Written by Todd Kleismit
Ohio’s history advocates gather each year on or near the state’s birthday to help remind our state’s elected officials of the importance of Ohio history and to recognize how history and its preservation shape our everyday lives and the communities in which we live. This year’s Statehood Day event at the Ohio Statehouse Wednesday, February 27 will be extra special – it is the first time the Ohio Historical Society will be able to dispense grant awards from the Ohio History Fund. Ohio Speaker of the House William Batchelder will give a keynote address at 11:30 am. All of the details about registering for the event are available online.
Why Statehood Day? A short summary of what led to Ohio statehood follows…
Following the end of the American Revolution, the newly formed government had to decide what to do with the Northwest Territory; a large body of unsettled land that encompassed what are now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, one of the most important documents in American history, established not only how the territory was to be governed, but also the procedures under which sections of the territory could obtain full statehood. Those included: the territory being ruled by a governor, a secretary and three judges appointed by Congress to perform the executive, legislative and judicial functions of government; the formation of a house of representatives; and the approval of a state constitution. Once completed, the territory could apply to the federal government for statehood.
With criteria in place, and amid a flurry of westward expansion as statehood-seeking settlers poured into Ohio, the process accelerated – but not without controversy. Ohio’s boundaries are well known today, but in the early 1800s, they were a hotly debated issue, fueled by politics and personalities. Territorial governor Arthur St. Clair led one faction that sought to divide the state and delay statehood indefinitely, making Cincinnati and Marietta the permanent centers of government for the Ohio territory. Statehood supporter Thomas Worthington led another group, the Democratic Republicans, who sought greater congressional power and representation, thus requiring the creation of a state. Called “the father of Ohio statehood,” Worthington urged Congress to keep the divisions set forth in the Northwest Ordinance and reject St. Clair’s plan.
In 1800, Congress agreed with Worthington’s group. That same year, Ohio’s population reached about 45,000. The total was less than the 60,000 required by the Northwest Ordinance before a territory could apply for statehood but Worthington and other Ohio leaders, certain that the continual migration of settlers into the state would soon bring population numbers to 60,000, moved quickly to secure a state constitution. In April 1802, President Thomas Jefferson signed into law the Enabling Act, which “enabled” the territory to become a state. It established the state boundaries and gave its people the right to establish a constitution. Ohio’s first constitutional convention convened in the Ross County Courthouse in Chillicothe in November 1802. Thirty-five men required 29 days to write Ohio’s constitution. It was approved by delegates by a vote of 32-1. The lone dissenter was Ephraim Cutler, a rabid Federalist from Marietta who despised Thomas Worthington’s Republican rabble. The constitution set the first state election for January 1803. Worthington was chosen to hand-deliver the constitution to Congress. After a three-week journey, he arrived Dec. 22, 1802 in Washington, D.C., where he met with Jefferson before delivering the document to Congress.
Ohio’s constitution was approved by Congress, and then signed by President Jefferson on Feb. 19, 1803. By this time, the January elections had been held, with the mild-mannered doctor and legislator Edward Tiffin – Worthington’s brother-in-law – elected governor. Official “state” business was conducted for the first time on March 1, 1803, when Tiffin and members of the first Ohio General Assembly convened in Chillicothe.
Help us blow out some candles at this year’s Statehood Day event February 27, 2013. Hope to see you then!