This post is the second of a three-part series about Michigan and Ohio’s war over the Toledo Strip. Why fight over Toledo? To learn the background of each state’s claim to the region, check out Part One HERE!
Almost thirty years after Ohio’s state constitution asserted ownership over the Toledo Strip, their dispute with Michigan remained unresolved. Michigan’s first attempt at statehood in 1832 forced the issue before the federal government. Ohio’s congressmen blocked the Michigan bill, although recognition of their own border claims also stalled. With little traction in Washington, both state’s governors took matters into their own hands.
The Boy Governor
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson appointed Virginian John Mason as Michigan’s Territorial Secretary. As outlined by the Northwest Ordinance, the Territorial Secretary served under the Territorial Governor until a region reached the population threshold for statehood. Jackson was a strong believer in patronage (meaning appointments were made due to political privilege, rather than merit) and the Mason family had deep roots in US politics, stretching back before the Revolution. John Mason hoped to use the position to alleviate his financial issues, while also satisfying his desire to live on the frontier. He brought with him his 19-year-old son, Stevens Thomson Mason. “Tom” helped his father with his political duties and quickly drew the attention of President Jackson, who became his mentor.
After only a year, John decided that he disliked the position and resigned. Surprisingly, Jackson selected Tom to be his replacement. Around the same time, Territorial Governor Lewis Cass left Michigan to join Jackson’s cabinet as Secretary of War. Cass had been an influential figure in the growth of the young territory. His replacement, Pennsylvanian George B. Porter, was less interested in the success of the region. He frequently traveled out of the territory, leaving Tom as acting governor. Tom became increasingly popular in Michigan politics, though he was known as a hot-head and had a reputation for fighting. On one occasion, he physically assaulted a journalist who coined his nickname – “The Boy Governor.” In 1834, George Porter died of Cholera and was never replaced, making Tom permanent interim-governor.
When traditional means of statehood failed, Mason decided to get creative. In 1834, the Michigan legislature approved his plan for a census, to prove that the territory had reached the 60,000-population threshold for statehood. Afterwards, Mason planned to form a state government without Congressional approval. He cited Tennessee, which created its constitution before being admitted to the Union in 1796, as legal precedent. Once a state, Michigan would have the right to appeal the boundary decision to the Supreme Court, where the text of the Northwest Ordinance would hold more weight. Mason signed an act authorizing the formation of a state government in January 1835.
The Pains & Penalties Act
While Mason attempted to earn more political power for his territory, Ohio Governor Robert Lucas made plans to assert control over the Toledo Strip. With approval of the Ohio state legislature, Lucas appointed a commission to officially mark the Harris Line, drawn in accordance with their state constitution. Michigan responded aggressively with the Pains & Penalties Act, which made it illegal for outsiders to perform official government functions within Michigan Territory. He directed General Joseph Brown to enforce the act by any means necessary. In a letter, Governor Lucas declared, “…this Act of Michigan will be wholly disregarded by Ohio.” US Secretary of State John Forsyth wrote to both Lucas and Mason, urging them to avoid conflict.
In a report, US Attorney General Benjamin Butler sided with Michigan’s border claims, arguing that Congress never gave explicit consent to the border proviso in Ohio’s constitution. Therefore, the Pains & Penalties Act was valid until Congress said otherwise. President Jackson appointed a commission to travel to the region and develop a resolution. The team was led by Richard Rush, a key negotiator between the US and Britain in the aftermath of the War of 1812, and Benjamin C. Howard, a former Maryland congressman. After meeting with the governors, Rush and Howard made the following recommendations: 1) Let Ohio survey the boundary line, 2) Allow the residents of the Toledo to temporarily accept dual governments, 3) Do not enforce the Pains & Penalties Act. Lucas happily agreed to the terms, earning him slight favor within the Jackson Administration. Mason, on the other hand, rejected Jackson’s commission– a major break from his mentor.
The Battle of Phillips Corners
Lucas proceeded with the survey of the Harris Line, beginning at the Indiana border and traveling east. He sent troops from the state militia to escort the survey team. In anticipation, Mason prepared General Brown and the Michigan militia. The two groups met on April 26, 1835, for the fiercest “battle” of the “war.”
After a “night of jollification,” Lenawee County Undersheriff William McNair led a party of 30 men to the border from Adrian, Michigan. They encountered a portion of the Ohio militia lounging in a field. McNair approached the men and attempted to arrest them under the Pains & Penalties Act. He chose to wait with them for the return of the survey team. When members of McNair’s militia impatiently entered the camp to ask for instructions, the Ohio men grabbed their rifles. Some were arrested on the spot, while others fled and barricaded themselves in a nearby cabin. When the men eventually ran off towards a forest, McNair’s men pursued and fired a volley of shots towards them. No one was injured. The escaped Ohioans met up with the surveyors and retreated to the town of Perrysburg. Those arrested were taken to the jail in Tecumseh, Michigan.
