The Toledo War: Michigan gains the Upper Peninsula
In 1835 there was a war in the United States. It involved the territory of Michigan and the state of Ohio. The war was to settle a border dispute over which state would control an area known as the Toledo strip. The Toledo strip was a 486 square mile area that included the mouth of the Maumee River and the city of Toledo. Toledo was not a major city, but the land was valuable because agricultural transport relied heavily on waterways. The Maumee River provided a natural harbor for shipping that would connect the area to the great lakes and beyond. The width of the Toledo strip varied between 5 and 8 miles. The dispute existed because poorly constructed maps established the northern border of Ohio farther north than it actually should have been.
In 1787 the Northwest Ordinance established the northern border of Ohio as the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan straight across to Lake Erie. Congress believed that this would intersect the mouth of the Maumee River. To their surprise it intersected about 6 miles south of the river mouth. Congress authorized an official survey to take place in 1812, but it never happened due to the War of 1812. Then in 1817 William Harris declared the Harris line to be the border. Michigan objected to congress, and had John Fulton conduct a survey where he established the Fulton line based off of the Northwest Ordinances language. Ohio objected to this line because it would lose the valuable port at the Maumee River mouth which is now the city of Toledo.
In 1833 Michigan petitioned congress to become a state. They claimed the Toledo strip as part of their territory. Because of the territorial dispute, their statehood was refused. Ohio brought the dispute before congress in 1834 in order to establish the Harris line as their northern border before Michigan could gain statehood. After some debate the Senate approved the Harris line, but the House of Representatives did not. When congress went on break the issue was not resolved. In the next session Ohio brought up the issue again, and this time they brought into contention the northern borders of Indiana and Illinois. The plan by Ohio was to bring Illinois and Indiana into the mix so that all three of the states could oppose Michigan’s border claim.
By this time the tension between Michigan and Ohio was growing. Ohio Governor Lucas carved Lucas County out of the disputed area. Michigan’s Governor Mason responded by sending his militia down to protect Michigan’s border from Ohio. This got President Andrew Jackson involved. If it wasn’t an election year Jackson would have let the Supreme Court handle the case; the experts say that the ruling would have been in Michigan’s favor. Jackson’s attorney general told him that he would side with Michigan, but Jackson didn’t want to lose votes in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. Jackson wanted a diplomatic solution to the problem. He sent two commissioners to the region to settle the dispute and prevent bloodshed. Governor Mason said that he would not use force as long as those Ohioans stayed out of the Toledo strip, Lucas did not accept that proposal.
Governor Mason arrested 9 surveyors that were acting illegally as government officials in Michigan territory. Lucas responded by sending 10,000 militia to defend the strip. Mason announced that he would welcome the 10,000 Ohioans to hospitable graves. Then President Jackson’s representatives suggested that the two states should govern the territory together until congress could resolve the issue. This resulted in a standoff between the militias from both sides of the Maumee River. Violence was ready to erupt if action was not taken swiftly.
In reaction to the escalation President Jackson intervened. He removed Mason as governor of the territory of Michigan. This move caused the leaderless Michigan militia to disband. There were no deaths because the two opposing militias had trouble finding each other in the swampy areas. Congress passed a law that said Michigan could only become a state if they gave up their claims on the Toledo strip. In return Michigan would be offered two thirds of what is today the Upper Peninsula.
In 1836 on their second attempt, Michigan finally accepted the terms of the compromise. Ohio was declared the victor of the war. Ohio would retain the 486 square mile Toledo strip and Michigan would accept the 9,000 square miles in the Upper Peninsula. It wasn’t a popular decision for the Citizens of Michigan. Most people did not want the territory in the Upper Peninsula. It was thought to be a land with little resources that was destined to be wilderness forever. The Toledo strip appeared much more valuable due to its agricultural potential and its shipping access through the Maumee River to Lake Erie.
Michigan became a state in 1837 under President Andrew Jackson. It wasn’t until 1840 when Douglass Houghton conducted his historic survey of the Upper Peninsula that Michigan realized the potential of the new land. Houghton sent back reports that vast mineral, lumber, and animal wealth that were present in the Upper Peninsula. From its copper and iron mining to its natural beauty, the Upper Peninsula continues to prove to be a great compromise for the state of Michigan.
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