Here is another United States “civil war” or boundary dispute that portended a fierce and future college football rivalry. This one was between Ohio and Michigan.
Ohio became a sovereign state of the United States in 1803. Michigan, still a territory in 1835, would soon petition for statehood. As with last week’s “Honey War” between Iowa and Missouri, this conflict had its basis in another misunderstanding of geographic features – this time the Great Lakes.
In 1787 the Northwest Ordinance had been enacted which established the Northwest Territory. The Ordinance specified that at least three and no more than five states were to eventually be carved out of that territory. This part of the Ordinance was apparently misunderstood:
…if Congress shall hereafter find it expedient, they shall have authority to form one or two States in that part of the said territory which lies north of an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan.
Without going into a lot of detail, it appears that the basis of the two states’ conflict over the border stemmed from either unreliable or outdated maps. The U.S. Congress had relied on the so-called “Mitchell Map” to map out the boundaries of Ohio. In 1802 at the Ohio Constitutional Convention, the delegates may have received reports from trappers that claimed that Lake Michigan extended further south than first thought. Thus, this would be significant to know precisely as the Northwest Ordinance had specifically mentioned the southernmost end of Lake Michigan.
In the minds of the Ohio delegates, that meant that Ohio would have more land accorded it. When Congress created Michigan Territory in 1805, they were using the Northwest Ordinance as a guideline and had actually already advised Ohio before its admission that the correct boundary was yet to be determined.
The contested border ran along an area that would eventually become the city of Toledo. Residents of that area wanted the dispute resolved so they petitioned Congress in 1812. Congress approved but the actual survey wasn’t done until 1816 (War of 1812 caused the delay) after Indiana joined the Union. As it happened, the U.S. Survey General, Edward Tiffin, was a former Ohio governor. Tiffin’s surveyor, William Harris, determined that the disputed territory was in Ohio.
When the results were made public the governor of Michigan Territory, Lewis Cass, was none too pleased. Cass commissioned his own survey, which was done by John A. Fulton. Fulton’s survey was based on the 1787 Ordinance and he found the Ohio boundaries to be south of the disputed area (mouth of the Maumee River). This disputed region then became known as the “Toledo Strip”.
Ohio refused to cede the land, but that didn’t stop Michigan from quietly occupying that territory, even collecting taxes. The area was, and still is, significant. At that point in history, the railroads weren’t in wide use yet so most of the transport of goods was done via rivers and canals. During the conflict over the Toledo Strip, the Erie Canal was built, completed in 1825. This event opened up all kinds of possibilities for transportation, trade and agriculture, so it’s easy to see why the conflict heated up – it largely became a matter of economics and which state or territory would benefit the most.
By the early 1820s, Michigan had reached the minimum population to begin the process of applying for statehood. In 1833, Michigan wanted to hold a state constitutional convention but their request was rebuffed by the U.S. Congress because the issue of the still-disputed Toledo Strip had not been resolved. Of course, Ohio still claimed that the disputed area was within their legal boundaries.
Acting Michigan Territory Governor, Stevens T. Mason, decided to move forward with the Michigan constitutional convention to be held in May of 1835 – despite the ongoing stalemate (Congress was still opposed). Meanwhile in February of 1835, Ohio passed legislation to set up county governments in the Toledo Strip. To add insult to injury, the county where Toledo was situated was named “Lucas” after the sitting Ohio governor, Robert Lucas.
Michigan’s governor was young (24) and said to be “hot-headed”. Six days after Lucas County, Ohio was formed, he responded by passing a bill called the “Pains and Penalties Act”. The Act made it unlawful for Ohioans to carry out governmental activities in the Toledo Strip; the fine was up to $1,000 and/or a five-year prison sentence. Mason, acting as commander-in-chief of the territory, sent Brigadier General Joseph W. Brown of the U.S. Brigade to head the state militia, instructing him to be ready to act against any trespassers in case the need arose. Mason also received approval for a militia of his own and sent them to the Strip. The Toledo War was on.
On March 31, 1835, Governor Lucas sent his own troops (600) to the area, encamping in an area about ten miles southwest of Toledo. Not long after, Mason arrived with his troops numbering around 1000 men. Meanwhile, President Andrew Jackson was determined to avoid an armed conflict, so he asked his Attorney General, Benjamin Butler, to look into the matter and write an opinion regarding the border dispute.
Politically speaking, Ohio was a powerhouse at the time, having nineteen representatives and two senators in the U.S. Congress. Michigan, still a territory, had only one non-voting delegate. As the case is today, Ohio was considered a swing state, too crucial for the Democratic Party to lose in a presidential election. Jackson, of course a loyal Democrat, sided with Ohio in the dispute. But, his attorney general had a different opinion – in his opinion the disputed land should remain as part of Michigan Territory until Congress resolved the issue.
Jackson’s response was to send two representatives, Richard Rush of Pennsylvania and Benjamin Howard of Maryland, to arbitrate the conflict. Their recommendation was to let the residents of the Strip hold an election to decide on their own which side would govern them. Governor Lucas reluctantly agreed to the proposed compromise and ordered his militia to begin disbandment. The elections were held a few days later but Governor Mason would not back down and continued to prepare for armed conflict.
Governor Lucas sent out surveyors to again mark the original Harris line survey. However, on April 26, 1835 the surveyors were attacked by General Brown’s militia in what was called the Battle of Phillips Corners. Each side disputed whether actual shots were fired, but it did “up-the-ante” considerably. Governor Lucas responded by officially establishing Toledo as the county seat of Lucas County. In the meantime, Michigan’s legislature funded a budget of $315,000 for its militia (after Ohio had approved its own militia funding of $300,000). The legislature also drafted its constitution, even though Congress was still not willing to allow entrance to the Union because of the dispute.
In the month of June and into July minor skirmishes occurred, each side trying to “one-up” the other. On July 15, the one and only wound and bloodshed was incurred in the conflict, the result of a Michigan Sheriff being stabbed with a pen knife. By August, President Jackson intervened and removed Mason from his office as Governor of Michigan Territory, replacing him with John S. Horner. Up until the end of his time in office, Mason still tried unsuccessfully to prevent the county government of Lucas County, Ohio from proceeding.
Horner’s tenure was unpopular and short – he was burned in effigy! During the 1835 Michigan election, the people returned the feisty Mason to office. On June 15, 1836 President Jackson signed a bill admitting Michigan to the Union, provided they cede the disputed strip of land to Ohio. As a consolation, Michigan was offered land in the Upper Peninsula which was perceived as worthless and ultimately rejected.
Michigan was facing increasingly more financial problems due to its excessive funding of the militia – they were near bankruptcy. But, they had heard that the U.S. government was soon to distribute a $400,000 surplus to states. Michigan, still a territory because they had rejected Jackson’s stipulation, would not be eligible. Well, well …. there’s nothing like the promise of a “government bailout”!
On December 14, 1836, delegates in Ann Arbor passed a resolution agreeing to all the terms set forth by Congress. There was some controversy at the time as to whether the convention was even legal, but Congress decided to accept their resolution and move forward with statehood. On January 26, 1837, Michigan was officially the 26th state admitted to the Union (sans the Toledo Strip).
As it turned out, the settlement of the conflict was a win for both sides. Even though Michigan had initially rejected the land in the Upper Peninsula, it was later found to be an area rich in natural resources. The port of Toledo probably benefited as well from the mining boom and subsequent commerce. Today, Michiganders and Ohioans just duke it out on the football field!
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