Wisconsin Equal Suffrage Referendum, Question 1 (1849)

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The Wisconsin Equal Suffrage Referendum was a legislatively-referred state statute / Wisconsin referendum on the November 6, 1849 ballot in Wisconsin, where it was approved.

This referendum extended equal suffrage men over the age of 21, regardless of skin color.[1]


Despite being approved by a majority of votes on the referendum, some argued that the law was not valid because it did not receive a majority of votes among all who went to the polls. The question of suffrage specifically for African Americans was later put to referendum in 1857 and 1865, and both times defeated. Then, in the case of Gillespie v Palmer in 1866, Ezekiel Gillespie, one of the leaders of black community in Milwaukee, tried to register to vote for the 1865 general election, but was denied by election inspectors. With his attorney, Byron Paine, Gillespie took the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Gillespie and Paine argued that voters had given the right to vote to African Americans in 1849 referendum. The supreme court ruled in favor of Gillespie, stating:

To declare a measure or law adopted or defeated – not by the number of votes cast directly for or against it, but by the number cast for and against some other measure, or for the candidates for some office or offices not connected with the measure itself, would not only be out of the ordinary course of legislation, but, so far as we know, a thing unknown in the history of constitutional law. It would be saying that the vote of every person who voted for any candidate for any office at such election, and did not vote on the suffrage question, should be a vote against the extension of suffrage.

Since the court ruled that African Americans and other persons of color had held the right to vote in Wisconsin since 1849, the outcome of the 1857 and 1865 measures became moot.[2][3]

Election results

Question 1
Approveda Yes 5,265 56.37%

Official results via: Wisconsin Blue Book 2011 - 2012

Text of measure

The language that appeared on the ballot:

Equal suffrage to colored persons, Yes
Equal suffrage to colored persons, No[4]


  • The two statements would have been printed on separate tickets to put in a ballot box.

Path to the ballot

  • Submission to the People: Ch.137 (1849)[1]

See also

Suggest a link

External links