Skip to content

1864 January 23: Governor Lewis’ State-of-the-State Message

January 28, 2014

The following excerpts from Governor James T. Lewis’ state-of-the state message come from the January 23, 1864, issues of The Prescott Journal and The Polk County Press.  The full message is much longer; we removed the non-war material.  The Journal published the entire message, the Press ran excerpts.  The first introduction is from the Journal, and the second from the Press.

In The Military History of Wisconsin, E. B. Quiner wrote, “The messages of Governor Lewis to the Legislature have been characterized by their genuine patriotism, their zealous support of the national cause, their practical suggestions in regard to State affairs, and their clear statements of the State finances as well as resources.”¹

The Governor’s Message.

Prescott Journal:  The Governor’s Message … is brief, practical, gives a large amount of information concerning State matters, and will well repay attentive perusal.  The Governor’s remarks on National affairs are eminently sound.  No loyal man on reading them will regret that he voted for Gov. LEWIS.

Polk County Press:  The Legislature organized at 10 o’clock A. M. on the 14th inst., there being a large number of the members present.  W. H. FIELD of Grant Co. was elected Speaker of the House, JOHN S. DEAN Clerk, A. M. THOMSON Sergeant-at Arms.

Governor LEWIS appeared and delivered his Message in person at 2 o’clock P. M.  The Message is a lengthy document, occupying four columns of the “Milwaukee Wisconsin.”  As we are unable to put it in type we can but give our readers the following synopsis ;  Governor LEWIS opens as follows :

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and Assembly :

The welfare of our State being the object of our meeting here to-day, it is fitting that our thanks should first go out to Him whose care is over all His creatures, who supplies our wants, presides over our councils, and gives us wisdom to guide them, for the many blessings we are now permitted to enjoy, and that we should with devout hearts ask the continuance of them.

Seldom has any people had greater reasons to be thankful.  While passions wild and terrible have seemed to guide the councils of some of our sister States, bringing upon them the devastations of war and its concomitant evils ;  while disease and famine are staring them in the face, Wisconsin is quietly and calmly pursuing the even tenor of her ways ;  her people are enjoying the blessings of health ;  her granaries are filled to overflowing, and peace and plenty reign within her borders.

By the Constitution it is made the duty of the Governor “to communicate to the Legislature at every session the condition of the State, and recommend such matters to them for their consideration as he may deem expedient.”


Questions affecting our State finances are among the most important that will engage your attention.  Only by giving them careful consideration, and providing means for the prompt payment of all just demands against the State, can Wisconsin maintain her good name and the good credit she now exhibits by the market value of her bonds.

The following statements exhibit in a condensed form, the transactions in the different funds of the State during the last fiscal year:


All the ordinary expenses of the State Government are paid from the general fund.  The sources from which this fund is derived are State taxes, tax on suits, banks, insurance companies, railroad companies, hawkers and peddlers, telegraph companies, United States for keeping prisoners, sale of State bonds and transfers from other funds.  The whole amount received into this fund during the last fiscal year was $850,376.12.  This amount includes the receipt of $50,000 for sale of bonds for building State Capitol, and $272,156.16 received into this fund and transferred by act of the Legislature to the war fund for support of families of volunteers.  The balance remaining in the fund at the close of the fiscal year, after paying all demands against it and making transfer as above stated, was $205,958.81.  The amount levied upon the State during the last year to replenish this fund was $75,000.

[We skipped transcribing the School Fund, University Fund, Swamp Land Fund, Drainage Fund, Deposit Account, and Normal School Fund sections as they do not pertain to the Civil War.]


The amount received into the War Fund
during the last fiscal year, Including
the balance to the fund at the com-
mencement of the year, was . . . . . . . . . . $818,032.44
Amount disbursed by this fund
during same period was . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $786,892.85
Balance in fund Sept. 30th, 1863 . . . . . . .    $31,139.58


The whole amount of State indebtedness on the first day of the present month, was $1,175,000.  This debt was created, pursuant to the provisions of law, by the issue of State bonds and certificates of indebtedness, the bonds bearing interest at the rate of 6 percent. per annum, and the certificates at the rate of seven percent. per annum.

The money arising from the sale of these bonds and certificates has been expanded, pursuant to law, for building the State Capital ;  payment of tax levied by the General Government upon the property of the State, for war purposes ;  payment of bounty of $5.00 per month to the families of volunteers ;  boarding soldiers, and other war purposes.  The greater proportion of this debt having been created for war purposes, is a legitimate charge against the General Government.  The General Government has already repaid a part of the money advanced by the State for carrying on the war, and I doubt not will eventually repay the balance.  This money, if refunded, will be sufficient to liquidate all State indebtedness, and should be applied to that purpose.

