did and why they had to do it. That takes guts: courage, a sense of what is morally right. The extreme dedication these 14 legislators have shown to represent the interests of the welfare of the entire state are remarkable. Should the bill pass? Yes, it should. But it must be amended in many places to make it something that is in the interest of all the citizens of the state and reflects the concerns of the party out of power as well.

Lincoln would understand. He’s been where the Wisconsin 14 are. Only they have even better grounds for what they did. The rights of citizens to earn a decent living and the state’s welfare were not so directly at stake when he jumped out of the window of the state house so many years ago.

2 thoughts on “Abraham Lincoln Could Have Been First Member of Wisconsin 14

  1. The example is mangled, but nonetheless worth reviewing. According to an almost-contemporary biography (1872), in 1841, Lincoln and Ward Lamon were the two Whigs that agreed to stay behind, and ‘call the yeas and nays’ while the rest of the Whigs took off. Unfortunately, after some looking, many of them were found and returned to the state house. At that point, it was a race between Lincoln and Lamon to leave before the Democrats called an adjournment. It was at this point that Lincoln and Lamon left by window, but the Democrats had adjourned by then. Lamon comments that Lincoln regretted participated in “every thing that savored of the revolutionary.” BTW, as near as I can figure from this recounting, the Whigs were (as usual) trying to protect the banks, which were already in the habit of screwing the citizenry. It was ever thus.

  2. Thank you for this civics lesson. I am a Wisconsin school teacher and will pass it on the children in the State of Wisconsin and everyone on my facebook. Thank you for this touching story and drawing the connections between our brave Wisconsin 14 and President Lincoln.

    Power to the Peaceful!

    Wingra School
    An Independent Progressive School
    3200 Monroe St.
    Madison, WI 53711

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