Despite Sen. Calhoun’s Objection, Michigan Admitted as the 26th State
On Jan. 26, 1837, Michigan was admitted into the Union as the 26th state, doubling the nation’s original total of 13. Michigan’s admission did not come without opposition, however. The powerful senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun, strongly objected to the political machinations that occurred during the application of Michigan Territory for statehood.
A duly authorized convention in Michigan had originally failed to approve the statehood application, but then a second assembly meeting in Ann Arbor—derisively called a “party caucus” and a “criminal meeting” by Calhoun—met and unanimously agreed to apply for statehood. Calhoun objected to this procedure, and took to the floor of the Senate to thunder forth his opposition.
Here are excerpts from Sen. Calhoun’s speech. The entire speech was printed by the Daily Cincinnati Gazette (Cincinnati, Ohio) on Jan. 27, 1837:
Debate in Senate.
Thursday, Jan. 5.
Mr. Grundy, Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, having moved that the bill to admit the State of Michigan into the Union, be now read a third time,
Mr. Calhoun addressed the Senate in opposition to the bill.
“I have been connected with this Government more than half its existence, in various capacities; and during that long period I have looked on its action with attention; and have endeavored to make myself acquainted with the principles and character of our political institutions, and I can truly say that within that time no measure has received the sanction of Congress which has appeared to me more unconstitutional and dangerous than the present.
“…The admission of Michigan is destined, I fear, to mark a great change in the history of the admission of new States, a total departure from the old usage, and the noble principle of self-government on which that usage was founded. Everything, thus far, has been irregular and monstrous connected with her admission. I trust it is not ominous. Surrounded by lakes within her natural limits, (which ought not to have been departed from), possessed of fertile soil and genial climate, with every prospect of wealth, power, and influence, who but must regret that she should be ushered into the Union in a manner so irregular and unworthy of her future destiny.
“…Having now, I trust, established beyond all controversy, that Michigan is a State, I come to the great point at issue—to the decision of which all that has been said is but preparatory—had the self-created assembly which met at Ann Arbor the authority to speak in the name of the People of Michigan; to assent to the conditions contained in the act of the last session; to supersede a portion of the Constitution of the State, and to overrule the dissent of the convention of the People, regularly called by the constituted authorities of the State, to the condition of admission? I shall not repeat what I said when I first addressed the Senate on this bill. We all, by this time, know the character of that assemblage; that it met without the sanction of the authorities of the State; and that it did not pretend to represent one-third of the People. We all know that the State had regularly convened a convention of the People, expressly to take into consideration the condition on which it was proposed to admit her into the Union, and that the convention, after full deliberation, had declined to give its assent by a considerable majority. With a knowledge of all these facts, I put the question—had the assembly a right to act for the State? Was it a convention of the People of Michigan in the true, legal, and constitutional sense of that term? Is there one, within the limits of my voice, that can lay his hand on his breast, and honestly say it was? Is there one that does not feel that it was neither more nor less than a mere caucus—nothing but a party caucus—of which we have the strongest evidence in the perfect unanimity of those who assembled? Not a vote was given against admission. Can there be stronger proof that it was a meeting got up by party machinery, for party purpose?
“But I go further. It was not only a party caucus, for party purposes, but a criminal meeting—a meeting to subvert the authority of the State, and to assume its sovereignty. I know not whether Michigan has yet passed laws to guard her sovereignty. It may be that she has not had time to enact laws for this purpose, which no community is long without; but I do aver, if there be such an act, or if the common law be in force in the State, the actors in that meeting might be indicted, tried and punished for the very act on which it is now proposed to admit the State into the Union. If such a meeting as this were to undertake to speak in the name of South Carolina, we would speedily teach its authors what they owed to the authority and dignity of the State. The act was not only in contempt of the authority of the State of Michigan, but a direct insult on this Government. Here is a self-created meeting, convened for a criminal object, which has dared to present to this Government an act of theirs, and to expect that we are to receive this irregular and criminal act as a fulfillment of the condition which we had prescribed for the admission of the State! Yet, I fear, forgetting our own dignity, and the rights of Michigan, that we are about to recognize the validity of the act, and quietly to submit to the insult.”
Despite Calhoun’s fierce rhetoric, the Senate passed the Michigan statehood bill and sent it to the House, which approved it on Jan. 25, as reported by the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on Jan. 26, 1837:
Wednesday, January 25, 1837.
House of Representatives.
The House resumed the consideration of the bill from the Senate for the admission of the State of Michigan into the Union; and the discussion of this bill occupied the House until a late hour. In the end, the Previous Question was resorted to, and the question taken on ordering the bill to a third reading, and decided in the affirmative. The bill was immediately read a third time, and passed. (So that it requires now only the signature of the President to become a law.)
Without further ado, President Andrew Jackson signed the Michigan statehood bill the next morning, Jan. 26, as reported by the Baltimore Gazette (Baltimore, Maryland) on Jan. 27, 1837:
Thursday, January 26, 1837.
The bill for the admission of the State of Michigan has received the signature of the President of the United States. Mr. Grundy rose and moved that the Senators from the State of Michigan be admitted to take the oath and their seats.
Mr. Grundy then presented the credentials of the Hon. Lucius Lyon and the honorable John Norvell, which were read, and those gentlemen accordingly took the oath and their seats.
For more information, visit the official Michigan website.