The Toledo War, Part III: Michigan Statehood

This post is the last in my three-part series about Michigan and Ohio’s war over the Toledo Strip. To learn the background of each state’s claim to the region, check out PART ONE, and to read about the so-called “battles” of the war, see PART TWO.

You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation…1

The fighting between Michiganders and Ohioans throughout the summer of 1835 left Ohio with the upper hand. Although his stubbornness made him immensely popular in Michigan, acting-Governor Stevens T. Mason had been politically out-smarted by Ohio Governor Robert Lucas. Mason repudiated his former mentor, President Andrew Jackson, by refusing his administration’s recommendations for de-escalation. Lucas, on the other hand, appeared reasonable and level-headed, winning him the favor of the federal government. On September 10th, Mason learned that he had been removed from office by the President. But the fate of the Toledo Strip was yet to be decided, and Michigan still moved forward with Mason’s plan for statehood without Congressional approval. Would this bold move give Michigan enough political power to turn the tide?

Michigan’s First State Government

Old-timey campaigning2

On October 5, 1835, Michigan residents voted to ratify the state constitution. They also elected their first state government, including Stevens T. Mason as governor (again!). Mason was just shy of 25 years-old. Voters chose Lucius Lyon and John Norvell as their senators, and Isaac E. Crary as their sole representative in the House. The state legislature first convened in November. The Great Seal of the State of Michigan lists 1835 as the state’s founding, even though the “official” date was still a long way away.

Designed by Lewis Cass!3

In December, Lyon, Norvell, and Crary traveled to Washington to attempt to join the 24th US Congress. By the new year, however, it was clear that they would not be successful. All motions to seat the three politicians had failed, Michigan’s statehood admission bill remained locked in committee, and Ohio was increasingly likely to keep the Toledo Strip. At one point, Indiana’s congressmen even suggested that Ohio’s border be moved even further north to match their own. Michiganders were getting desperate.

The Upper Peninsula

It was around this time that the idea formed that Michigan could receive land north of the Straits of Mackinac in exchange for the Toledo Strip. It was first formally suggested by South Carolina Senator William Preston to the Judiciary Committee. Lucius Lyon had asked to speak to the committee regarding Michigan’s statehood. After arguments from both Michigan and Ohio were heard, Senator Preston inquired about the territory west of Lake Michigan — where Wisconsin is today. He noted that the remaining land was too big for one state. With his finger, he traced his ideal border between the Upper Peninsula and the future badger state. Lyon strongly opposed Preston’s idea. He argued that the land was too remote and too difficult to reach during the winter, adding, “there never could be any identity of interest or community of feelings between them.”

Here be Yoopers4

It’s important to point out that, while Michigan’s odd shape is often a source of ridicule, the eastern portion of the Upper Peninsula was always associated with the territory. Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace were some of the earliest European settlements in North America. As military outposts, they once reported to Fort Detroit. When Michigan Territory was first organized in 1805, it included the entire Lower Peninsula, plus the portion of the Upper Peninsula that was east of Lake Michigan’s northern-most point (as shown in the above map). The land encompassed by Michigan Territory changed several times throughout the early-1800s. Michigan gained more area as parts of Indiana and Illinois became states. In 1834, its western border was expanded from the Mississippi River to the Missouri River. Although many modern observers may feel that Wisconsin was entitled to more land, at least some of the Upper Peninsula would have always been in Michigan.

By February 1836, Lyon’s opinion on the Upper Peninsula compromise had softened. In letters, he began endorsing the idea, citing his realization that Michiganders were sure to lose the Toledo Strip, and should take what they could get. He also predicted that the land might be found to contain valuable resources in the future. Many Michiganders viewed Lyon as a sell-out, but he did receive support from former Territorial Governor Lewis Cass and explorer Henry R. Schoolcraft.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s statehood bill continued to be debated by Congress. In addition to Ohio’s meddling, the bill was also delayed by politicians from the South. They wanted to adhere to the Missouri Compromise by admitting a slave state (Arkansas) along with Michigan to maintain their delicate political balance. On March 22nd, a bill to admit Michigan as a state finally moved out of committee. It included the Upper Peninsula compromise. To add insult to injury, Ohio’s congressmen also added an amendment requiring Michigan residents to specifically consent to the new boundaries, via a special convention. Former-President-turned-Representative John Quincy Adams was one of Michigan’s strongest defenders, writing, “Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right was so clearly on one side, and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other…” On June 13th, both Michigan’s and Arkansas’ statehood bills were approved by Congress.

