Toledo War

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The Toledo War was hostilities between the state of Ohio and Michigan territory over the location of the their common boundary. Although the war involved extensive troop movements and confrontations, the war ended with minimal bloodshed. (One person was stabbed with a pen knife.)

At the start, Connecticut was granted a strip of land between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. It exchanged most of its western land claims to the federal government in exchange for debt relief. Congress then organized the Northwest Territories providing that that the territory was eventually to be divided into "not less than three nor more than five" future states. It was determined that the boundary for three of these states was to be "an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan". This law was based on the mistaken assumption that the southern tip of Lake Michigan was further north than the western tip of Lake Erie.

By the time that Ohio drafted its Constitution and applied for statehood, a fur trapper had reported that Lake Michigan in fact extended further south than Toledo. So, the draft Ohio Constitution submitted to Congress indicated that the boundary would slope northeast to meet Lake Erie at the "most northerly cape of the Miami [Maumee] Bay." However, when Congress created the Michigan territory in 1805, it used the earlier language from the Northwest Ordinance specifying Michigan southern boundary at "an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan". In contrast, Indiana's 1816 Constitution (Article XI Section 17) specified a northern border on an east-west line through "a point ten miles north of the southern extreme of lake Michigan".[1]

Residents of the Toledo area, backed by the Ohio legislature, pressed Congress to settle the boundary location. Congress authorized an official survey in 1812, but the war with Britain delayed it until 1816. U.S. Surveyor General Edward Tiffin, who was in charge of the survey, was a former Ohio governor. As a result, Tiffin employed surveyor William Harris to survey not the Ordinance Line, but the line as described in the Ohio Constitution of 1802. When completed, the "Harris Line" placed the mouth of the Maumee River completely in Ohio.[2] Michigan rejected the survey because it did not reflect the Northwest Ordinance, and commissioned John A. Fulton to survey a line east from the southern tip of Lake Michigan. The two lines are from 5 to 8 miles apart and the strip of land between them became known as the "Toledo Strip" that was claimed by both Ohio and Michigan. (The Toledo Strip west end was the Indiana border and the east end was the shore of Lake Erie although one small island in Lake Erie was also included.)

Disputed Toledo Strip claimed by Ohio and Michigan

At the time, the Toledo Strip was thought to have great value because there were several proposals to build canals to link the Mississippi River to Lake Erie. Ohio wanted to benefit from the resulting economic development just as Buffalo, New York was benefiting from being the western terminus of the recently opened Erie Canal.

From 1816 to 1835, Michigan set up local governments, built roads, and collected taxes throughout the Toledo Strip. When Michigan sought to hold a state constitutional convention in 1833, Congress rejected the request because of the still disputed Toledo Strip. The Ohio Congressional delegation was active in blocking Michigan from attaining statehood, lobbying other states to vote against Michigan. Michigan forced the issue by calling a Constitutional convention in 1835 without the approval of Congress. In February 1835, Ohio passed legislation that set up county governments in the Strip. In response, Michigan passed the Pains and Penalties Act making it a criminal offense for Ohioans to carry out governmental actions in the Strip, under penalty of a fine up to $1,000, up to five years imprisonment at hard labor, or both. The Governors of Michigan and Ohio then sent their militias into the Toledo Strip. President Andrew Jackson sent mediators to work out a compromise, and both sides appeared to agree to allow the residents of the Toledo Strip choose between Michigan or Ohio to govern them until Congress could act on the issue. Ohio removed its militia and conducted an election. Michigan sheriffs arrested two Ohioans on the grounds that they had violated the Pains and Penalties Act by voting in the election. Ohio Governor Lucas sent out a survey team to mark the Harris line, but the Michigan militia attacked the surveyors at the Battle of Phillips Corners. Ohio responded by calling a special session of its legislature that voted additional funds for its militia and established a county court of common pleas in Toledo. The Michigan militia sent 1,000 troops to Toledo to prevent the first session of that court from being held. However, the judges held a midnight session of the court and quickly retreated south to the position of the Ohio forces.

On June 15, 1836, Jackson signed a bill that allowed Michigan to become a state, but only after it ceded the Toledo Strip. In exchange for this concession, Michigan would be granted the western three-quarters of what is now known as the Upper Peninsula. (The portion east of the Illinois - Indiana border line had already been included within the Michigan boundaries). However, Michigan called a convention that rejected the offer. Throughout 1836, Michigan found itself deep in a financial crisis because of the high militia expenses and was nearly bankrupt. The "war" unofficially ended on December 14, 1836, at a second convention in Ann Arbor that passed a resolution to accept the terms set forth by the Congress. On January 26, 1837, Michigan was finally admitted to the Union as the 26th state, and Ohio had undisputed control of the Toledo Strip. As a result, Michigan's southern border is an east-west line that starts 10 miles north of the southern tip of Lake Michigan and then drops down about 5 miles at the Indiana-Ohio border and then slopes northward to meet Lake Erie at the mouth of the Maumee River. Differences of opinion about the exact boundary location continued until the Federal government did a definitive re-survey in 1915.

The land in the Upper Peninsula proved more valuable to Michigan than did the Toledo strip, and Detroit grew into a much bigger regional industrial center than Toledo. Although barge traffic was established between Lake Erie and the Mississippi River, it enters Lake Michigan through locks in Chicago, travels up that lake through the Straits of Mackinac and then down Lake Huron and the Detroit River.


  2. The Toledo War. Geography of Michigan and the Great Lakes Region. Michigan State University. Archived from the original on August 20, 2006. Retrieved on February 15, 2017.