Why Michigan and Ohio Went to War | State Rivalries

Mr. Beat is a social studies teacher who specializes in making history and geography more engaging

Here is why Ohioans and Michiganders have a long history of hating each other. This is the second episode of a series with The Cynical Historian examining different state rivalries. This episode's companion piece, why Virginia Hates West Virginia, can found on his channel here:

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Produced by Matt Beat. Music by Electric Needle Room (Mr. Beat's band). All images and video either by Matt Beat, found in the public domain, or used under fair use guidelines.

Photo credits:


scott stuart

Eric Garcetti



William F. Wood



A special thanks to Cody from KnowledgeHub for looking over my script. Here is his video about the topic:

Today, when Americans think of a Michigan and Ohio rivalry, they think of college football. “The Game,” is a major match-up each year between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes. It’s one of the most well known sports rivalries around, mostly due to the fact that geographically the schools are close, and the two football teams are usually both very good and competing for their conference championship. The two teams have played every year since 1918, and the rivalry actually goes all the way back to 1897. At that first game in 1897, In the stands at the game were at least some fans who were alive when their two states freaking went to war with each other, and I’m sure this helped fuel the rivalry. Yep, you heard that right. Michigan and Ohio went to war with each other. But before we get there, let’s go back away.

The story begins with the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which the United States passed to create the Northwest Territory, the first organized territory in the country. It stretched from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, between British North America and the Great Lakes in the north and the Ohio River in the south. In order to create future states, the U.S. gave Ohio Country a northern boundary that went from the southern tip of Lake Michigan straight east to Lake Erie. North of this line would be the future state of Michigan. South of this line, the future state of Ohio. However, the cartographers who drew up the map of the border didn’t do a good job. The maps were...how do you say...inaccurate, to say the least. Like this map, which showed the border giving Ohio the entire eastern coast of Lake Erie and even possibly Detroit. During the Ohio constitutional convention of 1802, a fur trapper showed up and said the northern boundary was actually much further south. In fact, south of a crucial waterway out of Lake Erie called the Maumee River.

Well this freaked the Ohioans out. Hoping to push their luck, they went ahead and made the northern border just north of the Maumee River, and hoped the federal government wouldn’t notice when it admitted Ohio as a state in 1803. Well guess what. People noticed. In 1805, when folks tried to establish the territory of Michigan, surveyors, realized the southern tip of Lake Michigan was further south of the Maumee River.

So, there was a classic border dispute. And for many years, the federal government did not step in. Finally, in 1817, it sent a dude named Edward Tiffin to check it out. His team concluded that the border that went just north of the Maumee, as recognized by the Ohio constitution, was indeed the accurate one. The problem, though, was that Tiffin might have been a little bit biased. You see, he used to be the governor of Ohio. So of course Michiganders were gonna protest. Michigan Territorial Governor Lewis Cass went to President James Monroe to ask for another survey at the border. The second team, led by John Fulton, came out to more accurately put the border directly east of the southern tip of Lake Michigan, which was well south of the mouth of the Maumee River.

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Comments (1)
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The Happy Hamster
The Happy Hamster

Why can't we all just get along? LOL.

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