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to you, sir, from whom I have so much of candor to expect, that I feel called upon to submit briefly my views of this interesting matter.
The claim of sovereignty over the district of country in question, which Ohio prefers, rests, I understand, upon the alleged acceptance by the General Government of the constitution of Ohio; in which constitution is a clause providing that in a certain event, with the assent of Congress, the northern boundary of that State shall be as is now claimed by Ohio.
If such statement of the case be true, and if it were competent for the General Government, “ with the assent of Congress," to alter the previously established boundary, it may nevertheless be submitted to your Excellency whether any other deduction be fairly inferrible from the premises, than that the General Government agreed with the people of Ohio that, if Congress should thereafter assent to it, the boundary in question might, at a time then future, be altered in the manner suggested by the framers of that constitution, and leaving it still for Congress to act specifically upon such a proposition when it should thereafter be presented to them.
The strongest aspect in which the question can be fairly presented by those who would favor the pretensions of Ohio, is one in which Congress may be supposed, by adopting the constitution, themselves to speak the language of it. What then may they be supposed to say, other than this, that we (the General Government) agree that in a certain event the boundary line in question may be altered, provided Congress shall agree to such alteration whenever afterward such proposition shall be made. Such a deduction from the premises assumed, I beg leave to suggest as the true
But there are other considerations, and of a more gencral nature, and which would not be deemed the less applicable if the alteration contended for bad rested on words of positive import. The framers of that constitution were certainly incompetent to make any positive alteration in the boundaries previously defined. The act of Congress of the 30th April, 1802, which was the substratum of all their authority, which alone sustained the political fabric which they erected, expressly circumscribed them. In whatsoever respect they may have transcended their powers, in so far their acts must have been merely void. Nor could it have required an affirmative act of Congress to make them more so. Is it fair, then, to presume from the absolute silence of Congress concerning this subject, (wliether the proposed alteration were, in its terms, absolute or merely conditional,) that therefore they assented to the specific alteration, thus without previous authority exhibited in this fundamental law of the State ? Had that constitution contained any other absurd or void proposition, as, for example, had it proposed to extend the sovereign power of the State so far as to comprehend a part of Maine or Virginia, would such void act have acquired validity upon the admission of the State, because Congress should not have taken notice of such void proposition?
It will not have escaped the observation of your Excellency, that Congress have not, by any positive legislative act, expressly avowed their as- : sent to any part of the constitution of Ohio. Can such assent then be in- * ferrible in regard to any proposition contained in it, except in regard to such as, by the constitution of the United States, it is imperatively made the duty of Congress to act upon, upon the admission into the Union of any new State ? It may be conceded that, upon a view of the leading fea-? tures of that constitution, Congress lave assented to the proposition that
the Government of Ohio is republican, but that the rest of the principles contained in it, not requiring the sanction of Congress, must rest for their validity upon their own intrinsic and respective merits; otherwise, all responsibility for their moral and political correctness becomes shifted from the people of Ohio ; the whole instrument becomes the act of Congress, and consequently cannot be altered but by the assent of that body-a re. sult which I feel confident your Excellency would reject.
It is made, by the constitution of the United States, the duty of Congress to guaranty to every new State a republican form of Government. With a particular reference to this topic, I would admit the legal inference from the transaction to be, that Congress examined and were satisfied with the form of Government adopted; they assented to it. But what legal necessity was imposed upon that body to examine further ; to travel through all its detailed provisions—dissenting from what they did not approve, judicially declaring null that which of itself had no validity, and approving and giving validity to that they might think inorally and politically correct? And if no such legal necessity existed for the act, why is such examination and assent presumed ?
A reference to the proceedings of Congress, however, will show that the particular provision in the constitution of Ohio, to which allusion is made, did not pass totally unobserved. The constitution of Ohio was referred to a very respectable committee of the House of Representatives. That committee made a long report upon it, which, so far as it regarded the suggested contingent alteration of boundaries, was accepted by that body, and the sentiment contained in the report, and so accepted, was, that as the suggested alteration was not submitted in the shape of a distinct proposition, by any competent authority, for approval or disapproval, it was not necessary or expedient for Congress then to act upon it at all ; thus expressly excluding the inference contended for by the authorities of Ohio. (See report of Com. 20 Sess. 7th Cong. page 327–346.)
