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History of Michigan from 1837-1860: Economy & Politics

Instructor: Daniel McCollum

Dan has a Master's Degree in History and has taught undergraduate History

The years directly after Michigan became a state were ones of great change in the state. This lesson looks at those changes, including the development of mining in the Upper Peninsula, the immigrants who settled the land, and the birth of the Republican Party.

Toledo War and Statehood

Michigan entered the Union as the 26th state in 1837 following the strange events of the Toledo War the year prior. Due to bad surveying years earlier, both the Territory of Michigan and State of Ohio had claimed the land known as the Toledo Strip. Tensions had grown so high that both sides had sent armed men into the contested land to push their claim and the conflict had threatened to escalate into a shooting war. In the end, President Andrew Jackson stepped in and removed Michigan's 22 year old territorial governor, Stevens T. Mason, from office and forced Michigan to disband its troops. As Congress continued to debate the bill that would allow Michigan to become a state, a compromise was reached with Ohio receiving the Toledo Strip and Michigan being given the lands that would form the Upper Peninsula.

Acquiring the Upper Peninsula, or the UP as locals refer to it, proved to be a stroke of good fortune for the new state. Douglass Houghton, the state geologist of Michigan, completed his geological survey of the Keweenaw Peninsula and discovered one of the richest copper regions in the entire world. Soon after, investors flooded into the region attempting to set up claims and hire crews to extract the copper. The copper mining industry would go on to dominate the economy of the Upper Peninsula for the next century, and attract immigrants from Finland, Italy and the region of southwestern Britain called Cornwall to name a few of the groups which continue to give the UP its distinctive regional culture.

Meanwhile, the lower peninsula of Michigan was largely agricultural and drew a heavy number of Yankee immigrants from New England and upstate New York. These immigrants came searching for new lands to farm as there was no longer enough free land available in the New England states, and brought with them New England traditions such as the Congregationalist Church as well as an early strain of Abolitionism.

The Second Party System

During the era before the Civil War, Michigan was dominated by the Democratic Party. This was an era known as the Second Party System, which began with the election of Andrew Jackson as president in 1828. Supporters of Andrew Jackson formed the Democratic Party, while his opponents formed the Whig Party to oppose him. During this period the ideals of the Democrats, which included direct democracy, lower taxes, and a healthy distrust of economic and social elites appealed to many Michiganders, while the Whigs had strong support in Detroit. The premier Democratic leader in Michigan at the time was Lewis Cass. Cass had previously served as Michigan's territorial governor, Andrew Jackson's Secretary of War, and the United States Minister to France, before being elected as Michigan's Senator from 1845 until 1857. For many, he was the face of the Democratic Party in Michigan

Rise of the Republicans

Governor Bingham
Governor Bingham

As the debate over Slavery became more pronounced in the 1840's and 1850's, both of the major parties began to fray and be ripped apart. Although the Democrats would survive, they would lose many of their anti-slavery members to the Free Soil Party, who believed in limiting slavery's expansion in the West. Meanwhile the Whigs disintegrated completely as their pro-Slavery wing joined the Democrats and anti-Slavery Whigs left in search of a new Party. Eventually this lead to the creation of the Republican Party; although the first meeting to discuss the party was in Ripon, Wisconsin, the first state convention occurred near Jackson, Michigan leaving many Michiganders to claim their state as the founding place of the Republicans.

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