Michigan, Ohio, and the Best Worst Deal Ever

Lake of the Clouds by Tom Mortenson

Lake of the Clouds by Tom Mortenson

CMU’s Clarke Historical Library reminds us that on June 15, 1836 Congress passed the Northern Ohio Boundary Bill to resolve the ongoing boundary dispute between the state of Ohio and the Michigan Territory. Both claimed the mouth of the Maumee River (present-day Toledo) and offered surveys supporting their positions. The congressional compromise awarded Toledo to Ohio and granted Michigan the western Upper Peninsula and immediate statehood. Ohio was elated, but Michigan struggled, and eventually accepted a solution they believed was unfair.

Michigan State University’s Geography Department takes a deeper dive into the Toledo War and its aftermath, explaining that:

Sentiment against the proposed compromise was almost universal at first. A resolution adopted in March had dismissed the area that Michigan was to receive as a “sterile region on the shores of Lake Superior, destined by soil and climate to remain forever a wilderness.” The Detroit Free Press called it “a region of perpetual snows—the Ultima Thule of our national domain in the north.”

Senator Lyon said the region could furnish the people of Michigan with Indians for all time and now and then a little bear meat for a delicacy, but he was nevertheless one of the few who thought that Michigan might eventually find it got the better of the bargain. There was resentment of the fact that Arkansas had been granted statehood unconditionally the same day that Michigan had been offered admission only on conditions that most Michiganians regarded as disadvantageous to the state.

If Michigan did not want the huge area in the northland that Congress offered, it is equally true that some of the residents of the Upper Peninsula did not want to be part of Michigan either. Congress had received a number of petitions from persons in this region asking that the area south of Lake Superior be organized as the territory of Huron. Michigan Territory, as originally established in 1805, had included the eastern Upper Peninsula, including the settlements at the Straits of Mackinac and at Sault Ste. Marie. These areas had been represented in the 1835 convention that drafted Michigan’s constitution and had defined the new state’s boundaries so as to include these parts of the Upper Peninsula within that state. Thus the statement that Michigan received the entire Upper Peninsula in return for surrendering the Toledo strip is not correct, but nevertheless the error continues to be perpetuated. It was approximately the western three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula that was involved in the compromise. Some people in the eastern section preferred to become part of the proposed Huron Territory, pointing out that Sault Ste. Marie was cut off from Detroit for six months each year and claiming that the region was treated by the rest of Michigan as a remote and neglected colony. Congress, however, paid no attention. Politics was more important than geography, and Michigan was saddled with the problem–never satisfactorily resolved–of uniting two areas which nature, for many thousands of years, has set asunder.

…Sure, Michigan did “lose” to Ohio in a way. At the time, we didn’t get what we wanted, the Toledo Strip, and they did. However, as a state we never really lost anything. While Toledo was conveniently located on the water, we still had Detroit, which was and continues to be the center of industry here in Michigan. We lost a little bit, but gained tremendously. At the time of statehood, surely the acquiring of the Upper Peninsula was thought to be a disadvantage. Time proved to tell that it was nothing like that at all. We really lost nothing, and gained immense mineral wealth, fortune from logging, and vast natural beauty.

I’ll definitely take that trade! Tom took this photo back in October of 2013. See more in his Upper Michigan gallery on Flickr.

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