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Nelson Dewey

Gov. Nelson Dewey

  • January 7, 1848 - January 5, 1852
  • Democratic
  • December 19, 1813
  • July 21, 1889
  • Connecticut
  • Married Catherine Dunn; three children (one of whom died in childhood)


Born in Lebanon, Connecticut, NELSON DEWEY attended the common schools in Louisville, New York and the Hamilton Academy in Hamilton, New York. After studying law, he moved to what is now Cassville, Wisconsin as an agent for a firm of New York land speculators. In 1837, he was elected Register of Deeds for newly-formed Grant County and was appointed the county’s Justice of the Peace. Admitted to the bar in 1838, he was appointed Grant County District Attorney. Elected to the Territorial Assembly in 1838, he became speaker in 1840. He was promoted to the Territorial Council in 1842, serving as president for the 1846 session. That same year, he was forced out of office when the Whigs gained control of Grant County. However, he returned to politics as a compromise choice between warring factions of the Democratic party in the 1848 race to choose Wisconsin’s first governor, and he went on to defeat the Whig candidate. The newly-organized state legislature passed an act authorizing biennial general elections beginning in 1849, when Dewey again defeated the Whig candidate. He served until 1852 but did not run for a third term. As the state’s first governor, he presided over the transition from territory to state and the implementation of the state’s new constitution. He opposed the extension of slavery to new states and territories, and advocated popular election of U.S. Senators. After leaving the governor’s office, he was elected to the State Senate, serving one four-year term starting in 1853. He ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor in 1863 and for the State Senate again in 1869 and 1871. He was regent of the University of Wisconsin from 1854 to 1865 and director of the State Prison at Waupun from 1874 to 1881. Dewey died in Cassville and was buried in Lancaster, Wisconsin.


Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 12. New York: James T. White & Company.

Wisconsin Historical Society

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