The Frostbitten Convention; or, How Michigan Ended the Toledo War and Became a State

177 years ago today, on December 14th, 1836, Michiganders signed a compromise that lost them the city of Toledo, gained them the Upper Peninsula and allowed them to become the 26th state in the union. The compromise was accepted at what became known as the Frostbitten Convention due to both the cold spell sweeping the area and also due to the frosty feelings of many towards the signers  of the questionably legal document – a document that many saw as an acceptance of defeat. Defeat by our enemy to the south, Ohio.

Marker commemorating the event in Ann Arbor (source)

Marker commemorating the convention in Ann Arbor

You may or may not have heard of the Toledo War – a “war” fought between Michigan and Ohio concerning the Toledo Strip, a narrow strip of land at the northern end of Ohio claimed by both states. Toledo and the surrounding area, which included the Maumee river and access to Lake Erie, were considered valuable to both sides due to the existing waterways and potential for canals, a major mode of transportation. The origins of the dual claims root back to the creation of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787, which stated that if states were eventually formed out of the territory, their border would be drawn by an east-west line extending from the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Only trouble was, nobody was sure exactly how far south Lake Michigan went, and in fact thought it was much farther north than it actually was (cartography wasn’t so good in those days).

When Ohio petitioned for statehood in 1803, it assumed it would include the Toledo area, but then discovered that Lake Michigan went further south than they thought, which would cause them to lose Toledo and possibly even their access to Lake Erie. Their solution was to add a provision into their constitution protecting their claim to the land, no matter the boundary of Lake Michigan. Congress accepted the constitution but essentially ignored the provision. Two years later, in 1805, Congress created the Michigan Territory, using the same boundaries designated in the Northwest Ordinance. Although residents of the area pushed for a resolution to the issue for years, it was not resolved until 30 years later when Michigan petitioned for its own statehood – including the Toledo strip.

Michigan asked Congress for statehood, Ohio objected and stalled the measure, and both became determined to stick to their guns. Literally. In 1835, both Ohio and Michigan (led by hot-heated “Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason) raised militias and sent troops to the Maumee River to basically taunt each other. There were two conflicts of what is now called the Toledo War – although neither  caused any casualties. The first, known as the Battle of Phillips Corner, is a bit of a misnomer. In April 1835, Ohio surveyors out trying to mark their claim of the border were forced to retreat by members of the Michigan militia. Although a few shots were fired into the air, nobody was hurt. The second incident occurred over the summer. Monroe County Sheriff Joseph Wood set out to arrest Toledo Justice of the Peace Benjamin Stickney, but he and his sons resisted. Although all were eventually subdued and arrested, Wood was stabbed in the scuffle by Stickney’s son, Two Stickney (yes, his name was Two. Guess what his older brother’s name was?) with a pen knife. Wood survived the injury, but the incident caused tensions to rise, especially after Ohio refused to extradite Two to Michigan for trial.

It is also remembered in Ohio (source)

It is also remembered in Ohio

Meanwhile, President Andrew Jackson realized that Ohio, with its growing influence in Congress and political position as a swing state (yes, even then), was more valuable to him than Michigan. In an attempt to end the conflict and keep Ohio happy, he urged Congress to propose a compromise in the summer of 1836 – if Michigan would give up Toledo, it would be granted statehood and gain the western Upper Peninsula from Wisconsin (Michigan already had the eastern portion). Because the UP was mostly still Indian territory, Michigan voters saw this as a raw deal and rejected it at a state convention in September in Ann Arbor.

Throughout that fall, Congress and President Jackson continued to pressure Michigan to accept the deal. Additionally, Michigan was in bad financial straits due to high militia expenses and needed the support statehood would give. The United States Treasury was posed at the time to distribute a $400,000 surplus to the states – but not territories. So they called another convention in Ann Arbor in December, which later became known as the Frostbitten Convention, and voted the compromise into law.

The convention was very controversial – it was not approved by legislation (neither the territorial legislature or the U.S. Congress), the delegates were chosen by caucuses rather than elections, and some counties (including Monroe, right on the border with Toledo) refused to participate – all of which caused many to say it was illegal. Many Michiganders rejected the results. Congress, however, agreed that the convention was questionably legal, but chose to accept the results anyway. Michigan officially became a state on January 26th, 1837.

And that is how on a cold, dark day in December, 177 year ago, we realized we had been beaten and gave up the Toledo strip in exchange for statehood. But hey, I think it turned out to be a pretty good deal. Although many wrote off the U.P. as useless wilderness at the time, it turned out to have vast stores of copper and iron that became a major industry in the state. Also, it’s just breathtakingly beautiful and Toledo is…….not. So I’m going to go ahead and call this a win, and celebrate the Frostbitten Convention with a steaming mug of hot chocolate while I watch the snow outside. I hope you do the same!


5 thoughts on “The Frostbitten Convention; or, How Michigan Ended the Toledo War and Became a State

  1. I knew bits and pieces of this story, and am glad to read it in detail. I hadn’t been sure whether there were any casualties in the “Toledo War,” and didn’t know that Michigan Territory already included the eastern part of the U.P. Since I consider Crystal Falls to be my hometown (even more than Detroit), and my Mom, your Great-Grandma, hails from Painesdale and Calumet, and she met your Great-Grandpa in Negaunee, the gain to Michigan of the Western U.P. is of significance to our family. Thank you!
    Did I miss some mention of the 100th anniversary of Calumet’s Italian Hall disaster, December 1913?

  2. Glad I could help fill in the blanks! And no, I didn’t get a post out on the Italian Hall – I know the story, but didn’t realize this year was the 100th anniversary! I’d like to write about it at some point, but it’s too bad I didn’t get to it last month. That would have been perfect!

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