News of the battle rallied Michiganders, but greatly disturbed Lucas and the Jackson Administration. Lucas gave a rousing speech condemning Michigan’s actions to the Ohio legislature. Pumped with war fever, the legislature authorized the creation of a new county in the Toledo Strip — Lucas County. A court session was scheduled in Toledo for September 7th in order to validate the county government. They also appropriated $300,000 to the militia (Michigan later authorized $310,000 for theirs). Throughout the summer, posses of Michiganders continued to make raids on Ohio officials conducting government business within the Toledo Strip, leading to some more minor skirmishes.
The Stabbing of Deputy Wood by Two Stickney
On July 15th, Monroe County Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood traveled to Toledo to make arrests under the Pains & Penalties Act. One of his targets was a man named Two Stickney, who had previously resisted Michigan officers by force. Two was the son of eccentric Toledo land-owner “Major” Benjamin F. Stickney (actual military service unsubstantiated). Benjamin believed that children should pick their own names once they reached adulthood. His sons, One and Two, chose to keep their given names. When Sheriff Wood approached Two Stickney in a hotel, Stickney drew a knife and stabbed Wood on his left side. Wood survived the attack, though Stickney escaped. It was the only true “bloodshed” of the war.
Two days later, Mason sent 200 armed men (not officially militia) to Toledo to capture Stickney. They had received word that a group of Toledoans intended to mount a resistance. When the party arrived, however, they discovered that most of the dissenters had left the city. Stickney and a few other men were found in a cellar and transported back to the Monroe jail. Some Toledoans had fled across the Maumee river. They exchanged gunfire with the Michiganders over the river, though all shooters were out of range of each other. “The Battle of the Maumee” also ended without casualties.
Although Mason had damaged his relationship with Democratic Party leaders, he remained extremely popular in Michigan and continued to resist the Rush-Howard Plan. In August, he earned his party’s nomination for the state’s first gubernatorial election in the fall. Upon learning of Ohio’s plan to hold a court session in “Lucas County,” he ordered another 200 volunteers to march to Toledo to prevent the meeting.
Both parties were in position outside the city on September 5th. The Ohio judges were accompanied by Colonel Matthias Van Fleet and about 100 armed men. Michigan troops guarded the courthouses — but that’s not where the Ohioans met. At 1:00AM on the morning of September 7th, Van Fleet, three judges, and twenty men snuck into a Toledo schoolhouse. Dr. Horatio Conant was appointed as clerk and kept a written account of the proceedings — evidence that they had carried out their mission. The court completed its official business in about ten minutes, including the appointment of three commissioners for the new county. Conant’s records were certified and signed, and he tucked them in his tall, bell-shaped hat for safe-keeping.
Following their secret court session, the Ohioans moved to a nearby tavern to celebrate (after waking up its owner). During their second round of drinks, a local burst through the doors and warned them that Michigan men were approaching. The group ditched their tab and fled on horseback. During their escape, Conant’s hat, and the all-important proof of their court session, was knocked off of his head by a tree branch. Luckily, they recovered the documents before being captured. The group safely exited the Toledo Strip at 6:00AM.
As it turns out, the person who warned the partying Ohioans was most likely playing a prank. The Michigan troops were never aware of their presence, and had not chased them out of town. Upon learning of the deception, the men went on a rampage, destroying property in the town and on nearby farms (including Major Stickney’s). They also ransacked the offices of the pro-Ohio Toledo Gazette. The troops stayed in Toledo for three days before returning to Monroe. Soon after, another Michigan posse attempted to arrest the judges who conducted the secret court session. In the ensuing fight, Deputy Wood – the man who was stabbed by Two Stickney – was shot in the arm. He again survived.
On September 10th, Mason received a letter from Secretary of State Forsyth – dated August 29th – informing him that he had been relieved of his duties by President Jackson. Despite Mason’s popularity in Michigan, Jackson believed that Ohio’s votes would be more important than Michigan’s in the upcoming 1836 presidential election. Mason’s successor was Virginia lawyer John Scott Horner. Though Michiganders were initially indifferent to Horner, he destroyed his reputation by caving to Ohio. He pardoned all of the Ohioans who had been prosecuted under the Pains & Penalties Act (except Two Stickney) and relayed news from Michigan to Governor Lucas. As a result, on a trip to Ypsilanti, Horner was confronted by a crowd throwing stones, eggs, and manure.
In November, Lucas’ surveyors, who had previously been interrupted by the Battle of Phillips Corners, finally completed their marking of the Harris Line. But the fate of the Toledo Strip still remained uncertain, as Michigan continued on its path towards self-determined statehood.
1. Robert Lucas, 1875 — John Stevens Cabot Abbott / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
2. Stevens T. Mason Oil Painting, 1920 — Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
3. Toledo War Phillips Corner, Summer 2007 — Trimalchio / Wikimedia Commons
4. History of the City of Toledo and Lucas County, Ohio, 1888 — Clark Waggoner / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
5. Two Stickney, circa 1836 — Remember the dot / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Faber, Don. The Toledo War. The University of Michigan Press, 2008.