Washington in the 1830s

JNorvellWe often see politicians as living exciting lives today filled with much media attention. It wasn’t always so.

In a letter dated December 18, 1835 John Norvell, soon to be a US Senator, wrote to Kate Mason commenting on his life in Washington:

This city is miserably dull to me. I find no one to supply the endearments of home and of friends in Detroit. The show of the fashionable life, the glare and splendor of office and power; even the anticipated seat of a senator of the United States, come when it may, gratifying as they may be to the eye, or to ambition, afford but a poor (substitute) for domestic and social enjoyments: for wife, children and friends. They would be more desirable, if they could be participated in by all that we love and esteem….

Norvell’s confirmation as a Senator continued to be delayed.   He was granted the title of Observer in the Senate, but yet a member.  The fledgling Michigan statesmen discovered that other states did not view the admission of Michigan into the Union in simple terms.

Almost immediately the Ohio and Indiana members brought up the border controversy and tensions began rising. Newspapers in Detroit demanded the return of the “Toledo Strip.” which had been the cause of the so-called “Toledo War” between Michigan and Ohio.   Some in Detroit felt that it might be better to remain out of the Union.  Norvell clearly set forth his position in a letter written on April 27, 1836 to Catherine “Kate” Mason, the sister of Stevens Thompson Mason:

. . . Your view of the pending subject of boundary and admission into the union is correct. If we could better succeed in the final attainment of right and justice by remaining out of the union, than by coming into it, I should unhesitatingly reject admission upon any other condition that the retention of our southern boundary. But to refuse admission would, I fear redound to the more certain the ultimate hope of that right and possession. By accepting admission as a state, with a declaration of our determination hereafter to adopt all legal and constitutional means to regain our desecrated and violated territory, we shall be in a position better to accomplish that object, than by remaining out of the union.

The debate over the admission of Michigan would drag on and on creating a major financial crisis for the Norvell family.

Since he was not yet a Senator John Norvell refused to resign as postmaster of Detroit.  Never a wealthy man, this was the only source of money that the family now had.  Norvell was is such dire straits that he borrowed money from Stevens Thompson Mason, the former territorial governor, so that his family could survive.   The postmaster job was a prime political appointment and Norvell was criticized for not resigning and opening it up to others.  He simply could not, as he had a family of 10 to provide for.   This lack of wealth would come back to haunt him when he was finally named a senator, but for the moment he remained in limbo — not yet a senator and not a private citizen and stuck in Washington as the debates dragged on.  And seemingly miserable.


About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in American History, Detroit History, Family History, John Norvell, Michigan History, Norvell Family History, US Senator and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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