Most of the new settlers of the 1830s and 1840s were attracted to Wisconsin by good farmland rather than mining opportunities. In response to the demand for acreage, the first government lands in Wisconsin were put on public sale in 1834. By the 1840s wheat had become the principal crop, and after ten years Wisconsin’s wheat crop was the second largest in the nation.
In the lead district of southwestern Wisconsin, mining remained the major economic activity until the late 1840s. Farming on lands containing mineral ore was discouraged by the federal government, which owned all such lands and until 1847 leased, rather than sold, tracts to individuals and companies for mining. Lead mining reached its peak in 1845, then declined rapidly as richer mines were exhausted and the price of lead dropped. Many miners then turned to farming, but about half of the miners, including many of the Cornish settlers, left for California after gold was discovered there in 1848.
The need for internal improvements, such as roads, railroads, harbors, and canals, was a major reason that residents of the Wisconsin Territory began to press for statehood. Both the population and the economy were expanding rapidly. As a state, it was argued, Wisconsin would be able to secure more federal money and land and could issue charters for transportation companies. Residents also hoped statehood would bring political strength and stability and attract Eastern capital with which to build needed improvements.
After rejecting several proposals for statehood, voters endorsed admission to the Union in 1846 and called for a convention to draw up a constitution for the future state.
The first constitution was rejected by the territory’s voters in 1847, but a second similar constitution was approved a year later. This constitution is still in use, though it has been much amended. It prohibited the use of state funds to construct internal improvements, such as canals, because the framers wished to avoid the financial chaos that occurred when neighboring states had undertaken vast canal-building projects. The constitution also sharply limited the amount of debt the state could incur for any purpose. The provisions for voting rights were very liberal for that time, although women were excluded. In May 1848 Wisconsin was admitted to the Union as the 30th state. Its first governor was Nelson Dewey, a Democrat.
Contrary to expectations, statehood did not bring rapid development of transportation facilities. Despite the clamor for canals in Wisconsin, few were completed. Even after a canal was opened in 1851 at the portage of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, the route was little used. Railroad building also proceeded slowly. Railroad promoters engaged in widespread bribery of state officials to secure railroad charters, and many charters were issued for railroads that were never built.
The prohibitions on state spending for internal improvements meant the railroads had to turn elsewhere for financing. An unusual arrangement was devised, in which several thousand farmers mortgaged their land to raise funds for the earliest railroad lines. In 1857 one railroad was completed, reaching across the state from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River. Soon afterward, however, a widespread financial panic hit, resulting in the bankruptcy of all the railroad companies in Wisconsin. Farmers who had mortgaged their land to support their railroad held almost worthless pieces of paper. To attract European immigrants to Wisconsin, the state established an office in New York City in 1852 that distributed pamphlets and placed advertisements in European and U.S. newspapers.
In the next few years thousands of Europeans, the majority of them Germans, settled in Wisconsin. Some of the German immigrants were political refugees from the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848. The intellectuals of this group soon provided important leadership in Wisconsin’s political, cultural, and social development. "Wisconsin" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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