Wisconsin’s Path to Statehood

Boundaries are not an issue for Puerto Rico — as an island or rather a group of islands, the territory has natural boundaries. But many of the territories that became states in the 19th and 20th centuries delayed statehood while they fought over the shape of the state. Wisconsin was one of these.

Wisconson voters rejected statehood in 1839, 1842, 1844, and 1846. They became a state in 1848.

Statehood had already been delayed in Wisconsin by two wars with Native American tribes. Wisconsin had been part of the Northwest Territory, the Indiana Territory, the Illinois Territory and the Michigan Territory. Parts of what is now Wisconsin were controlled by the state of Massachusetts, and England had control over the fur trade. When the “Wiskonsin” Territory was declared by Congress in 1836, it contained not only what is now Wisconsin, but also Iowa and Minnesota. Wisconsin definitely belonged to the United States, but just what land belonged to Wisconsin and would become the state of Wisconsin — that was not settled.

As the fur trade slowed down and lead mining boomed, the United States wanted Wisconsin as a state, and the settlers wanted the participation in decisions making that statehood offered. As Michigan and Iowa became states, the Wisconsin Territory was shaved down, but various pieces of land were still under debate. As late as 1847, a petition to change the border between Wisconsin and Minnesota was sent to Congress. At last, Wisconsin agreed to set the Mississippi River as their western border and became the last state east of the Mississippi River to enter the Union.

There was controversy over the state constitution, too. The first constitution drawn up allowed women to own property and opened the way for immigrants and African Americans to vote. The second constitution removed these radical proposals. Confusion and controversy continued through the territorial period, and a little beyond. At one point, the representative from the Wisconsin Territory and the representative from the State of Wisconsin served together in Congress.

The enabling act for the state of Wisconsin specified that Wisconsin would have three members in Congress. All states have two senators. So Wisconsin went from having a single representative for the territory to having five votes in the legislature. They had more than 150,000 residents when they became a state, and the population doubled before the 1850 census — in just four years. Statehood led to peace and prosperity for Wisconsin.

Sometimes people suggest that Puerto Rico’s leadership and population aren’t in strong enough agreement to become a state. Wisconsin shows that a territory with lots of controversy — including wars — can become a successful state. It became time for Wisconsin to become a state. It’s time now for Puerto Rico to become a state.

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