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Wisconsin Constitution

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Wisconsin Constitution
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The Wisconsin Constitution is the basic governing document of Wisconsin.


The Wisconsin Constitution establishes the structure and function of state government, describes the state boundaries, and declares the rights of state citizens. The current Wisconsin Constitution contains a brief preamble and fourteen articles detailing the state government, its powers and its limitations.


See also: Preambles to state constitutions

The preamble to the Wisconsin Constitution states:

We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings, form a more perfect government, insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare, do establish this constitution.[1]

Article I: Declaration of Rights

Article I of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Declaration of Rights" and consists of 27 sections. This article outlines the legal rights of state citizens. In addition to reaffirming the rights guaranteed in the United States Bill of Rights, Article I of the Wisconsin Constitution offers additional guarantees to its citizens. Among these are sections which prohibit imprisonment for debt, guarantee resident aliens the same property rights as citizens, affirm that the military is subordinate to civil authorities, allow for the use of state owned school buildings by civil and religious organizations during non-school hours and guarantee the right of citizens to hunt and fish.

Article II: Boundaries

Article II of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Boundaries" and consists of two sections.

Article III: Suffrage

Article III of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Suffrage" and consists of six sections, three of which have been repealed.

Article IV: Legislative

Article IV of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Legislative" and consists of 35 sections. The Wisconsin Legislature is divided into two houses, the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate.

Article V: Executive

Article V of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Executive" and consists of ten sections. It describes executive office in the state, providing for a governor and lieutenant governor who are elected jointly to four year terms.

Article VI: Administrative

Article VI of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Administrative" and consists of seven sections. It describes other administrative positions, providing for a secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general to be elected to four year terms.

Article VII: Judiciary

Article VII of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Judiciary" and consists of 24 sections. This article outlines the state's judicial branch in Article VII, granting judicial power in the state to a unified Wisconsin Supreme Court consisting of seven justices elected to ten year terms.

Article VIII: Finance

Article VIII of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Finance" and consists of ten sections.

Article IX: Eminent Domain and Property of the State

Article IX of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Eminent Domain and Property of the State" and consists of three sections.

Article X: Education

Article X of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Education" and consists of eight sections.

Article XI: Corporations

Article XI of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Corporations" and consists of six sections.

Article XII: Amendments

Article XII of the Wisconsin Constitution is labeled "Amendments." In two sections, it describes the two ways that the Wisconsin Constitution can be changed.

Article XIII: Miscellaneous Provisions

Article XIII of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Miscellaneous Provisions" and consists of 12 sections.

Article XIV: Schedule

Article XIV of the Wisconsin Constitution is entitled "Schedule" and consists of 16 sections.

Amending the Constitution

See also: Amending state constitutions

Article XII of the Wisconsin Constitution provides two methods of amendment:

  1. An amendment may be proposed and approved by a simple majority of both chambers of the Wisconsin State Legislature. That proposed amendment must then be considered by the state legislature chosen at the next general election in the state -- and, before that legislative session, the proposed amendment that it will consider must be published for three months prior to the election. Should the amendment be approved by a simple majority of this second session that considers it, the proposed amendment is then placed on a statewide ballot at a general election. If it is approved by a simple majority of the state's electorate, it becomes part of the constitution.
  2. If a simple majority of both houses of the Wisconsin State Legislature votes in favor of this, a constitutional convention question shall be placed on a statewide ballot. If the electors of the state agree by a simple majority to call a constitutional convention, then one shall be convened by the state legislature during its next session.


The Wisconsin Constitution was written at a constitutional convention held in Madison, Wisconsin in December 1847 and approved by the citizens of Wisconsin Territory in a referendum held in March 1848. Wisconsin was admitted to the United States on May 29, 1848. Although it has been amended over a hundred times, the original constitution ratified in 1848 is still in use. This makes the Wisconsin Constitution the oldest state constitution outside of New England. Only Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island use older constitutions.

Although Wisconsin continues to use the original constitution ratified as Wisconsin achieved statehood, the current constitution is the second document to be proposed as the state constitution. In 1846, the residents of Wisconsin Territory first voted to apply for statehood, and they elected 124 representatives to meet in Madison to author a state constitution. These delegates, most of them elected as Democrats, met in the fall of 1846 to write the constitution. However, the document they produced by December 1846 contained several provisions which were deemed radical at the time. The document give married women the right to own property and allowed for a public referendum to settle the issue of African American suffrage. In addition, Edward G. Ryan, the delegate from Racine, Wisconsin, introduced a section to the constitution that prohibited all commercial banking in Wisconsin. Not ready to accept some of these provisions, the public rejected the first proposed constitution in a referendum and elected a second delegation to write a constitution which would be more acceptable to the people.[2]

The second constitutional convention produced a much more conservative document that lacked the controversial progressive clauses in its predecessor. The second draft constitution was mute on the controversial issues of women's property rights. It gave suffrage only to white male citizens over the age of twenty one and American Indians that had been made citizens of the United States but gave the legislature the ability to extend suffrage to other groups through laws approved by public referendum. The issue of banking was put to a public vote; citizens could decide for themselves whether or not the state legislature could pass laws allowing banking after the constitution was ratified. The second proposed constitution was finished in December 1846, and was approved by the public in March 1848. Shortly after the referendum, the state constitution was ratified by the United States Senate and put into effect with the election of the first state officials.[3]

See also

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