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Odd Wisconsin Archive

"Nothing has transpired."

Tonight, when Gov. Doyle presents the annual State of the State address, he probably won't open with the line, "Since your last annual session, nothing has transpired."

But that's exactly how the 1853 State of the State address by Governor Leonard J. Farwell began. While things in Wisconsin have surely changed since then, the annual address by the governor remains a fixture of the legislative session in Wisconsin. Each January, the governor is required by law to describe to the Legislature the condition of the state, and to make recommendations for programs that he or she thinks are essential. Some of the most important legislation in Wisconsin history began in State of the State addresses, including the introduction of the primary vote by Governor Robert La Follette in 1901 and the first model academic standards by Governor Tommy Thompson in 1997.

As 2007’s priorities emerge, Odd Wisconsin will occasionally shed light on how other leaders in other times faced problems similar to those we have today. For example, we read that a $1.6 billion may be on the horizon. In 1861 Milwaukee’s deficit caused the city’s credit rating to plummet so low it couldn’t buy an American flag; it even had to lay off police officers. And of course the state faced massive fiscal challenges throughout the Great Depression.

Everyone's also concerned this week with the hostility of a new Congress to a war begun by a sitting president. Much the same thing happened in 1847, during the Mexican War.

Gov. Doyle is only the latest in a long line of Wisconsin chief executives to face crises. The careers of his first 17 predecessors are reviewed in this 1887 Wisconsin State Journal article. There was even a time when our state briefly had two governors at the same time.

The truly hardy can find all the State of the State addresses by Wisconsin governors, 1853-1902, among the Society’s digitized materials on the UW's digital collections Web site. Other readers will want to stay tuned to Odd Wisconsin to see how earlier generations in the Badger State coped with taxes, wars, health care, education, and moral controversies.

:: Posted in Curiosities on January 29, 2007

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