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Ohio Statehood

From Ohio History Central
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Digital print of the first page of the 1802 Ohio Constitution.

By the early 1800s, many people residing in the Northwest Territory in the area that would become modern-day Ohio hoped to become an official state within the United States of America. Most people who supported statehood belonged to the Democratic-Republican Party. Opponents to statehood generally supported the Federalist Party. At this point in time, the Federalist Party controlled most important government positions in the Northwest Territory, including the governor's seat held by Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair hoped to have Ohio's western boundary located at the Scioto River, while members of the Democratic-Republican Party, led by Thomas Worthington, Michael Baldwin, Edward Tiffin, and Nathaniel Massie, preferred the boundary set forth in the Northwest Ordinance. The Federalists believed that they could remain in control of government in the Northwest Territory and Ohio if the state remained relatively small. To become a state, a territory had to have sixty thousand people living in its borders. Neither section, if the Federalists had their way, would have the required population to apply for statehood. This would allow the Federalists, currently in control of government positions in the Northwest Territory, to retain power.

The Democratic-Republicans asked the federal government for help. In January 1802, the United States Congress rejected St. Clair's plan. The House of Representatives formed a committee to determine exactly how and when Ohio should apply for statehood. Although Ohio only had 45,365 citizens according to the census of 1800, the House committee determined that the population already had or probably would exceed sixty thousand people by the time Ohio adopted a state constitution. The House of Representatives and Senate agreed with the committee's findings and sent the Enabling Act to President Thomas Jefferson for approval. Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, signed the Enabling Act of 1802 on April 30, 1802. This act called for the admittance of Ohio as a formal state within the United States as soon as possible.

The Enabling Act set Ohio's boundaries. The eastern boundary was to be at the Pennsylvania state line; the southern border at the Ohio River; the western border would begin where the Great Miami River flows into the Ohio River and extend due northward to the southern tip of Lake Erie; and the northern boundary would basically be the border with Canada. The act also set the date for a constitutional convention, November 1, 1802, and determined how delegates were to be elected to the convention. 

In November 1802, thirty-five delegates met at Ohio's constitutional convention to draft a state constitution. In order for Ohio to become a state, representatives of the territory had to submit a constitution to the United States Congress for approval. This was the final requirement under the Northwest Ordinance that Ohio had to meet before becoming a state.

Twenty-six of the delegates favored the platform of the Democratic-Republican Party. Among these men was Edward Tiffin, the president of the convention. Democratic-Republicans favored a small government with limited powers. The legislative branch should hold the few powers that the government actually possessed. Seven delegates to the convention were Federalists. Federalists believed in a much stronger government. The government, even if it did not formally receive a power in its constitution, could utilize whatever means were necessary to carry out its duties. The remaining two delegates were independents. Since the Democratic-Republicans controlled the convention, Ohio's first state constitution established a relatively weak government with the legislative branch holding most of the power.

Shortly after the delegates convened the convention, St. Clair addressed the members. The governor hoped to delay Ohio statehood to maintain Federalist control over the region. He urged the convention to ignore the Enabling Act, claiming that Congress did not have the right to amend the Northwest Ordinance with the Enabling Act. When St. Clair finished his denunciation of the United States government, the governor's opponents immediately sent a copy of the speech to President Jefferson. Jefferson could not stand St. Clair's affront to national authority and immediately removed him as governor of the Northwest Territory. Charles Byrd replaced him. The delegates also voted to draft immediately a constitution. Thirty-two delegates supported the measure; two abstained; and only Federalist Ephraim Cutler opposed the resolution.

The Ohio Constitution of 1803 provided all white men with the right to vote, assuming that they paid taxes or that they helped build and maintain the state's roads. There was a governor, but this person did not have the power to veto acts of the legislature. The governor's term was two years. The legislature, consisting of the General Assembly, contained two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representatives served only a single year before having to be reelected, while senators served two years. The General Assembly had to approve all appointments that the governor made. The legislature also selected the judges. The Ohio Constitution of 1803 prohibited slavery, honoring one of the Northwest Ordinance's stipulations. Edward Tiffin cast the deciding vote disenfranchising African-American men. This is somewhat surprising, considering Tiffin freed his slaves before moving to the Northwest Territory from Virginia.

The convention approved the Constitution on November 29, 1802, and it immediately adjourned. Thomas Worthington personally carried the document to Washington, DC. He arrived on December 19, and formally presented the Constitution to the United States Congress on December 22. The United States Senate and the House of Representatives each approved the Constitution, and on February 19, 1803, Ohio officially became the seventeenth state of the United States of America.

The State of Ohio celebrates Ohio statehood on March 1. The reason for this is because the Ohio General Assembly met for the first time on this day in 1803. In reality, Ohio became a state on February 19, 1803, when President Jefferson endorsed the United States Congress's decision to grant Ohio statehood.

See Also


  1. Berg-Andersson, Richard E. Clearing up the Confusion surrounding

OHIO's Admission to Statehood

  1. Blue, Frederick J., Ph.D. The Date of Ohio Statehood. Ohio Academy of History Newsletter, Volume XXXIII, Autumn, 2002. 
  2. National Archives and Records Administration. Historical Documents Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of Ohio Statehood.