Paul Husting was born April 25, 1866 in Fond du Lac. His father, John P. Husting, had emigrated from Luxemburg to the United States in 1855. He was a skilled watchmaker and fluent in several languages. Paul’s mother, Mary M. Juneau, was one of sixteen children born to Solomon Juneau, co-founder and first mayor of Milwaukee. Husting moved with his parents to Mayville, Wisconsin, in 1876, where he received a public school education. From the age of 17 years, he became successively a retail clerk in a general store, a railway postal clerk, a mailing clerk in the State Prison at Waupun, and assistant bookkeeper in the office of the Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson Cunningham (a Democrat).
Cunningham served in the assembly for a while and was mayor of Chippewa Falls, but is best remembered for his involvement with map-drawing after the 1890 census.
Cunningham was part of a Democratic sweep of all the statewide elected offices in the 1890 elections, which saw Democrats gain full control of the state legislature. This was the first time the Democrats held such power in the state since before the Civil War, and it occurred in a redistricting year. What followed was one of Wisconsin’s first major redistricting controversies, to which Cunningham’s name is closely associated.
In May 1891, Governor George Wilbur Peck signed the Democratic redistricting plans. Throughout the legislative process of developing the maps, Republicans expressed outrage at what they saw as a partisan gerrymander. As Secretary of State, Cunningham was responsible for implementing the new maps, but, in February 1892, a suit was brought to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to bar Cunningham from acting on the maps and to strike down the legislation. The Court published its opinion on March 22, 1892, agreeing with the Republican position and striking down the redistricting act. Justice Harlow S. Orton wrote for the majority that: (1) the maps did not properly account for the population of non-taxed Native Americans and members of the Army and Navy who were not currently located in the state; (2) the districts did not closely adhere to county lines; and that districts were not properly (3) contiguous, (4) compact, and (5) convenient. The court also found that the districts varied too widely in population, with the most populous Senate district being nearly twice the population of the smallest.
The Legislature subsequently made another attempt at redistricting, which was also struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. A third and final version was passed only 12 days before the 1892 election.
The principles articulated by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in these cases—adherence to county lines; contiguity; compactness; convenience; striving for population uniformity—collectively became known in the state as the “Cunningham Principles” for redistricting, and were closely considered for decades of subsequent redistricting measures.
Husting entered the University of Wisconsin Law School, passed the state bar examination, and was admitted to the bar in 1895. He initially practiced law in Mayville by himself, but in 1897 associated himself with brother-in-law C. W. Lamoreux until the latter was elected judge, upon which the firm of Husting & Brother was formed. (The Lamoreux family, incidentally, was a small political dynasty – I write a bit about them in my forthcoming 2023 book.)
Husting was elected district attorney of Dodge County in 1902 and 1904. He was elected to the state senate in 1906 and 1910. In the state senate, he advocated conservation of the state’s natural resources, the income tax, the “Husting bill” establishing a maximum passenger railroad fare of two cents per mile, initiative and referendum, and direct election of United States senators. He offered the original resolution to investigate, and assisted in the investigation of, the Wisconsin primary and election of 1908, which resulted in the enactment of the state’s Corrupt Practices Act.
On September 24, 1911, without trespassing upon the lands of the shooting club, Husting entered his hunting boat floating upon the waters of Rock river and with the aid of pole and paddle propelled it down the river to the place of the alleged trespass, and there, for the purpose of shooting wild ducks flying over the place, he pushed it into a growth of vegetation known as “flag” which grew from the bottom of the water to a height of from four to five feet above the surface. The place of the alleged trespass was within the area of what is known as Malzahn’s Bay, which is a widening of the river and is about one-half mile wide and about five eighths of a mile long. The bay has well defined shores or banks and is surrounded on all sides, with the exception of the channels through which the water passes, with what are called hard bog, which may be traveled afoot without a person walking thereon sinking in. During the months of March to June, inclusive, in each year, at time of ordinary high water, the water over this entire area, from hard bog or shore, is from one to two feet in depth. During the summer months and fall this depth gradually decreases to from eight to twelve inches. In times of low water, for a distance of several rods out from the hard bog or shore, the water recedes from the surface altogether, leaving a rim of mud exposed. Such exposed rim, called soft or mud bog, at’ such times is unnavigable by boat and cannot be traveled upon by foot without a person so attempting to walk thereon sinking to his knees or hips. During the spring and summer months, up to and including the month of June, each year, the waters of Malzahn’s Bay are, and have for thirty-five years at least been, navigable in fact from hard bog to hard bog over its entire area, and have during all such time in each year been navigated generally by the public with rowboats. During the period ending in June of each year the place of the alleged trespass is covered with water in common with the remaining area of Malzahn’s Bay, and during all of the time within the last thirty-five years has been navigable and navigated the same as, and as a part of, said Malzahn’s Bay, and during such period said place has not been distinguishable in appearance from any other part of the bay. After the month of June in each year, vegetation, consisting of wild rice, bulrushes, water lilies, and flag, take root below the surface of the water in the soft muck of the bottom and grow above the surface to a height of from four to five feet, forming blinds or cover in which hunters conceal themselves from view of the ducks flying over. The flag extended west and north from where the trespass is alleged to have occurred for a distance of about ten to twelve rods to what is known as the old river bed, which is between two to three rods in width, and during the periods of each year ending in June is navigable in fact and has always been in fact navigated with the remaining area of Malzahn’s Bay. Later in the year, in times of low water, the water recedes, sometimes leaving the bottom of the old river bed exposed and sometimes leaving it with a shallow covering of water. At such times the river bed is dotted with sparsely growing aquatic vegetation, such as rushes, rice, and flag. Up to and including the month of June each year the place of the alleged trespass is separated from the hard bog or shore by such (strip of water. To the west and north of said old river bed again occurs a growth of flag and rushes which continues to the west and north of the hard bog or shore of the bay. At the time and place in question the water below the boat of Husting was about twelve inches deep, and his boat was floating upon the water. The water to the west and north of his boat gradually decreased in depth as it neared the hard bog or shore, finally ending a number of rods from the hard bog or shore, leaving the bottom of the bay exposed. In all other directions the place of the alleged trespass was surrounded by open water free from vegetation to the line of vegetation upon the opposite shore of the bay, and all of said open water, including that part of the bay covered by aquatic vegetation until the so-called mud or soft bog was reached, was navigable in fact at all periods of the year, except when frozen over. At about the place in question the waters of the bay began to narrow down to what is known as Skirmish Line, which lies upon the usual route of travel from points north and east to points west and south, and the place of the alleged trespass was during the period ending in June of each year within the route of such travel. Rock river, including Malzahn’s Bay, has been in fact, for more than thirty-five years prior to 1911, a natural, navigable river and body of water and was in fact navigated by the public generally by skiffs and rowboats during all of said time.
