The Wisconsin Cartters - Chapter Ten
From the time of his arrival in Racine County James had evidently been active in community and agricultural circles. He had made clear his political stand on public issues and his concern for the public good. He had long before this become a staunch Democrat, a party he never forsook.
Just three years after his arrival in the Wisconsin Territory he was elected a member of Racine County’s fourteen-member delegation to the first Constitutional Convention held in the Wisconsin Territory. He was at this time 31 years of age. All members of this Racine County delegation were Democrats.
Unfortunately he was sick when the Convention was convened in Madison on October 5, 1846. As a consequence he was two weeks late in arriving. All major committee assignments had been made so his chief contributions were made in open discussion preceding the final approval of each of the 19 articles which made up that first document. He was, however, appointed Nov. 18, 1846 on a committee of 12 to work on article 10 relative to distribution of representation in the legislature. The entire document may be found, by those desiring to read it, in H. A. Tenney and David Atwood’s book Fathers of Wisconsin. In this book, which is a memorial record, we find the following assessment of the work of this 1st Convention.
“This convention was at the time, and has ever since been regarded as one of great, if not extraordinary, intellectual ability. Its members were all in the prime of life, the representatives of the systems of many states, generally highly educated and possessed of mental culture far above the average of men. In both their agreement and disagreement they exhibited an acuteness of logic and learning and a comprehension of fundamental principles of government rarely if ever witnessed in a deliberate assembly.”
Statistics taken from this same book give the following information concerning the nativity and occupation of the 124 members who represented the twenty six counties which, at that point in history, had formed in the Territory of Wisconsin. There were delegates present who had been born in 11 different states. New York with 42 and Vermont with 18 numbered the most. Twelve delegates had been born in 4 other countries and had come to the U. S. as immigrants. Ireland was represented by seven sons and Germany by three. By occupation there were 69 farmers, 26 lawyers, 7 mechanics, 6 merchants, 5 miners, 3 physicians, 2 lumbermen, 1 miller with 5 not indicating. The oldest member was 65 yrs., the youngest 23.
The constitution, as framed, was submitted to popular vote April 5, 1847. It was defeated by a vote of 20,233 to 14,119.
Wm. Raney in his book Wisconsin Story of Progress published in 1940 sums up the points at issue and how they were resolved in the second Constitutional Convention which was approved by vote of the people in March of 1848 as follows:
“Though the two constitutions differed in their wording, they were in substantial agreement in describing the framework of government. The majority in the first convention belonged to the Democratic party, and had the Democrats been united in favor of the constitution of 1846, it would have been accepted, but the Democrats were divided into a radical group and a more conservative one. There were some points in the first constitution that were too radical for the conservative Democrats, and they joined with the Whigs in opposition and brought about the rejection of the document on four items.
(1) By 1846 the appointment of judges was gradually but widely giving way to popular election. The constitution of 1846 provided for election, and this provision was repeated in the accepted constitution.
(2) Another advance that the conservative mind of that day could not approve was that a married woman might have property, either real or personal, separate from her husband. This was provided in 1846, omitted in the second constitution and then accomplished by the legislature soon after admission to statehood.
(3) The frontier was always peculiarly sensitive to the afflictions of the debtor. Wisconsin Territory borrowed the Michigan Code of laws almost entire, but in 1837 was careful to abolish imprisonment for debt, which that code authorized. When making a constitution in 1846 the “fathers” went a step further. A homestead, not to exceed forty acres in the country, or property worth $1,000 in a town, was exempt from seizure and forced sale to satisfy a debt. This too was omitted from the constitution that was adopted, but was enacted by the legislature soon after.
(4) The Jacksonian distrust of banks and the experience of the people of Wisconsin in the territorial period accounted of the provision of 1846: ‘There shall be no banks of issue in this state.’ The second constitution provided that if a general law permitting banks were desired at any time the legislature should submit to the people the question of ‘banks’ or no banks.’ If a banking law were thus demanded, the legislature might then pass a general banking law and submit it to the people for approval. This procedure was followed in 1851 and 1852, and both votes were overwhelmingly in favor of banks.”
Of interest to present day readers mat be the results of an advisory ballot voted on along with the ballot seeking popular acceptance of the first draft of the constitution. This ballot sought public response to the question “Should equal sufferage be granted to colored persons?” State-wide the result was, Yes – 7,664; No – 15, 415. Wide differences between counties were shown reflecting most likely the residential origin of the early settlers. Racine County approved 1206 to 763; as did Walworth, 1094 to 714 and Waukesha 1107 to 617. On the other side – Grant Co. voted No – 2215 to 93, Iowa, LaFayette and Richmond voted likewise 2504 to 69 while Milwaukee voted No – 1832 to 616.
James Bruce returned from his participation at the first convention unchanged in his desire to avoid public attention to himself, and though he thought deeply and and expressed himself freely, he avoided running for any public office. He chose rather to serve the people in his home community and county as they sought to bring about change. He had been a strong advocate of the two articles on “Women’s Rights” and “Liberal Exemption Policy From Debt Seizure” and rejoiced t see his viewpoints justified by later legislative action.
When the call for the second Constitutional Convention went out James Bruce was asked to serve as a member, but he declined the invitation as did all but six of the members active at the first convention. One member from the 1st Racine County delegation, Fred S. Lovel, was among the six. The number of delegates to the second convention was reduced to 69 and as history relates, the second constitution was approved by popular vote and Wisconsin became the 30th state of the Union by Act of Congress approved May 29, 1848.
