Wisconsin Suffrage for African Americans Referendum, Question 1 (1857)

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The Wisconsin Suffrage for African Americans Referendum was a legislatively-referred state statute / Wisconsin referendum on the November 3, 1857 ballot in Wisconsin, where it was defeated, but later overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

  • This referendum sought to provide suffrage to African American men over the age of 21.[1]


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 state supreme court. Gillespie and Paine argued that voters had given the right to vote to African Americans in 1849. The election inspectors argued that while the 1849 vote had been approved a majority of votes counted, it had not been approved by a majority of those who had voted that day. 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 had held the right to vote in Wisconsin since 1849, the outcome of the 1857 measure became moot.[2][3]

Election results

Question 1
OverturnedotOverturned Case:Gillespie v Palmer and others 20 Wis. 544 (1866)
Yes 28,235 40.58%

Official results via: Wisconsin Blue Book 2011 - 2012

Text of measure

The language that appeared on the ballot:

For extension of suffrage
For the extension of suffrage, 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.44 (1857)[1]

See also

Suggest a link

External links