As conclusions of law the court found (1) that plaintiff at the time in question had no vested right’ to use the place of the alleged trespass to the exclusion of the public; (2) that the defendant was lawfully exercising the right to hunt at said place and did not trespass upon the lands of the plaintiff and did not in any manner interfere with plaintiff’s rights; and (3) that’ judgment should be entered dismissing the complaint upon the merits.
“The wisdom of the policy which…steadfastly and carefully preserved to the people the full and free use of public waters, cannot be questioned. Nor should it be limited or curtailed by narrow constructions. It should be interpreted in the broad and beneficent spirit that gave rise to it in order that the people may fully enjoy the intended benefits. Navigable waters are public waters … They should be free to all for commerce, for travel, for recreation, and also for hunting, and fishing.” When Wisconsin was purchased as part of the Northwest Territory in 1787, the laws stated the waters were for public rather than private use, and no laws since that time had altered this view.
Husting was the first United States senator from Wisconsin to be elected by a direct vote of the people, defeating ex-Governor Francis E. McGovern at the November 1914, election by 967 votes. He succeeded Isaac Stephenson as United States senator on March 4, 1915. At this point in time, Wisconsin was heavily Republican, so his win showed a widespread popularity. In fact, Wisconsin had been heavily Republican since the Civil War and was the birthplace of the Republican Party. Between 1856 and 1928, Wisconsin voted for the Republican presidential candidate every time except two. (From 1932-1972, it was mixed, and since that time has been primarily Democratic aside from Reagan and Trump. No love for either of the Bushes?)
He was chairman of the Committee on Fisheries during 1917 and chairman of a special committee investigating trespasses on Indian lands during his entire time in the Senate. Husting pushed for more taxes on the wealthy, which was not popular and he did not succeed.
Husting was also in favor of entering World War I, in contrast to Wisconsin’s other senator Robert LaFollette and a sizable majority of Wisconsin citizens (partially anti-war sentiment but also because Wisconsin was so heavily German at this point). He argued that the war was not one against Germany, but in favor of democracy and freedom. In May 1917 socialist politicians Winfield Gaylord and A.M. Simons wrote a letter to Husting denouncing him as a traitor to the anti-World War I majority of the Socialist convention in April 1917 and recommending his suppression from the government, claimed a communication published in the Congressional Record. Husting used this letter and additional communications from Gaylord to the Milwaukee Journal in support of the Espionage Act of 1917. As a result, the Milwaukee Central Committee of the Socialist Party took action against both Gaylord and Simons, expelling them for “Party Treason” by a vote of 63 to 2. (The Espionage Act has been controversial ever since – it blurs the line between „free speech“ and „supporting the enemy“ and many people were jailed for anti-war sentiments. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been hit very hard, for example.)
Husting was killed in a duck hunting accident on Rush Lake near Pickett, Wisconsin. While rising in a row boat after telling his brother Gustav to fire, Gustav accidentally shot his brother in the back. Gustav Husting was also an attorney – in fact, he was the attorney who represented Alex Grignon after Grignon stabbed and nearly killed his son.
Husting fell into a coma, and died later that same day. The New York Times described him as “the most aggressive leader” of the “loyalist” (i.e., supportive of Woodrow Wilson’s pro-Allied policies) forces in Wisconsin, and contrasted him with “Senator La Follette and the pro-German constituency behind him”. The eulogy was delivered by Judge Martin Lueck, and Husting was interred at the Graceland Cemetery in Mayville.
Husting’s death was of political importance. In 1919 the Senate would have been under Democratic control had he not been succeeded by Republican Irvine Lenroot, as a consequence of which in 1919 the Senate had 49 Republicans and 47 Democrats (Vice-President Thomas R. Marshall was a Democrat, and would have had the power to break all ties).
In February and March 1919, the House and Senate held a number of memorial speeches for Husting, lead by LaFollette – the other Wisconsin senator, despite being a political opponent. LaFollette spoke of Husting in glowing terms, and highly of his convictions despite them being the opposite of his own. His successor, Lenroot, also spoke highly of him.