The amount paid to families of volunteers from the commencement of the war up to January 1st, 1864, $1,197,044.70.  Amount paid on United States tax, $441,735.37.  Amount paid for building State Capital, from avails of bonds sold, $100,000.—Amount advanced by the State for boarding and equipping soldiers, caring for sick, and other war expenses not enumerated above, and still a charge against the General Government, about $200,000.  Amount still due the State from banks on sale of war bonds during the year 1861, $173,950.

[More on state bonds and certificates, and a section on State Institutions were skipped.]


Relying as we do on the militia for defense in great and sudden emergencies, good policy would seem to require its thorough and efficient organization.  With this end in view, the militia law of last winter was doubtless enacted, but being passed hurriedly, near the close of the session, is necessarily imperfect and needs much amendment.  Under its provisions, however, a partial organization had been effected.  By this act the militia of the State is divided into two classes.  The first class denominated the organized militia, intended for immediate service, should occasion require, consists of four regiments and one battallion [sic] of infantry, and numbers four thousand and thirty-two men.   The second class consisting of all persons subject to military duty not included in the first class, is denominated the enrolled militia.  The number of persons in the State belonging to this class is ninety-five thousand eight hundred and twelve.

Of her volunteers in the field, Wisconsin has reason to be proud.  She sent forth noble men and nobly have they done their duty.  By deeds of valor they have won the high position they now occupy.  Troops from other Northern States are entitled to great credit.  We yet must claim for Wisconsin soldiers the highest meed of praise.

In response to the calls of the General Government, Wisconsin has sent to the field on the first day of November last, exclusive of three months’ men, thirty-four regiments of infantry, three regiments and one company of cavalry, twelve batteries of light artillery, three batteries of heavy artillery, and one company of sharpshooters.  Making an aggregate of forty-one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five men.  Of this number sixteen thousand nine hundred and sixty three have been lost to the service by death, discharge and desertions, leaving in the service on the first day of November last, twenty-four thousand eight hundred and twelve men.  The State can never fully repay our soldiers for the sacrifice they have made and are now making.  It can, and should, do much to aid them, however, by adding to their comforts in the field and in hospitals, caring for their families, and assisting them in procuring their pay for services rendered the Government.

Much trouble, delay and inconvenience has been experienced by those entitled to bounties, back pay and pensions, in obtaining their just dues.  Whether the State cannot further aid this class of persons in establishing and procuring payment of these claims, is a subject well worthy your attention.

Many of our volunteers have been transferred to the Invalid Corps.  The families of these soldiers are equally entitled to the aid furnished by the State, with those who remain in their regiments.  Provision should be made for their payment, upon proper reports being furnished from officers in command of this corps.

Provision was made at the last session of the Legislature for the

[Also skipped are the sections on Agricultural Interests, Mineral Resources, Manufacturing Interests, Commercial, and Fraudulent Voting.]


In commenting, as we have thus far, upon subjects more immediately connected with our State affairs, we are not unmindful that we owe allegiance to the General Government, and have duties to perform in connection therewith.

Not withstanding peace and plenty reign within the borders of our State we cannot lose sight of the fact that the nation is engaged in war—a war of great magnitude and importance ;  of immense importance to us as a state ;  of immense importance to the world.

The interests, the hopes and fears of millions now hang trembling in the balance, and the position of our State may turn the scale.  How important that we examine carefully the ground upon which we stand, and that we are found arrayed upon the side of justice and humanity.

Wisconsin is now standing by side with all the free States in the support of the General Government ;  in the support of law and order ;  in the support of freedom.  The important question which presents itself to our mind is, are we right in our position ?  If we are, it is our duty to go forward, press on the war with renewed energy until victory and peace shall crown our efforts.  If wrong, our first duty should be to place ourselves in a true and correct position.  In judging in this matter, we may very properly ask ourselves the question, are our minds free from prejudiced and passion ?  It is natural that the monarchs of the old world, as well as the aristocrats upon our own soil, impressed with the angers that threaten their tenure of place and power from the spread of free principles, should desire the downfall of this Government, and to accomplish this end should counsel the withdrawal of our armies, and final separation of these States.

There may be those also in our midst whose narrow prejudices, whose love of gain or fear of personal harm, will induce them to withhold support from the Administration, favor the withdrawal of our troops and the consequent destruction of the government.  Our faith, however, in  the integrity and loyalty of our people is too strong to permit us to believe there are many of this class of persons in our State.  It is true some within our borders may have arrayed themselves against the government, but we have the charity to believe that most of them were but temporarily misled, and that they will, when their eyes are opened to their true position, place themselves upon the side of law and order.  The large numbers who have gone forth to battle, the voice of the people of this State heard in the late election, afford incontestable proof that with the great majority of our people, patriotism rises above prejudice and passion ;  that the hearts of the people are rightly attuned to the music of the Union.

