Several dozen states used to be territories. All of them had to fight for statehood. Michigan’s fight was more literal than most. Congress would not allow Michigan to become a state until the territory made peace with Ohio, which was already a state.
Ohio and Michigan were fighting over a piece of land called the Toledo Strip, about 468 square miles of land bordering the two territories. For about a year the “Toledo War” went on, with statehood hanging in the balance.
What was the Toledo War?
What began as a simple disagreement over which map to use to draw the boundary between Ohio and Michigan quickly became a fierce argument. Congressional representatives from Ohio refused to admit Michigan as a state until the territory gave in on the Toledo Strip.
Michigan’s Governor Mason, who at 22 was known as “the boy governor,” declared a new county in the Toledo Strip, named it after himself, and appointed a sheriff.
Michigan declared that any Ohioan found in the Toledo Strip could be arrested and held captive without trial. Ohio sent a surveying party into the Strip.
Michigan sent a posse into Ohio, arrested some officials, and burnt an Ohio flag. Ohio designated $300,000 for defense of the Toledo Strip. Michigan apportioned $315,000.
Michigan captured nine Ohioan surveyors in the disputed area. An Ohio man stabbed the Michigander sheriff in a bar fight. This was the only injury in the Toledo War.
The governor retaliated with a force of 200 men to Toledo, but the Ohioans left before the soldiers arrived.
The Ohioans returned to Toledo with the idea of holding court there to establish their claim, and Governor Mason sent more than 1,000 troops to Toledo. The Ohioans had once again left the area before the Michiganders arrived, but President Andrew Jackson had had enough. He removed Mason from office.
In short, the dispute wasn’t what would usually be called a war, but it also wasn’t friendly. Michigan gave in when it became clear that statehood would not be possible until they did, but the boundary between the two states continued to be a point of contention until 1915, when the current boundary lines were settled.
What was the point?
Mason was selected as governor very quickly and life went on for the Ohio and Michigan sides alike. Why did both sides care so much about the Toledo Strip? The Erie Canal was bringing trade into Toledo, which was poised to become an important river port. When Ohio got Toledo, Michigan had to make do with the Upper Peninsula, which at that time was considered worthless. In fact, it held valuable mineral deposits, so things worked out.
The remaining rivalry between Michigan and Ohio centers on football, but the economic opportunities foreseen for Toledo made both sides feel that the new town was worth fighting for.
Lessons for Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico faces some economic arguments against its admission, and many of the most contentious parts of the dispute hinge on economics. For Michigan, economic issues led to a nearly bloodless war.
Few Americans outside of Michigan have even heard of the Toledo War, and spirits don’t run high even when they learn of it. Like all the exciting stories of how previous territories have gained admission as states, that adventure has receded into history and has no effect on the current political landscape.