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Odd Wisconsin Archive

“The Power Knowledge Gives”

Our state capitol was named after James Madison, born 153 years ago today in Virginia. He died on June 28, 1836, and a week later the U.S. Congress passed the act that created Wisconsin Territory. President Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge as governor, with responsibility to conduct a census, hold elections, and convene a territorial legislature.

Dodge acted quickly. The first census was taken in August and elections were held in October to choose delegates to a territorial convention, which sat down on October 25 in a chilly, wood-frame building at Belmont, in the lead region. Among the delegates’ first actions was locating a capitol. During that cold autumn session “gifts” of buffalo robes were said to have been exchanged for votes, rumors of shady real estate deals emerged, and one roll call almost put Wisconsin’s capitol on the banks of the Mississippi. Read about it on our page devoted to the creation of Wisconsin Territory, where you’ll also find original documents.

Madison (the man) created a legacy that’s still rightfully evoked. He was one of the main authors of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, where the principles of freedom and democracy for which our nation fights today were first enshrined in law. One of the freedoms he valued most was intellectual freedom – the right of all people to learn and discover, and to share their views without interference from the authorities:

"A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it,” he wrote, “is but a prologue to a tragedy or a farce, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." [letter to W.T. Barry, Aug. 4, 1822]

We think he would have been delighted with the World Wide Web, blogging, and their unrivaled power to help people learn and share.

:: Posted in Curiosities on March 16, 2005
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