The Toledo War: That One Time We Had States Go to War and Shoot at Each Other or Something

“No no no I want it I WANT IT!”

~Michigan and Ohio representatives

toledo strip

While we spend most of our time fixating on our general awesomeness, Americans often forget that we are one of the most diverse countries in the world, both ethnically and ideologically.  When you take a moment and consider the vast differences in language and  culture in Europe, it’s not surprising that individual states in America, which could fit most of Europe within its borders, might have some different views than their neighbors.  It’s why people from Massachusetts give New Yorkers a hard time, why most sports rivalries exist, and why if you put a Californian in a room with a Texan for thirty minutes, neither will emerge alive, sort of like putting two Siamese fighting fish in the same tank.

Now, we tend to dismiss rivalries between states because, in the grand scheme of thing, they’re just little local quirks of a particular part of the nation.  Take Michigan and Ohio, for example.  Those of you who follow College Football (read as: actual Americans) know that the University of Michigan and THE (ugh) Ohio State University have an institutionalized hatred for each other that most people reserve for the producers of the Twilight franchise.  If you met someone from Michigan or Ohio, you make some joke at the other state’s expense, and they’d roll their eyes and go, “Ugh, yeah, fuck those guys.”  That’s just how Americans identify with their local community, and it’s all in good fun.  Naturally, we try not to take this too far into “irrational grudges” territory, because that’s just counterproductive.  Ha, it’s not like we’ve ever had states go to war and shoot at each other or anything.

Oh wait, what’s that?  What are you doing, article title?

The Toledo War:  That One Time We Had States Go to War and Shoot at Each Other or Something


The Toledo War isn’t necessarily the only reason why Michigan and Ohio don’t like each other very much, but actually it completely is—one of the big reasons why the Ohio/Michigan College Football rivalry is a thing is that there were people who lived through the Toledo War when OSU and U of M met for the first time in 1897.  Essentially, the whole affair was mostly bloodless, and centered around a lot of bureaucratic land issues, which means if you wanted to compare the war to a movie, you’d probably compare it to The Phantom Menace.

The issue at hand had to do with the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which created the Northwest Territory, or basically most of what we call the Midwest.  It basically said, “Here’s a hunk of land.  You can put three to five states here, we guess.  Oh, and three states have to be separated by a straight line coming from the southern tip of Lake Michigan.”  If it helps you to visualize it, basically the only non-natural border they gave any shits about was the straight line that sets the northern border of Indiana and Ohio, and the southern border of Michigan.  This proved to be problematic because it would eventually turn out that Lake Michigan extends farther south than anyone realized at the time, since the past is sometimes impossible to comprehend, and cartography used to actually be a difficult and important job.

old map

Dear Google Maps,

Fuck you, you think you’re sooooo cool.  Asshole.


18th century map makers

Anyway, yes, this whole conflict basically took 45 years to explode into controversy and only happened because we fucked up our initial map of the Great Lakes.  We mean, look at this shit.  Embarrassing.  This ended up being important to Ohio, which began the process of becoming a state in 1802, because when they excitedly set up their northern border, they were able to include what is now Toledo, which was an extremely important commercial and economic hunk of land before the advent of railroads.  See, Toledo is located at the base of the Maumee River, which provided passage to Fort Wayne that would otherwise be extremely difficult to access via roads.  The situation was boring, but it was considered a big deal in the early 1800s, sort of like butter churning, or reading books.

When a fur trapper in 1802 reported that Lake Michigan actually goes farther south than the point where Ohio was attempting to set their border, because we’re only a few hundred years removed from getting our important geological information from fur traders and history is hilarious, the delegates of the Ohio Constitutional Convention that year shrugged their shoulders and said, “Eh, if it’s a little further south, we’ll just make the border to a bit diagonal to fit Toledo in there.”  Either no one had a problem with this at the time or, more likely, no one imagined this would eventually come back to bite them in the ass, and the border of Ohio was set, while the Midwest set an egg timer for about thirty years to prepare itself for a massive freak out.

And freak out everyone did.

ohio michigan boundary war

Dude, whoever wrote this plaque needs to learn how to jazz shit up.

