Wis. Senate Delay Maneuver Hearkens Back To 1840

For more than a week, Democrats have stayed away from Wisconsin's state Senate. Not having enough members on hand, has stopped a vote on a Republican plan to curtail the bargaining rights of unions. The delay has lasted long enough for people to look up the history of such incidents.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now to a state where a budget dispute has sent Democrats out of the state. Wisconsin's state Senate now has too few members on hand to conduct business, mainly a vote on a Republican plan to curtail the bargaining rights of its public employee's unions. That delayed vote has lasted long enough for our own Steve Inskeep to look up the history of such incidents, including an episode from the Illinois state Legislature in 1840.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

An old article from the Illinois State Register captured what it called an extraordinary spectacle. According to this article from December 11, 1840, Democrats planned to pass a banking bill. The opposition Whig Party fled to prevent a vote. They left only a few Whigs behind to monitor the proceedings, including a young lawmaker named Abraham Lincoln.

The old newspaper article says the legislature was stalled for hours. Finally, Democrats brought in some lawmakers from their sickbeds. They barely managed to pack enough people in the room to call a vote. Abraham Lincoln did make a final, failed attempt to prevent a quorum. The paper says, quote, "Mr. Lincoln came under great excitement, and having attempted and failed to get out of the door," which was locked, he "very unceremoniously raised the window and jumped out." It was a second-floor window, but the paper says this was not so bad for the famously tall Lincoln, as his legs reached nearly from the window to the ground.

There are lessons in this incident that apply through history. One is that maneuvers to tie up a legislature like this usually fail. Another is that they're often entertaining while they last. In that case in 1840, the Illinois newspaper went on to report that lawmakers considered proposing a state Capitol that was one story higher, making it harder for lawmakers to leap from the top floor.

MONTAGNE: Steve Inskeep on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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