And I beg leave further to solicit your Excellency's attention to the im-. portant fact that the claim set up by Ohio is opposed by one uniform course of congressional legislation, commencing with the ordinance of 1787, and extending to a period long subsequent to the admission of the State of Ohio.
The ordinance of Congress evidently contemplates a line due east from the south extreme of Lake Michigan, as the true and immutable boundary of the State, to be formed in the eastern division of the Northwestern Territory. The act of 1802 expressly establishes that as the boundary, and the act of 1805, which was passed about two years after the admission of Ohio, expressly gives to this Territory (then created) the same line as its southern boundary in that direction. The act of 1812 again recognises the same line.
But were the claim of Michigan, for the reasons stated, less unequivocal, I should still feel obliged to propound to your Excellency the question, whether in reality it were competent for the General Government, without the assent of all parties in interest, to alter the boundary first contemplated by the ordinance of 1787.
In regard to the old Northwestern Territory, the United States volun. tarily placed herself in the relation of a grantee under Virginia. Virginia in her cession deemed it expedient to annex conditions to her grant. The General Government necessarily and voluntarily took according to the form of the grant; and not being pleased with all those conditions, submitted her request to Virginia, that those conditions, so far as they related
to the subdivision of the Territory into States, might be altered. Virginia assented to the request, and agreed to the boundaries as contemplated in the fifth of the permanent articles of the ordinance ; which fifth article, as well as the sanction provided for its fulfilment, it is considered, became incorporated with, and forms a part of, the original grant. That article, so assented to, leaves it in the discretion of Congress to create more than three States, and, in the event of the election of Congress so to do, contemplates the establishment of the northern boundary of the eastern State to be the same whichi Michigan has always claimed. By the creation of the States already created, Congress have decided their election, their power in this regard is executed, and that body can no longer be authorized to vary the boundaries proposed in the ordinance, except according to the principles contained in the ordinance itself : i. e. by the common consent of the parties having interest in the subject matter of the articles of compact. The people of Michigan have never consented to such alteration, and they were excluded from all participation in the formation of the constitution of Ohio. Virginia has never consented to such alteration, yet the contract was made with ler: and it is furthermore respectfully urged that Congress have never intended expressly or impliedly to assent to it.
This subject, as your Excellency is doubtless advised, was stirred during the last session of Congress : a resolution recognising the survey actually made of the true boundary line, in pursuance of the provisions of the act of 1812, was submitted to the consideration of one of the most intelligent and respectable of the standing committees of the House of Representatives, of which the honorable Mr. Anderson, of Kentucky, was chairman. That committee reported, it is believed by unanimous consent, in favor of the resolution, and consequently in affirmance of the pretensions of this Terri. tory. Nothing prevented the formal and definitive expression of the opi. nion of Congress on this topic, during that session, but the absolute want of time to act further upon it.
I have felt it to be my duty to present to your Excellency the view I have been able to take of the relative pretensions of Ohio and of Michigan to the contested jurisdiction ; and to call to the recollection of your Excel. lency that the subject still continues sub judice, before the present Congress of the United States : and I now venture, in this exigency, respectfully to request of your Excellency such official and legal interposition on your part as may best tend to restore harmony on that frontier, and to prevent the manifold and rapidly accumulating evils which are growing out of this prolonged and unhappy difference.
With much respect, I have the honor to be,
Governor of the State of Ohio.
DETROIT, M. T. August 11, 1820. Sir : I have the honor to enclose a copy of a letter I this day transmitted to Governor Brown, of Ohio. It relates to the contested boundary of
this Territory. I am advised by the magistrates and others, living on and near this contested tract of country, that serious difficulties are threatened there, from the apparent determination of the constituted authorities of Ohio to enforce their claims; much confusion has already occurred.
The Executive concerns of this Government having devolved upon me, in the absence of Governor Cass, I could not feel justified in resisting the calls of that people for some official interference in their belialf. I have exhorted them to avoid every measure which would lead to a breach of the peace, but, at the same time, in no instance to admit, directly or indirectly, the validity of the clains of Ohio, now for the first time attempted to be enforced.