In 1805, Michigan Territory was established with a territory that included the northern most chunk of Ohio’s stated border.  No one noticed it at the time, because psh, what’s the worst that could happen?  A war between two states?  Not likely!  The residents of Port of Miami (ie, Toledo before it had an identity crisis and changed its name) started to hesitantly raise a finger, like when you’re trying to get someone’s attention but don’t have the balls to just say “excuse me” out loud, and were like, “um, hey, so, like, we’re in two different territories right now?  Can…you guys figure that shit out?”  So, in 1812, Congress commissioned a survey to determine where exactly Lake Michigan ends, possibly while mumbling, “This is so stupid, why are we doing this, ughhhh.”

The War of 1812 delayed this commission, and it was tabled until Indiana’s admission to the union in 1816.  Edward Tiffin, A former Governor of Ohio served as the head of the commission, probably cackling evilly when asked if he felt there might a conflict of interest there, and he came back with results that basically said, “What did Ohio say the border was again?  Okay cool, yeah, totally that one, on it guys, it’s totally that.”

Michigan wasn’t going to stand for that shit, so they sent out their own survey, the Fulton survey, which came back with results of “Ohio, stop being a fucking dick you’re being a fucking dick right now” and the Toledo Strip, or the overlapping territory claimed in the two surveys and pretty much the basis for this whole conflict, was set in place.

Now, by the 1830s, Michigan had enough of a population to declare statehood, but wasn’t allowed entrance until they sorted out their issues with the Toledo Strip.  While this could have maybe been handled rationally, during this time period each respective state was run by one of the people most likely to completely overreact to anything that happened next.  On the Ohio side was Robert Lucas, who was the 12th Governor of Ohio and would go on to be the first Governor of the Iowa territory because, sure, why not.  For the best illustration of why this is not the guy you want on your side if you want someone to be calm and rational, this is what he looked like.

robert lucas

Goddamn, it’s like a hawk was granted a wish to be turned into a human, but with a profound disappointment in his son.  Making matters worse was that the this old probably-haunted-painting up there was butting heads with this Stevens T. Mason.  This fucking guy.

stevens t mason

“We don’t get it, like, so you got a picture of him when he was a kid and…” no that was him dude was 22 years old when he elected Territorial Governor.  We know.  Wikipedia describes him as “young and hot-headed” which you might recognize as a description of literally every 22 year old male that has ever stepped foot within the borders of the United States of America.

Ohio refused to negotiate the issue with the Michigan Territory, which seems like a very adult way to handle the situation, with the Ohio Congressional delegation actively lobbying other states to vote against Michigan’s statehood, which is just dickish.  Mason’s response to this was, “Fuck you, you’re not my dad, I’ll hold a constitutional convention anyway,” while Ohio decided to name the county where they had placed Toledo “Lucas County” after their Governor, and it’s entirely possible that the announcement of this naming included the words “neener neener” at least once.

Six days after Lucas County was formed, Michigan made it illegal to perform governmental actions on behalf of Ohio in the Toledo strip, with a fine up to $1,000, which in 1835 money was, and we’re just estimating here, half of the money in the existence of humanity.  Each state then began building militias because adding guns to the scenario was absolutely the best course of action.


Pictured above: a measured and reasoned response to anything that upsets you.

Once Ohio placed 600 militiamen just outside of Toledo, and Michigan occupied Toledo proper with 1,000 armed men, Andrew Jackson felt he should probably step in before, you know, a bunch of Midwesterners started politely killing each other.  However, despite the opinion of many, including John Quincy Adam and his own damn Attorney General, that Michigan was entirely in the right, Ohio was a pretty crucial swing state, and while Jackson normally would have face-punched the situation away, he didn’t want to hurt his future election chances in what might be the only documented case of Andrew Jackson responding to a situation like a complete pussy.

Jackson sent representatives to tell the two states, “Listen, okay, we’ll do another survey, and how about you chill and just, let people choose their state until we get this settled.”  Lucas agreed, but Mason wanted no part of that shit, and while elections were held in the region under Ohio law, Michigan authorities harassed all would-be voters and threatened to arrest them.  Shortly after this election, the one “battle” in the entire war took place, and we use quotation marks because this is actually less of a “war” and more of a “hissy fit between a state and a territory.”

