The election of 1856 was hotly contested throughout the North, with state after state switching from Democratic control to that of the new found Republican party. The Democrat incumbent Governor of Wisconsin, William A Barstow, was initially declared the winner of the contest by a mere 157 votes. The Republicans cried fraud. Democrats and Republicans formed rival militia units and began to converge on Madison, determined to fight if the “wrong” candidate were sworn in as governor. Both Barstow and his Republican rival, Coles Bashford, were sworn in as governor in dueling inauguration ceremonies on January 7, 1857. Civil War seemed all but certain.
The Wisconsin Attorney General now filed a writ of Quo Warranto seeking the removal of Barstow from office on the grounds that he was fraudulently elected. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on the matter, and, sure enough, evidence was produced that Barstow owed his margin of victory from “returns” from non-existent precincts in the sparsely settled northern part of the young state. Barstow, who had initially said that he would not give up the governorship alive, ultimately decided that public opinion was running against him and resigned on March 21, 1857. His Lieutenant Governor now was sworn in and stated that he would be the Governor come what may. On March 25, the Supreme Court ruled that Bashford had won the election with a vote total of 1009. The Lieutenant Governor/Governor decamped from Madison with his supporters and Bashford was recognized by the Wisconsin legislature as Governor.