Wisconsin’s History of Immigrant Voting Rights: 1848 to 1908
By extending the vote to non-citizen residents who declared their intent to become citizens, Wisconsin took the lead in drawing a connection between local and/or state voting rights and citizenship.
The state also was instrumental in forging the policies that led to non-citizen immigrants being drafted in the Civil War.
With its heavily German population, Wisconsin fell victim to the anti-immigrant backlash that took place during the 1880-1920 Great Wave of immigration, and ended immigrant voting rights in 1908.
For a full history of immigrant voting rights in Wisconsin, click HERE .
New Political Science: A Journal of Politics and Culture. Vol. 26, #4. December 2004 (forthcoming.)
“Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the U.S.”
By Ron Hayduk
(EXCERPT) In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many new U.S. states and territories used alien suffrage as an incentive to attract settlers and as a pathway to citizenship (though not as a substitute). The general practice was to require residency from six months to one year before voting rights were granted.
Wisconsin, which was admitted to the Union in 1848, revived and transformed noncitizen voting. Wisconsin’s constitution extended full voting rights (in local, state and national elections) to “declarant aliens”-foreign born white persons who declare their intention to become citizens. In this formulation, alien suffrage was seen as a pathway to citizenship.
Wisconsin’s model for enfranchising aliens proved popular. Congress passed a law with similar provisions for the Territories of Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Dakota, Wyoming and Oklahoma. After achieving statehood many of these states kept the practice of allowing declarent aliens voting rights. Thus, at least thirteen new states adopted alien suffrage. Noncitizen voting reached its zenith around 1875. By the close of the nineteenth century, nearly one-half of all the states and territories had some experience with voting by aliens, most of them lasted for more than half a century.
By Joseph Ranney
[EXCERPT -CLICK LINK FOR FULL TEXT]… Delegates from southwest Wisconsin opposed broad suffrage because most immigrants were settling in the eastern counties, and they knew that broad suffrage would hasten the southwest’s political decline.
A few of the measure’s opponents argued that foreigners should not be allowed to vote because their allegiance to Wisconsin would be suspect until they actually became citizens. Most opponents, however, contented themselves with the legalistic argument that giving aliens the vote might conflict with federal naturalization laws, therefore it might irritate Congress and might jeopardize Wisconsin’s admission to statehood.
Supporters of broad suffrage rebutted both of these arguments vigorously. A large number of convention delegates were foreign-born. Many of them (most notably Franz Huebschmann of Milwaukee) and many of the more idealistic Yankees (led by Charles Burchard of Waukesha) argued that when a foreigner left his old life behind and travelled thousands of miles to start a new life in Wisconsin, that effort alone was more than adequate to demonstrate his loyalty and commitment to Wisconsin….READ MORE
University of Pennsylvania Law Review 141 (1993)
“Legal Aliens, Local Citizens: The Historical, Constitutional, and Theoretical Meanings of Alien Suffrage.”
After the Civil War began, the Union’s military manpower needs caused the armed forces to turn to aliens for help, and the “foreign-born” came to constitute “nearly 25 percent of the Union Army.” …..
In August, Wisconsin Governor Edward Salomon wrote to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, informing him that approximately half of his state’s able-bodied men were aliens, but pointing out that they had already declared their intentions to become citizens and were eligible to vote. Governor Salomon urged that these men not be exempted from the draft. In his answer, Stanton took the position that the mere declaration of intent to become a citizen did not subject these men to the draft but that declarant aliens who had in fact voted would be draftable.
One such man was Carl Wehlitz, an alien from Prussia living in Milwaukee, who had declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen and had exercised his right to vote. After he was drafted under Stanton’s interpretation of the Militia Act, Wehlitz challenged his conscription in court, arguing that, on its terms, the Militia Act applied only to “citizens” and, as a legal alien, he was therefore not draftable.
In January of 1863, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously rejected Wehlitz’ claim. n106 Justice Paine noted that a system of bifurcated citizenship is inevitable in federalism: “Under our complex system of government there may be a citizen of a state who is not a citizen of the United States in the full sense of the term. This result would seem to follow unavoidably from the nature of the two systems of government.” READ MORE