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The Toledo War of 1835-1836


This little known but very important "war" shaped the borders of the states of Michigan and Ohio, with the final outcome granting Toledo, MI and what is now the upper corner of Northwest Ohio to Ohio. Michigan did not leave empty handed, however – the then-territory was granted what is now known as the Upper Peninsula of the state.

1775 maps showing the relative positions1775 map showing the relative positions

1775 maps showing the relative positions

The Original Ohio and Michigan Borders

Mitchell's map showing the Ohio border after the passing of the Northwest Ordinance


Mitchell's map showing the Ohio border after the passing of the Northwest Ordinance


In 1787, the young United States began expanding westward, with the passing of the Northwest Ordinance resulting in the creation of the Northwest Territory. Based on this new legislation, five states were slated to be created in the new territory: the present-day states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin (the region also included part of what is now Minnesota). All were to be non-slave-holding states.


As the Territory of Ohio prepared to join the United States, borders for the new state had to be drawn up. In 1802, Congress drafted the borders for the future state. In accordance with the Northwest Ordinance, the northern border of Ohio was to be a line that could be drawn due east from the southernmost point of Lake Michigan.

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Later, in November of 1802, a constitution was drafted for the new state and included an additional section pertaining to its northern border. This addendum included the areas consisting of the future city of Toledo as well as most of Northwest Ohio. (For reference purposes, Miami River = Maumee River, Great Miami River = Ohio River in the SW corner of Ohio).

toledowar img1When Ohio was officially recognized as a state on February 19, 1803, the original border demarcations – not the border passed by the people of Ohio – were concluded to be the official borders of the state.
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The Territory of Michigan was officially formed on January 11, 1805. At the time of its creation, the borders of the territory were also determined. These borders created an overlapping area in what is now Northwest Ohio, which both Ohio and the Michigan Territory assumed they had legal jurisdiction over.

Determining the True State Borders

Not surprisingly, the state of Ohio took umbrage with the new territory extending into land Ohio believed was its own.

After several years of lobbying, the Michigan Territory called for a survey in 1812 to determine the northern border of Ohio. Due to the renewed conflict with Great Britain in the War of 1812, however, it would take another five years for the survey to be completed. Upon its completion, surveyor William Harris found that the border was in line with the wishes of Ohio (ironically, the survey had been called for by Governor Cass of the Michigan Territory, with the borderline named after Harris). The survey was quickly ratified by the state legislature in January of 1818.

In 1819, the federal government intervened and called for its own survey, which was to be perfected by John Fulton at the bequest of President Monroe. This survey found the border to be in line with the original borders of the state of Ohio and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. With the acceptance of the Fulton Line by President Monroe, the Ohio border officially remained intact and unchanged until the showdown in 1835.

The Land in Question

It is possible that Congress failed to act in the determination of the border because the area in question was mostly inhabited by Ohioans or persons from the newly created territory of Michigan. The land contained valuable natural resources – such as the natural gas that would later power the Toledo glass industry – as well as valuable farmland, in addition to an important western port on Lake Erie. The land was also perfectly suited for an extension of the Miami and Erie Canals.

Conflict Begins to Boil

The first settlers of Toledo (which had been known by such names as Swan Creek, Port Lawrence, and Vistula) were originally subject to the laws of the Michigan Territory. As Toledo continued to grow, boosted by canal work sponsored by the state of Ohio throughout the area, the city began to notice that its continued growth was tied to being part of Ohio.

Michigan, under Governor Cass, began the statehood process in late 1833, which brought the border issue back to Congress. Congress quickly sent two surveyors to determine the actual border between Michigan and Ohio. Even though this survey concluded that the Fulton Line was correct, Congress still maintained the Harris Line as the official border.

Delegates of the young states of Illinois and Indiana supported Ohio in their border claim, mostly due to the fact that they, too, failed to follow the Fulton Line/border guidelines from the Northwest Ordinance and feared losing land to the new state of Michigan or the Wisconsin Territory. Even though Michigan was in line with all of the requirements for statehood, with the support of Illinois and Indiana, as well as that of Ohio and President Andrew Jackson, its first effort to gain statehood was denied. Former President John Quincy Adams, in discussing the blocking of Michigan's attempt to join the Union, stated: "Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right was so clearly on one side and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other."

In 1834, with the support of a majority of Toledoans, a petition was forwarded to Ohio Governor Robert Lucas, urging that the boundary question be resolved and for the land to become part of Ohio.

The new Governor of the Michigan Territory, 22-year-old Stevens T. Mason, tried to formally negotiate a solution to the crisis in late 1834, but his request was denied by the Lucas government, who believed that this was an issue between Ohio and the United States, not Ohio and Michigan.

Lucas supported the idea of taking the Toledo Strip (as the area was now called) for Ohio and quickly passed legislation claiming the land belonging to the state.  In 1835, county governments were created in the Toledo Strip; the portion of the Strip occupied by Toledo became known as Lucas County. Mason and Michigan acted quickly to this denial by passing the Pains and Penalty Act six days later. The new act called for all persons in the area in question to maintain loyalty to the Michigan Territory under the threat of "severe penalties," which included a $1,000 fine and up to five years in prison. To give teeth to this new legislation, Governor Mason appointed Brigadier General Joseph Brown to defend the area – but not start a conflict – against any Ohio actions that violated the new law. Governor Lucas also sent Ohio forces, now stationed just south of Toledo in Perrysburg. Governor Mason moved 1,000 Michigan soldiers further south into Toledo.

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