Our people in taking their position calmly reviewed the ground and candidly asked, have the South any real grievances ?

“Eternal separation from the working classes, the mud sills of the North, destruction to the government,” was the answer they received from those in rebellion.  The only answer to their request for calmed secession ad consideration, was the booming of the rebel cannon, the fall of Sumter’s walls, and the trampling of the Stars and Stripes, in the dust.  Yet, with all this provocation, our Government has prosecuted the war with great moderation,—more in sorrow than in anger.

At this late day we would again calmly ask, what are the grievances of the South, or upon what do those now in rebellion base their action ?  Can they find an excuse for their course in the claim they first set up, the right of secession?  This poisonous doctrine needs no retaliation at this day.  It is working its own cure.  Even in the South, in the boasted Confederacy, among those who first started and urged this doctrine, is is repudiated.  States that pretended to unite their fortunes with the so-called Confederacy, have already denied its authority over them, and claimed this same right of secession, which is denied and coercion threatened by the rebel Congress.  Do they base their cause upon the righteousness of slavery ?  It has long since written its own shame and disgrace.  The world has written infamous over against it and thus pronounced its doom.

Did they complain of a high tariff ?  The tariff was reduced to a revenue basis.

Did they ask representation for their slaves in Congress ?  It was conceded.

Did they require the Missouri compromise ?  It was granted.

Did they after enjoying its benefits, ask its repeal that they might not be bound by those provisions that mitigated against them ?  The North yielded to their request.

Did they require Southern men as diplomatic agents of the Government abroad, in order that their peculiar institution and their particular interests might be guarded ?  They had them, even at the expense of the commerce of the Union and the interests of the North.

Did they desire Southern men—men in their interests, upon the Supreme Bench ?  They had them.

Did they require that a majority of the officers of the army and navy, and a majority of all the civil officers of the Government should be Southern men and men in their interest ?  They had them.

Did they demand that their runaway slaves hold be caught and returned to them ?  United States officers were upon their track, and the poor sun dyed African too dearly paid the penalty which Southern chivalry affixes to the love of freedom.

Do they rest their cause upon the injustice or oppression of the North ?  History as well as their own best statesmen, deny the base slander.—The only fault of the North, if it be a fault, is that they have but too faithfully “Kept the bond and given the pound of flesh.”

Why then, let me again ask, do we find the South in hostility against the best government the world ever seen ?  Let their own men who are foremost in the rebellion, answer.  “We desire (say they) to found a new Government whose corner stone shall rest on slavery.  For liberty, equality, fraternity, to establish slavery and subordination.”  Here, then, we have an answer in their own words.  They are arrayed against this government because it is based upon liberty and equality, upon the freedom and intelligence instead of the slavery and ignorance of its people.  We find them undertaking to destroy a Union they had sworn to protect and preserve ;  undertaking to break up a government thy had  no legal or equitable power to dissolve ;  to roll back the tide of civilization, and establish upon the ruins this Republic, a despotism of the most despicable character, for no other reason than that this Government seeks to protect the rights of its citizens.  Are we not right, then in sustaining the government ;  in standing beside the free States of the North in support of law and order; in support of freedom ?

If our fathers were patriots in establishing this government, we certainly cannot be far wrong in maintaining it.  Believing then as we sincerely do, that it is fighting in a holy and just cause, that duty demands of us action and sacrifice in its behalf, that efforts to patch up a temporary peace or obtain it by concessions to traitors are not only dishonorable but tend to protract the war and make it more expensive and dangerous— we hope to see Wisconsin unite all her energies, without distinction of party or seat, in prosecuting the war with the utmost vigor.  Let us sustain the government and prosecute  the war with a will and determination that shall carry the conviction to the minds of traitors, that obedience to the legally constituted authorities is the only course left to them; that our Government must be restored.  The Union must stand, and we shall soon see the principles of liberty and equality re-established in every part of our National domain, firm as the rock of ages, there to stand a blessing to the world, an enduring monument of the fidelity and patriotism of those noble men of the Revolution who founded, and the noble patriots who now defend it.


In conclusion, gentlemen, I will only add that in all efforts to promote the interests of the State and Nation you shall receive my hearty co-operation.

January 14, 1864 .  .  .  .  .  .  . JAMES T. LEWIS,
. .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .Governor of Wisconsin.

1.  The Military History of Wisconsin, by E. B. Quiner (Chicago: 1866), chapter 6, page 194.  (UWRF Archives E 537 .Q56 1866; available digitally on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website).

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: