In 1839, a young Abraham Lincoln, serving as a Whig in the Illinois House, jumped out of the building in a futile bid to prevent Democrats from getting a quorum to vote on a banks bill.
but the hiding part has me thinking about an infamous episode in Minnesota history. The New Ulm Journal editorial board got there first in posting about a memorable territorial legislator.
The spirit of Joe Rolette must have inspired the Wisconsin Senate Democrats this week. Like the pioneering Minnesota legislator who stole the bill that would have made St. Peter the state capital and hid out until the end of the session, the Wisconsin Democrats disappeared this week, leaving only the 19 Republicans on the Senate floor. Since 20 senators have to be present before a budget vote can be taken, the Dems have blocked passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to reduce public employee collective bargaining rights. . . .
In March 1857 a short, merry, prank-loving member of the Minnesota territorial legislature made away with a recently passed bill in order to prevent it from going into law. For several days he stayed holed up in a local hotel where he ate sumptuous meals, drank fine wines and whiskies, played poker, and partied with his male and female friends. On the last day of the legislative session, just as the final gavel fell, he appeared, ready to report the bill, to the laughter of supporters and opponents alike. The following day he was paraded by torchlight through the streets of St. Paul. . . .
The author speculates on the enduring fascination with Rolette:
The tale of Joseph Rolette Jr. is one of the key stories that Minnesotans of generations past have remembered about the territorial years. It was Rolette, also known as Jolly Joe, who “stole” the bill that would have moved the capital of Minnesota from St. Paul to St. Peter. . . .What explains the popularity of Rolette—the character—and the endurance of the legend about the capital bill, an unusual one for a state that prides itself on clean politics? Perhaps it is simply a colorful, romantic legend, helpful in enlivening otherwise dry accounts of bills written, debated, and passed. Or perhaps the story provides a much-needed example of an individual making a difference in a world where committees and quorums govern. It could be that the legend of Joe Rolette is like the trickster stories found in the literature of many cultures, designed to amuse and to provide children with examples of otherwise unacceptable behavior.
Are the Wisconsin 14 the new tricksters, culture heroes working in the spirit of Joe Rolette? Whatever the case, those who approve of their action can contribute $14 (or more) to the Wisconsin state senate committee.