When Ohio and Michigan Went to war

In 1834, my great-great grandfather John Norvell found himself embroiled in a controversy that involved Michigan with her neighbors.

Ohio and Michigan had long claimed a disputed section of land which included the Toledo area. The dispute over this area had first arisen in 1802 with the admission of Ohio into the Union. But in 1805, Congress declared that the Michigan boundary was a line drawn due east from the southern extreme of Lake Michigan to Lake Erie. This had remained the boundary for more than twenty-seven years, but now Ohio gradually began to press for Toledo.

As the rhetoric grew heated, Ohio sent surveyors into the disputed area and Ohio Governor Lucas ordered 10,000 men to protect the boundary surveyors. In turn, opposing forces under the command of Governor Mason of Michigan marched to resist them.

Although both militias mobilized, no actual fighting occurred.

This was due to two things: first, President Andrew Jackson informed the two states that the U.S. would have to defend its territory of Michigan against the State of Ohio; and second, Jackson threatened to remove territorial Governor Mason from office if he persisted in military actions against Ohio.

So the “Toledo War” ended, at least militarily

In 1835, Michigan adopted a new state constitution and John Norvell was elected, along with Lucius Lyon, as one of Michigan’s first two U.S. senators. Because the Ohio-Michigan controversy had not been resolved, admission to the Union was delayed; the two new senators were not seated and found themselves labeled “observers” to the Senate’s proceedings.

The controversy continued politically for two more years as Michigan attempted to gain statehood. Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois opposed admission into the Union if the issue was not resolved. Both Ohio and Indiana were uneasy over the legality of their own northern boundaries. Into the mix now rose the question of free versus slave state. Many Southern Congressmen would only approve admission of Michigan if a “slave state” joined the Union to maintain the status quo. In the end, Michigan lost the Toledo strip but gained the Upper Peninsula in return, which was in the long run a better trade because of the vast mineral wealth of the area.

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, Michigan History, Military history, Norvell Family History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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