Friday, March 1, 2013

Ohio Statehood Day!

March 1st is Ohio Statehood Day when Ohio became the 17th state in 1803. Happy 210th!

Or did Ohio become a state February 19th, 1803?

Maybe it was it August 7th...1953?

We tend to think of these older historical events as neat and tidy occasions where gentlemen in white wigs have orderly civil debates and sign documents with fancy quill pens by candlelight. The US was a brand new country and everyone had the same goals...right? Not really. The State of Ohio was formed by a power struggle between two political parties.

at a crossroad
In the early 1800s, the esteemed Arthur St. Clair, a Revolutionary War Veteran, and Federalist Party member was the Governor of the NW Territory appointed by his friend George Washington. He even named Cincinnati. Arthur did have that little mishap where he led 3/4 of the US Army to their deaths but even that was forgiven and he remained the NW Territory Governor under Washington. In the late 1700s there were two parties vying for power and by 1800 Democratic-Republican Party had gained control of the House, Senate, and Presidency from the Federalists. Some of the key differences between these two parties are summed up nicely here.

St. Clair proposed new state boundaries for the territory that essentially divided it in two and would prevent Ohio from becoming a state at that time since it did not meet the population criteria for statehood.
the man who busted Arthur
Why did he do this? He wanted to remain the Governor and keep his Federalist party in control of the area by creating two new states instead of one. Many of Ohio's new leaders were members of the opposing Democratic-Republican party...and so was the new US president Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was, of course, was eager to add Ohio as the 17th US State to increase his party's control. So, the 7th US Congress rejected St. Clair's plan and in April 1802 passed the Enabling Act which put Ohio on the fast track to becoming a state by new rules that favored the Democratic-Republican Party.

When Ohio's new Constitutional Convention met in Chillicothe St. Clair angrily denounced the Enabling Act. Word got back to Jefferson and the President promptly fired Art and appointed Charles William Byrd as Governor. You can probably guess that the new guy was also a Democratic-Republican.

all St. Clair got was a rock
With St. Clair out of the way, the new State Constitution was passed in November 1802. On February 19th, 1803 the President and Congress approved it and on March 1st, 1803, the Ohio General Assembly met for the first time. March 1st became known as Ohio Statehood Day. Edward Tiffin was elected governor of the state of Ohio on March 3, 1803. I'll bet you can guess Tiffin's party affiliation.

The only thing is, there was a problem. In 1953 (yes nineteen) it was discovered that due to a technicality, Congress did not formally declare Ohio a US State. Eventually, that was resolved and they backdated statehood to March 1st, 1803. More on that here.

What happened to St. Clair? He rode off into the sunset with his gout. It turned out he had loaned much of his fortune to the cash-strapped US government while serving as Governor for 14 years and Congress never paid him back. As a result of all this, one of America's original military and political leaders, a once powerful man, died disgraced, penniless and forgotten in 1818 at his home in PA.

Isn't politics fun?

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