Happy 175th Birthday, Michigan!

"If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

Today is my home state’s 175th birthday and she doesn’t look a day over 130. Interestingly enough, the founding of the state wasn’t without conflict:

Neighboring Ohio attained statehood in 1803 and engaged in a running dispute with Michigan over ownership of land known as “the Toledo Strip” along the Maumee River. Tensions ran so high in the mid-1830s that both states sent militia units into the region, but no shots were ever fired or prisoners taken.

[…] In 1835, the territory formally applied for admission to the union as a free state, where slavery was outlawed. At the time, federal law required admission of a free state to be offset by the entry of a slave state, in this case Arkansas, which also had applied.

In June 1836, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill admitting Arkansas but, with Ohio kicking up a fuss, told Congress to settle the border issue before he’d approve statehood for Michigan. The resulting compromise awarded the Toledo Strip to Ohio but gave the Upper Peninsula to Michigan.

This looks like a great deal now, but back then, Michigan initially rejected the offer. It took two conventions before the deal was sealed in December 1836. Congress then passed a Michigan statehood bill that Jackson signed on Jan. 26, 1837.

via Ron Dzwonkowski: Michigan is 175 years old and vital as ever | Detroit Free Press | freep.com.

The dispute with Ohio was known as the Toledo War and/or the Michigan-Ohio War:

Originating from conflicting state and federal legislation passed between 1787 and 1805, the dispute resulted from poor understanding of geographical features of the Great Lakes at the time. Varying interpretations of the law caused the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim sovereignty over a 468-square-mile (1,210 km2) region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip. When Michigan sought statehood in the early 1830s, it sought to include the disputed territory within its boundaries; Ohio’s Congressional delegation was in turn able to halt Michigan’s admission to the Union.

Beginning in 1835, both sides passed legislation attempting to force the other side’s capitulation. Ohio’s governor Robert Lucas and Michigan’s 24-year-old “Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason were both unwilling to cede jurisdiction of the Strip, so they raised militias and helped institute criminal penalties for citizens submitting to the other’s authority. The militias were mobilized and sent to positions on opposite sides of the Maumee River near Toledo, but besides mutual taunting there was little interaction between the two forces. The single military confrontation of the “war” ended with a report of shots being fired into the air, incurring no casualties.

During the summer of 1836, Congress proposed a compromise whereby Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and approximately three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan at the time, nearly all of it was still Indian territory, and voters in a state convention in September soundly rejected it.

In December 1836, the Michigan territorial government, facing a dire financial crisis and pressure from Congress and President Andrew Jackson, called another convention (called the “Frost-bitten Convention”) which accepted the compromise which resolved the Toledo War.

It’s hard to imagine Michigan without the Upper Peninsula, especially when the other result would’ve been a much smaller strip of land and would’ve stuck us with Toledo.

Another interesting historical note, for me anyway, is that the first convention that rejected the proposed compromise took place right here in Ann Arbor, but in the end it was money (natch) that prompted Michigan to acquiesce:

As the year wore on, Michigan found itself deep in a financial crisis and was nearly bankrupt, because of the high militia expenses. The government was spurred to action by the realization that a $400,000 surplus in the United States Treasury was about to be distributed to the states, but not to territorial governments. Michigan would have been ineligible to receive the money.

The “war” unofficially ended on December 14, 1836, at a second convention in Ann Arbor. Delegates passed a resolution to accept the terms set forth by the Congress. However, the calling of the convention was itself not without controversy. It had only come about because of an upswelling of private summonses, petitions, and public meetings. Since the legislature did not approve a call to convention, some said the convention was illegal. Whigs boycotted the convention. As a consequence, the resolution was rejected and ridiculed by many Michigan residents. Congress questioned the legality of the convention, but accepted the results of the convention regardless of its concerns. Because of these factors, as well as because of the notable cold spell at the time, the event later became known as the “Frostbitten Convention.”

Turns out the only state that actually lost anything in “the war” was Wisconsin:

At the time of the Frostbitten Convention, it appeared that Ohio had won the conflict. The Upper Peninsula was considered a worthless wilderness by almost all familiar with the area. The vast mineral riches of the land were unknown until the discovery of copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula and iron in the Western Upper Peninsula; this discovery led to a mining boom that lasted long into the 20th century. Given the current value of the port of Toledo to Ohio, it can be reasonably suggested that both sides benefitted from the conflict.

Consequently, the only state that definitively lost was not even involved in the conflict. The mineral-rich land of the western Upper Peninsula would have most likely remained part of Wisconsin had Michigan not lost the Toledo Strip.

Suck it Wisconsin!

If you have lived in Michigan or Ohio for any amount of time you’ll be aware of the intense rivalry between the two states that most often comes up in the arena of collegiate sports, particularly college football. If you’re not aware of the history you might think it’s just a result of school spirit, but it’s clear that it stretches way back in time. These days it’s a much more friendly rivalry that’s generally limited to making disparaging remarks about how much the other state sucks, again particularly it’s collegiate football teams. Ultimately we can’t be too upset with them because the U.P. ended up being a much better deal than we had expected.

If you’re interested you can learn a lot of other interesting facts about Michigan in its Wikipedia entry. Stuff like the fact that we have the second longest shoreline of any state in the Union. Or the fact that you’re never more than 6 miles from an inland lake when you’re here.

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