The Michigan-Ohio war, also known as the Toledo War, must be the lamest war ever fought… not just in terms of its causes but also for the participants and the “battles” that resulted.

The Cause

In 1787, it was decided by Congress that the Northwest Territory, which included the future states of Ohio and Michigan, would be divided along an East-West line drawn from the southern extreme of Lake Michigan. The problem was that no one was really very clear about where the southern extreme of Lake Michigan was. The best map at the time had Michigan drawn thusly:

Hardly the most accurate representation of Michigan, and, of course, this led to problems when it became clear that this map was wrong. In reality, Lake Michigan extends quite a lot further south than was thought.

When Ohio was granted statehood, Congress stated that Ohio’s northern boundary should be the line coming off of the southern tip of Lake Michigan to where it intersects Lake Erie or the border with Canada as it runs through Lake Erie.

During the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1802, a fur trapper wandered by and informed the delegates that Lake Michigan might reach much further south than they thought, possibly cutting off the state’s access to Lake Erie altogether! The convention delegates were alarmed and included in the state constitution a provision that stated that if the trapper was right about Lake Michigan, that the state’s northern boundary would be angled so that it intersected Lake Erie at Maumee Bay, thus securing the southern shore of Lake Erie for Ohio.

In 1805, the Michigan Territory was carved out by Congress, using the earlier language which conflicted with the Ohio Constitution.

The Buildup

The discrepancy between the boundaries was ignored by the federal government for years. This disputed strip of land became known as the Toledo Strip. Ohio and Michigan commissioned surveyors to lay out their state line according to their own definitions. Meanwhile, the city of Toledo grew under the Ohio administration, but which Michigan claimed was in their territory. Not to be outdone, Michigan went about occupying most disputed land, setting up local governments, building roads, and collecting taxes from the strip.

It should be remembered that this period predates railroads; Great Lakes navigation was vitally important to the US, and Toledo, which was initially known as the Port of Miami, was a vital port.

Tensions Escalate

In 1833, the border dispute was still not resolved, but the Michigan Territory finally had the minimum population required to apply for statehood. Congress, though, rejected their request for a state constitutional convention because of the border issue. Ohio claimed that Michigan citizens within the Toledo Strip were intruders. The Ohio congressional delegation, which was quite large at that time, led the effort to block Michigan’s statehood over the matter.

In 1835, Ohio established county governments in the Toledo Strip. In response, Michigan’s governor used the vast wisdom he had accumulated over his 24 years of existence to pass a law stating that anyone caught conducting Ohio governance or government business in the Toledo Strip would face a $1000 fine and five years of jail and hard labor.


Michigan’s governor appointed a Brigadier General to lead the Michigan Militia while the Ohio governor organized his own militia. Ohio’s governor, with 600 men, marched toward Toledo while the Michigan militia, with 1000 men, occupied Toledo. President Andrew Jackson decided to intervene, sending men to negotiate a settlement. Negotiations appeared to succeed and then failed.

At the epic battle of Philip’s Corners, shots were fired with no one injured, but 9 Ohioans were captured by the Michigan militia. The war continued to be fought with arrests, lawsuits, and wildly exaggerated threats of force.

The war was hardly brutal, however. At its conclusion in 1836, the casualties were counted thusly:

1 Monroe Country Sheriff, stabbed in the leg with a penknife while attempting to make an arrest.

And that’s it.

A Tenuous Peace

In exchange for Michigan ceding the Toledo Strip to Ohio, Michigan received the Upper Peninsula (UP) from Congress- land that was considered worthless because no one knew about the massive deposits of iron and copper there yet.

Though Michigan was initially considered the loser of the war for its loss of Toledo, the state benefited in a far greater way from its long mining boom that followed in the UP. Today, the hatred between Ohio and Michigan lingers, expressed in terms of college football.

Geologist, a lover of all science, father of a young child, published writer on Forbes and Mental Floss

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store