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The Toledo 'War'

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In 1835, a political war was fought over a 468 square mile strip of land that contained the city of Toledo. The 'war' was fought by the state of Ohio and the territory (as it was at the time) of Michigan.

In 1787, the historic Northwest Ordinance stated that an area of land north of the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan belonged to Michigan. Unfortunately, different surveys put the southernmost tip of the lake at two different places, one significantly more northern than the other tip.

Of course, trying to secure more land for itself, Michigan claimed that the survey indicating the more southern point as the tip of Lake Michigan tip was correct. Ohio claimed that the more northern tip was correct.

The disputed land between the two tips was referred to as the 'Toledo Strip' because Toledo was the only major city in it. Another reason that both of the states wanted the Toledo Strip was that the Miami and Erie canals, which were being built at the time, would ultimately end in the city of Toledo. Having the canals would be a major economic advantage for Michigan or Ohio.

This land stayed disputed for several years until Michigan was ready to become a state. States had to have definite borders, and any disputed territory would prevent Michigan from becoming a state. Michigan and Ohio couldn't compromise, and tension grew. In fact, Ohio incorporated a county to include Toledo, which only angered Michigan further. To make things worse, the construction of the Erie and Miami Canals was coming to a close, and there was pressure on both sides to put Toledo in their possession.


What followed was one of the strangest wars the US has ever seen.

Battle should have started when Michigan's young governor Stephens T Mason and Ohio's governor Robert Lucas both sent their militias to the Toledo Strip in April, 1835. The country waited for a large-scale battle. However, the two militias didn't find each other for nearly two weeks, in a thick swamp near Perrytown, Ohio. No shots were fired from either side.

There were no casualties in either militia, and only one man was hurt, when the son of an Ohio major stabbed a policeman in the thigh. Several surveyors and militiamen were arrested, but no deaths came from the 'war.'

The Result

The neighbouring states of Indiana1 and Illinois supported Ohio because, they reasoned, awarding land to Michigan in Ohio could lead to Michigan taking land in their states. Michigan wasn't a state yet, and couldn't be one until the strip conflict ended, so its citizens didn't have much of a voice in Congress, where the matter would be decided. It was stuck in a bad situation - having no power in Congress to get the land, and having no power until the dispute was settled.

In 1836, further 'conflict' was averted when Congress passed the Northern Ohio Boundary Bill. This said that Michigan could become a new state once it surrendered the Toledo Strip to Ohio. In return, Congress would give Michigan an area of Wisconsin in between Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. This area is now called the Upper Peninsula. President Andrew Jackson agreed to this (despite knowing that the territory should have belonged to Michigan) through the counsel of his Attorney General.

Jackson couldn't afford to offend the citizens of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois because by this time they had become a powerful voting bloc and there was an election coming up. Michigan could not contribute to the Election of 1836, because it was not a state and thus had no electoral votes.

The decision to give the Toledo Strip to Ohio was a politically unfair move, since Ohio had a larger voice in Congress, being a state with two senators and several representatives in Congress, where Michigan had none of either.

Michigan eventually agreed to this, and it became a state shortly after, when the citizens came to realise statehood was more important than the small but significant Toledo Strip. Tension subsided.

Ohio was considered to have won the 'war' at the time, because they gained control of the Maumee River2 and the city of Toledo. Technically, the Toledo Strip should have gone to Michigan from the beginning as it was north of the tip of Lake Erie, but maps of the time were inconclusive.

Michigan's gain, the Upper Peninsula, was thought to be worthless when it was awarded. However, Michigan benefited from the 'war' when abundant amounts of minerals and timber were found on the Upper Peninsula later on. Michigan truly had the last laugh.

1Indiana shared an eastern border with Michigan as it did with Ohio.2Which connected Lake Erie to the Erie Canal at Toledo.

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