Though James Bruce was not a member of the convention the Carter name was represented by another early arrival in the state with that name, Almerin Marshall Carter of Rock County (no close relationship has been established) From an article entitled “The attainment of Statehood” written by _______ Quaife and appearing in Vol. 29 of Wisconsin Historical Publications, p. 919 we become acquainted with this gentleman who was the same age as James Bruce.
“ALMERIN MARSHALL CARTER a native of Litchfield County, Conn., where he was born Oct. 4, 1814, the son of Guy and Sarepta Marshall Carter. About a year later the family removed to Paris, Oneida County, N. Y. where his father became a trustee of Madison University at Hamilton. There Almerin graduated in 1832. The life of a farmer attracted the young man, and for ten years he remained near his family home. In 1843 he removed to Wisconsin to take up government land in Johnstown Township in Rock County, whence he was elected on the Whig ticket to the 2nd Constitutional Convention. He died June 7, 1898.” Mr. Carter prepared in 1896 an interesting paper relating to his memories of that second convention which is on file with the Historical Society of Wisconsin.
There is little record of James Bruce’s activities between 1848 and 1850 other than for a sale of additional land to Abijah Pearce, which adjoined property purchased earlier. This was the last transaction found in the Racine County Transcript Vol. 5. The census of 1850 lists him as a resident of Kenosha County – Age 35 – male – single – farmer – value of real estate $6,000 – place of birth, N. Y. His place of residence was a boarding house operated by Lewis Robertson.
The same census recognizes the presence of John Swift as head of a family. This family was listed as “John F. Swift, 47; Chloe P. (his wife) 47; Charles W. 22; Oliver C. 19; Isadore F., 15; Maria J., 13; and William Well, 22, a cooper living with them.
The first evidence we have of James Bruce meeting John F. Swift and his family is when we see his signature as witness to a purchase made by Mr. Swift from George Parkhurst and wife of the Town of Wheatland. This purchase described as SE ¼ - NW ¼ - S 21 T 1 N, R 19 E contained forty acres. A second purchase was made by Mr. Swift from Josiah Hyde and wife on the same day. This was for an irregular piece of property in Section 21 comprising 5 acres to be used as a residence site near Lake Marie.
James Bruce’s future was to be closely tied with this family, for in 1855 he married the older of Mr. Swift’s daughters. But more of this later.
Farming operations were no doubt keeping James busy in addition to the blacksmithing he was called on to do for his neighbors. He kept all of his land save the 77-66/100 acres which he sold back to James Covel Jr., his former partner in Utica. Wheat was becoming an increasingly important crop. In addition the pressure of new settlers was building up. Starting this influx were the Germans who in 1850 numbered 38,000 in Wisconsin settling most heavily in the southeastern counties including Kenosha. The German farmers were quickly followed by numbers of immigrants from other central European countries.
This group of people regarded the farm as a permanent family possession, not as a short time investment to be expoited and left behind. Consequently to the westward-migrating Americans the represented both competitors as farmers and prospective purchasers for land to be left behind in the ever westward movement.
We may well wonder if James Bruce (between 1848 and ’54) was becoming dissatisfied with his Wheatland location? Was he beginning to feel the urge to move on to new surroundings where settlement was not so crowded; where the industrial centers did not seem to threaten the peace and quiet of family life, where he might, with a young bride, build a home life which he had undoubtedly longed for and unfortunately had been deprived of throughout all his growing years? Was he becoming encouraged by his younger brother George to come west to California, and was he questioning whether his failing health would permit such a move?
He was becoming closely associated with the John Swift family finding there a touch of family life he hadn’t experienced as a young man. Charles was only 13 years younger with pioneering instincts, Oliver was three years younger than Charles but adventuresome. However, it was Isadora, 20 years his junior, who became the center of his attention.
As further evidence of the unrest that had settled over James we note his disposal of accumulated properties which he had been earlier intent on accumulating. All of his final properties in the Wheatland area were sold before 1854 as follows:
Dec. 31 – 1845 – 45 acres to Abijah Pearce.
Oct. 13 – 1849 – 40 acres to Abijah Pearce.
Dec. 2 – 1850 – 77-66/100 acres to James Covel.
Sept. 13 – 1853 – 160 acres to Josiah Bond.
Was James Bruce getting ready for another and final move?
A letter written by Harleigh, his brother, from Mt. Clement, Michigan on July 12, 1852 and addressed to James Bruce at Black River Falls indicates that he must have been in northwestern Wisconsin at Black River Falls during the fall of 1851 with James.
“Dear Brother: Since I was at your place last fall I have made up my mind to leave here next fall, winter, or early spring, and go west. I want you to advise me where to go --- When I was at your place I though that the Falls was likely to make a good place and that soon there would be a good business there. I want to work at my profession (Law) starting anew. --- Let me know what your opinion of your village is and what the prospects might be there for me.”
Evidently Harleigh decided to stay at Mt. Clement – face squarely his problems there and make his new start among people he knew. We have no knowledge of how James responded to his letter. This letter is the only evidence which the author has indicating that James Bruce had been at Black River Falls as early as 1851. If he was there it might have been in company with Charles and Oliver Swift, for we know they had a common desire to move away from what seemed for them to be a condition of over-crowding in Kenosha County.