Right to free passage on state waterways rooted in Constitution

Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

Wisconsin’s Constitution is the key document that guides and directs our state. All of the laws passed by the state and local governments must fall within the guidelines prescribed within the Constitution as interpreted by the state’s court system (Wisconsin Supreme Court would have the final say). Although the state can hold a Constitutional Convention, other than our first Constitution, changes of the Wisconsin Constitution takes place through the legislative process (proposal passed exactly the same in two consecutive legislative sessions) and voted on by the people of the state.

While there are a number of sources in which one can read and review Wisconsin’s Constitution, the Wisconsin Blue Book, published every two years includes the Constitution and lists the changes which have taken place. All libraries in Wisconsin receives a free copy and its easily accessible to everyone.

You can also go on line to review the 2013-2014 Blue Book; it includes nearly 1,000 pages and, besides the Wisconsin Constitution, it covers nearly every aspect of state government; its legislative, judicial and executive branches, agencies, and much more. You may purchase your own hard copy for less than $11.00 including shipping.

I have been asked by a number of people recently, as well as over the years, about the free access for all people to the state’s waters. That right of passage is clearly listed in our Wisconsin Constitution. But before discussing that issue in my next column, it would be helpful to take a moment to understand our roots; the process on how we gained a Constitution and became a state.

First, we should remember that these lands we call Wisconsin were claimed and used by native Indians long before immigrants even thought to come to North American and Wisconsin to explore, settle and develop these lands. The early native people include the Chippewa, Dakota, Fox, Iowa, Kickapoo, Mohican, Miani, Munsee, Iroquois, Oto, Ottawa, Potawtomi, Tionontati, Winnebago and Wyandot tribes. Their pottery, spear and arrowheads can be found throughout Sheboygan and the other 72 counties of the state; as can their settlements and many burial grounds.

Here is a partial historical time-line on how we eventually became to be known as Wisconsin: >Jean Nicolet (1634) was the first known European to reach Wisconsin as he searched for a Northwest Passage. > French fir traders (1659) and others begin to explore the region. > A Jesuit priest named Jacques Marquette (1637-1673), along with fur trader Louis Jolliet (1645-1700), explored the region. > Frenchman Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Luth (1636-1710) claims the region for France. > The Seven Year War (French and Indian War - 1756- 1763). > Indian War (1764), a rebellion of a number of tribes against British rule > Quebec Act (1774) makes Wisconsin a part of the Province of Quebec. United States Declaration of Independence (1775). > Date of the settlement of Prairie du Chien (1781). > Treaty of Paris (1783), United States takes ownership from the defeated British of Wisconsin. > Black Hawk War (1832) was the last native conflict in the area by the Sauk and Fox tribes to move back to their former homeland. > Wisconsin becomes a state; (May 29, 1848) with their new Constitution - is the 30th state to join Union.

It should be noted that in 1846 a constitutional convention produced a document. It was controversial including that it gave the right of women to own property, African-Americans and immigrants the right to vote, and it would have prohibited privately owned banks (there was fear and mistrust of the power of banks over the average person and his property). That statewide vote lost. Another constitutional convention took place in 1847, it passed and Wisconsin was admitted as a state in 1848.

Information obtained from: Wisconsin Historical Society, State of Wisconsin Blue Book (2013- 2014), and American-Timelines. Next week: Why Wisconsin’s waters are free to travel forever.

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