The Battle of Phillips was “fought” on April 26th, 1835, when Brigadier-General Joseph Brown, the head of Michigan’s militia, sent between fifty and sixty men to attack the small surveying group that had been sent out in response to Jackson’s interference.  Ohio claims that the militiamen fired on the surveyors, while Michigan claims they just fired some rounds harmlessly in the air, but either way, it, nine surveyors were arrested, and this was pretty much the battle that summed up the war.

phillips corner

You know it’s important, because there’s another boring plaque about it

It’s important to note that this wasn’t even the conflict responsible for the sole bloodshed of the war—that distinction happened a few months later on June 15th when the Michigan Deputy Sherriff, Joseph Wood, went to arrest Major Benjamin Stickney (for a second time) for the crime of, basically, “liking Ohio too much” we guess?  Either way, he and his three sons resisted the arrest, and while the whole family was taken into custody, one of Stickney’s sons, who was honest-to-god named “Two Stickney,” stabbed Wood with a pen knife and fled the scene.  The wound was superficial, and his father and two brothers, who we so desperately hope were named One and Three, were arrested.  Despite Mason writing to President Jackson imploring him to extradite Two (God we love that name) back to Michigan to face trial, he went uncharged as Jackson covered his ears, said, “La la la I can’t hear you” and instead did the totally-opposite move of removing Mason from power and replacing him with John “Little Jack” Horner.

Horner, by the way, was extremely hated by Michigan residents, and lasted less than a year in office.  He oversaw the eventual cessation of hostilities in the war, but that would be misleading as it implies he did anything other than get burned in effigy and pelted with vegetables upon entering Michigan’s capital for the first time.  No, that really happened.

Eventually, by 1836, Jackson signed a bill allowing Michigan to become a state, but only if they ceded the Toledo Strip and took on the at-the-time worthless  chunk of land that’s now makes up about three quarters of the Upper Peninsula.  While originally turning down this offer, Michigan found itself in a financial crisis and nearing bankruptcy (probably because they were spending all their money arming militias to fight Ohio) and with a $400,000 government surplus soon to be distributed to states, but not territories, they eventually relinquished the strip, became a state, and ended one of the more pointless wars in American history.

pig army

Only to be outdone in pointlessness by The Pig’s War.

The war unofficially ended on December 14th, 1836, when a constitutional convention in Ann Arbor agreed to the terms put forth by Jackson, and Michigan officially became a state, without the Toledo strip, just over a month later.  Despite its stupid posturing, the Toledo War did help shape both our nation and the fact that Michigan and Ohio residents cannot ever meet each other in a social situation without giving each other a tremendous amount of shit.  It ensured that Toledo stay a part of Ohio, while almost entirely creating the Upper Peninsula as the part of Michigan that the rest of the nation usually overlooks.

In the short term, Ohio benefited greatly from how this turned out, since the Upper Peninsula was viewed to be worthless wilderness at the time, but it ended up an even wash when it was discovered that the newest part of Michigan was filled with vast mineral reserves that lead to a copper and iron mining boom that lasted well into the 1900s.  However, people still had a hard time letting this shit go, and in 1915 another damn survey was performed, which slightly deviated from the Harris Line in an effort to make sure no one changed state residences.  So the officially set border was moved by 71 granite markers, which sounds like it should be a lot, but actually was like, a foot and a half.  Afterwards, the Michigan and Ohio governors shook hands over the new state line marker, probably while mumbling, “Your football team sucks” and “what’s that?  Scoreboard, son.  Don’t even try that shit.”

And there you have it.  A silly “war” where the only injury involved a man getting shanked like a prison snitch that still determined the fate of a 280,000 person city as well as the statehood of a massive chunk of land.  Because even though we as Americans might have different cultures and experiences from state to state, and many have an immense loyalty to their own state (looking at you, Texas), it’s important to remember that, no longer how long the borders have been set, the process of setting them was extremely silly.

2 responses to “The Toledo War: That One Time We Had States Go to War and Shoot at Each Other or Something

  1. Pingback: The Brief Existence of Franklin, America’s Craziest State | America Fun Fact of the Day

  2. Pingback: The Brief Existence of Franklin, America’s Craziest State – Jeff goodsmith writes here

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