I have prepared what I consider a just view of the question, for transmission to Governor Brown, and requested his official interposition ; further than that I do not know that I am justified in proceeding, but rather at this point to submit the matter to the General Governinent, where alone plenary power rests. The power of this local Government I consider alto. gether derivative, and that entire sovereignty rests only in the General Government, whose agent the local authorities in this regard are. There are topics connected with this subject, which I did not think it proper to advert to in my communication to Governor Brown, intending in that communication to confine myself to the mere right of the question. They are topics, I mean, of expediency and national policy. Under the patronage and paternal care of the General Government, Ohio has grown rapidly from the condition of helpless infancy. She has suddenly swollen to the dimensions of a giant ; already she reckons among her children more than half a million; her colossal stature overshadows the whole West; yet nearly half her territory remains a wilderness. Is it politic, in a national point of view, then, is it expedient, to increase that disparity which already exists between her and the neighboring States ?
Would this be right under any circumstances, but more especially at the expense of this remote, isolated, feeble, and frontier Territory?
If it be desirable that any State rather than another should have the control of powerful and extensive resources, moral and physical, is it not peculiarly so in regard to a State such as this must be, remote from the strength of this nation, cut off from it by an almost impassable morass, and exposed, as it certainly is, to the rapidly increasing political power of the country opposite to us, the most fertile and most beautiful part of Upper Canada, and to the countless hordes of savages in the Northwest ? Great as may be considered the commercial and natural advantages of this Territory, the number of emigrants is perhaps comparatively small, who may find in latitudes so high, inducements to settle among us.
The limits of the future State of Michigan ought not probably lo comprehend any country much beyond the limits of the peninsula of Michigan itself; an acre of country to the south and within those limits, is of more value to us than miles to the north and beyond them.
A considerable part of the country claimed by Ohio is the finest we have ; to be deprived of it, would materially affect the period of our admission into the Union, of our participation in the blessings of self-government. Besides the topography of the country would show that such a dismemberment would violate manifest political propriety. The Black swamp forms the natural and proper barrier of Ohio; to the northwest of it she can have but little to interest her, whereas to this Territory the
Miami bay furnishes her only harbor on Lake Erie. The commercial connexions of the people inhabiting its southern shores, the only shores which by reason of the Black swamp are for the present habitable, are and must be with this Territory; their true interests require also that their political connexions should be here.
I hope it may not be considered superfluous in me to submit to you, sir, these extrinsic and collateral observations. Should the General Government feel itself authorized to alter the established boundaries of this Territory in that direction, they may be worthy of consideration. But it is in truth to the General Government that the people of this Territory look for protection and support in the exigency; and it is for that reason, sir, that I felt it my duty to submit to the President, through you, this matter. The ordinance of 1787 requires that communications from the Governors of the Territories shall be made to the President of Congress ; the laws which were passed for the purpose of adapting the principles of the Territorial Governments to the altered state of things, induced by the adoption of the present United States constitution, requires such cominunications to be inade to the President. The office of the Secretary of State, I have supposed the proper channel through which such communications should be made; and I hope that nothing will be found in the matter or manner of this procedure which may render it obnoxious to the charge of indecorum.
I have the honor to be,
Your obedient servant,
WILLIAM WOODBRIDGE, Secretary, and at present Acting Governor of Michigan. To the Hon. Jour QUINCY ADAMS,
Secretary of State.
Extract from a letter from his Excellency Gov. Ethan A. Brown, of Ohio,
to the Hon. Williain Woodbridge, Secretary of Michigan Territory, dated Columbus, Sept. 20, 1820, referred to in the message of Governor Cass.
6. The preamble to the resolution last winter passed by our Legislature, “ explains the ground on which the General Assembly of Ohio thought “ proper at that time to place their right to the jurisdiction to which this « State has believed herself entitled ever since her admission into the Fe. “ deral Union; a jurisdiction which the Government of Michigan have “ thought it their duty and interest to dispute. It is needless to recite it, " as it will probably be fresh in your recollection : you will perceive the " relation between that document and these observations, without further 66 direct reference to it.
“ In deciding upon the final acceptance and ratification of the terms of o the constitution, Congress did not reject the explanatory stipulation ; the “constitution in its present form was adopted by that body, and, on behalf 66 of Ohio, it is contended they assented that the jurisdiction of this State “ should extend over the Territory in question."