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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Search Results for: Keyword: 'fugitive slave law'

Term: Whiton, Edward Vernon 1805 - 1859


lawyer, politician, judge, b. South Lee, Mass. He was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts. He moved to Wisconsin in 1837, settling in Janesville, where he set up a law practice. Originally a Whig, and later a Republican, Whiton was a member of the lower house of the territorial legislature (1838-1842), where he played an important role in the revision of the territorial laws; he was also a member of the territorial upper house (1842-1846), where he was known as an opponent to the free- school movement. Whiton was a delegate to the second state constitutional convention (1847-1848), and when Wisconsin achieved statehood in 1848 was elected circuit judge of the first Wisconsin district. In this capacity, he also served as ex officio associate justice of the state supreme court (1848-1853). When the supreme court was organized as a separate body in 1853, Whiton was elected chief justice, serving in this capacity from June, 1853, until his death. During Whiton's tenure on the high court bench, he was an important figure in the stormy pre-Civil War period. In July, 1854, he affirmed the decision of Associate Justice Abram D. Smith (q.v.) in ordering the release of abolitionist Sherman M. Booth (q.v.), who was charged with violating the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850; Whiton thus, in effect, affirmed Smith's opinion that the federal law was unconstitutional. In 1856 Whiton also handed down the opinion in the disputed gubernatorial election of 1855, which declared Republican Coles Bashford (q.v.) the legally elected governor of Wisconsin due to fraudulent balloting in behalf of Democrat William Barstow (q.v.). J. B. Winslow, Story of a Great Court (Chicago, 1912); Wis. Mag. Hist., 19, 20, 22; Green Bag, 9 (1911), pp. 63-75; WPA MS.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Edward Vernon Whiton Letter for details.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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