Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Lex Renda

Committee Members

David Hoeveler, John H. Schroeder


Civil War, Wisconsin


Although it has been discussed and examined at great length, the history of Civil War-era Wisconsin remains controversial in many ways. Though this state remained a loyal, integral part of the Northern bloc for the duration of this conflict, it was simultaneously divided deeply along political lines--Republican, Democratic, and the extreme wings of both parties--which brought about serious legislative and, at times, physical conflict between the parties and among their constituents over the nature of the state's participation in the Civil War, and the war's intended goals. And for the entirety of the war, there remained serious opposition on the part of many Wisconsin politicians, newspaper editors, and common citizens to the wartime and domestic policies of the Lincoln Administration.

The basis for this antagonism lay in the growing comprehension of the Civil War's societal impact, exemplified by the measures taken by Lincoln and the Republicans to conduct it, and prepare for its long-term aftermath. As emancipation, conscription, and increased executive control of monetary and constitutional policy became law, a significant number of Wisconsin voters--both immigrant and native-born--came to regard these shifts as infringements upon their livelihoods, rights, and race, reversing their prior favorable views of the Republican Party's economic and racial stances. Combined with newspaper reports of corruption in the army and Washington, and of appalling losses for little gain on the battlefields, these sentiments became the anchor for domestic dissent against the Republican Party in Wisconsin, and a recurring base of electoral support for the Democratic opposition for the duration of the war. In the end, Union success on the battlefield, and the continuous use of propaganda by the Republicans labeling their Democratic and grassroots opponents as traitors, became the deciding factors in maintaining the Republican dominance of Wisconsin offices and policies.

The key primary sources for examining this area of Wisconsin history are best found in the pronouncements from the Legislature and Governor's office, official tallies of state referenda and elections, and the archives of the state's markedly pro-Democrat and -Republican papers. Respectively, these reveal the efforts of the Republican-dominated state leadership to maintain their wartime preeminence in the face of ever-present criticism, illustrate the effect of these opinions upon the democratic process, and provide an excellent gauge of public and editorial opinion of state and national policy.

Though in the end unable to remove the ruling party and agenda of its time, the collective antiwar sentiments and actions of the Badger State's citizenry proved a potent influence on state and national policy. This thesis is a narrative of one of the most contentious periods in Wisconsin history, and a telling example of the power of dissent in all its forms in Civil War America.