Why Is the U.P. Part of Michigan?

Mar 20, 2019

Have you ever wondered how the Upper Peninsula of Michigan came to be… why it's a part of Michigan, and not Wisconsin?

Gary Entz has the story for this week's A Northwoods Moment in History.

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is part of the same Great Lakes ecosystem that reigns over Wisconsin’s Northwoods, and a glance at any map is enough to see that the UP really is a land extension of Wisconsin.  In contrast, there is a water boundary between the UP and Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and at no point do the two parts of the state meet.  So this begs the question: why is the UP part of Michigan instead of Wisconsin’s Northwoods?

As it turns out the answer to this question takes us back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.  In that piece of legislation, Congress declared that the border between the Ohio and Michigan Territories was to be “an east-west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan.”  To establish this line, Congress used what is known as the Mitchell Map.  The Mitchell Map was created in the 1750s and was used extensively during the early Republic.  However, the map was riddled with inaccuracies, one of which was the positioning of the Great Lakes.  As drawn the Mitchell Map limited Ohio’s access to Lake Erie, so when Ohio entered the Union in 1803 the state changed the description of the border so it ran from Lake Michigan to Maumee Bay.

This didn’t bother anyone until Michigan Territory applied for statehood in 1833.  Michigan surveyors redrew the border with Ohio using the original east-west line as described in the Northwest Ordinance but on an accurate map.  This created a sliver of land known as the Toledo Strip.  It varied from 5 to 8 miles wide and connected to Lake Erie well below Maumee Bay.  Michigan claimed land that belonged to Ohio, and in response Ohio appealed to Congress to deny Michigan statehood until it withdrew its claims.  This sparked the Toledo War, and both sides sent militia troops to defend their land claims.  The Toledo War consisted primarily of insults and threats as no real battles ever took place.

The spat between Michigan and Ohio continued until 1836 when a compromise was reached.  Michigan would be admitted to the Union as a state if it gave up its claims to the Toledo Strip.  In compensation, Congress granted the UP to Michigan, which the Michigan legislature grudgingly accepted in order to gain statehood.  In June 1836, President Andrew Jackson signed the legislation, and Michigan became a state in January 1837.  Ironically, Wisconsin Territory came into being in July 1836.  Had the Toledo War gone in Michigan’s favor, the UP in all likelihood would have become part of Wisconsin Territory.

This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear

A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.