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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Even-Handed Corruption of the 1850s


Jan. 24th is the birthday of Coles Bashford, the leading actor in a strange political drama of the 1850s. For years Democrats had controlled state politics and Milwaukee's William Barstow had controlled the Democrats. When he ran for re-election as governor in 1855, his only serious opposition came from Coles Bashford of Oshkosh, the candidate of the new Republican Party. Barstow won by a such a slim margin that on Jan. 7, 1856, both men held swearing in ceremonies. Corruption charges were immediately filed against the Democrats, and while the Supreme Court spent three months investigating, Barstow and Bashford each claimed to be Wisconsin's chief executive. The court finally found in March that ballots had been tampered with, election returns supposedly coming in from outlying counties arrived on paper only used under the Capitol dome, and vote totals had been recorded from northern townships where no one lived. This article describes the episode, and what happened on the day when Bashford physically seized control of the governor's office and ejected the Democrats. Unfortunately, Coles Bashford turned out to be just as scurrilous as his predecessor. He was discovered to have engaged in widespread "pay to play" bribery and personally pocketed $50,000 for favors done for railroad companies. He quickly left the state in disgrace for the untamed frontiers of the Wild West.
:: Posted in Bizarre Events on January 24, 2005
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