The Frostbitten Convention

As you might expect, Michiganders were not happy with Congress’ decision. However, on the same day that President Jackson signed Michigan’s statehood bill — “…in air perfumed with the 35 electoral votes of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois,” as Adams put it — Congress passed an act dividing the federal surplus money amongst the states. The surplus was the result of Jackson’s conservative economic policies. As a state, Michigan could expect to receive $400,000, plus 5% of profits from public land sales. As a territory, it would receive nothing. Michigan Democrats, including Governor Mason, suddenly became supportive of expedited statehood. They rushed to approve the border amendment before the deadline for the surplus money — the end of Jackson’s term in March 1837. Mason called a special session of the “state” legislature. Though he condemned Congress’ actions, he promised to abide by the decision of the people. The legislature authorized an election of delegates to officially endorse the amendment.

The results of the “Frostbitten Convention”5

The subsequently-elected delegates met in the Washtenaw County Courthouse in Ann Arbor on September 26, 1836. They debated the bill for four days. Ultimately, they voted to reject Congress’ proposal — a huge blow to Mason and the Democrats. In a moment of desperation, the Democratic Party resorted to more dubious methods. Mason declared that the people had the right to overturn the decision. With little time to spare, the Party encouraged its constituents across the state to call for another election. Mason conveniently received petitions for a new convention. The second meeting took place on December 14th, without approval from the state legislature. No members of the Whig Party were present, and Monroe County, the closest to Toledo, did not participate. Due to the particularly cold temperature of the courthouse that day, it was known as the “Frostbitten Convention.” This time, the delegates voted to approve the border amendment — though not without declaring, “We do hereby most solemnly protest the release of the territory to Ohio.”

The resolution from the Frostbitten Convention was accepted by President Jackson and sent to Congress, where its validity was debated by the Judiciary Committee. On January 26, 1837, Congress finally accepted the results — officially granting Michigan its statehood! Michigan became America’s 26th state (double the original 13!) and earned its surplus revenue. Lyon, Norvell, and Crary were also permitted to take their seats in Congress.

Where Are They Now?

Stevens T. Mason served two terms as governor, ending in January 1840. Unfortunately, his leadership throughout the Toledo War was later overshadowed by his economic inexperience during the financial Panic of 1837. He left Michigan for New York after his term ended. In 1843, he died of pneumonia at 31 years-old.

Ohio Governor Robert Lucas went on to serve as territorial governor of Iowa. There, he became involved in another border dispute, this time with Missouri. Iowans felt bullied by their neighbor state to the south. When Missouri attempted to collect taxes in the disputed region, Lucas sent a militia to the border. The issue was eventually settled by the Supreme Court. Iowa, like Ohio, named a county after the Governor.

As predicted by Lucius Lyon, the Upper Peninsula contained vast amounts of natural resources, most notably from mining. Ohio’s canal system, their original motivation for taking the Toledo Strip, was not completed until 1845. The project had been delayed due to Jackson’s conservative spending on infrastructure, as well as the Panic of 1837. By the time of its completion, it was clear that railroads had overtaken canals as the hottest transportation trend.

There have been several attempts by the residents of the Upper Peninsula (affectionately called “Yoopers”) to secede from the state of Michigan. The most recent organized attempt occurred in the 1970s. If the Upper Peninsula were to become its own state, it would rank 40th in land area, but last in population.

The Michigan-Ohio rivalry lives on in the annual football game between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State University Buckeyes. Michigan leads the series 58-51-6, though Ohio State won 17 of the last 19. When they meet again this Saturday, it will be the fourth time in their last five meetings that both teams are ranked in the Top-10 in the country.

Rivalry week6

1. Upper Peninsula Welcome, 2016 — Andreas Faessler / Wikimedia Commons
2. Election Scene – First State Election, 1884 — FARMER / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
3. Seal of Michigan, 1835 — Lewis Cass / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
4. Upper Peninsula Toledo War, 2006 — Hotstreets / Wikimedia Commons
5. Bilde Frost, 1836 — Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
6. Ohio, Worst State Ever T-Shirt, 2017 — Nick Amoscato / Wikimedia Commons

Faber, Don. The Toledo War. The University of Michigan Press, 2008.