Understanding governments requires basic history lesson

Government and taxes, many Michigan residents believe there is an overabundance of both, and they may be right. It is taxes that support village or city governments; township and county governments; as well as state and federal governments. Those taxes do not cover many services provided by those entities, requiring more fees, permits, and licenses, all of which seem to be just one more way for a government to collect more money from the people. All of these combine to require people to have a good understanding of the roles and functions of those governments, and therefore what candidates for public office promise voters, it is necessary to have a basic knowledge of the origins of governments, and their evolutions.

For instance, while Michigan became a state on Jan. 26, 1837, its political organization actually began with the end of the American Revolution in 1783.

With the defeat of the French in the Seven Years’ War in 1763, Great Britain gained control of most of Canada, and all of the lands south, east of the Mississippi River. In order to stem the warfare between white colonial settlers and Native Americans, which would also cost the Crown millions of pounds in manning military posts to defend the settlers, Great Britain established the Proclamation Line, a line running down the Allegheny and Appalachian mountain ranges, creating a large area of land between western Pennsylvania, and the Mississippi River, and north of the Ohio River. It was forbidden for colonial settlers to cross the line, because it was the goal of the British to make that land a reserve for the Native Americans living east of it. It became one of the principle causes of the American Revolution.

After the defeat of the British in 1781, and the signing of the Peace Treaty of Paris in 1783, Thomas Jefferson drafted what was called the Northwest Ordinance. The ordinance established the lands west of the former Proclamation Line into the territory known as the Old Northwest. The Northwest Ordinance set down the rules under which the lands would become territories of the United States in preparation to becoming states, which would have equal standing in Congress with the original 13 states. The ordinance was rejected, however, over some policies regarding the expansion of slavery into new territories, and was sent back for revision. The Congress of the Confederate States of America, however, lacked the revenue, as did Great Britain, to defend invading settlers from Native Americans defending their homelands. A policy regulating the sale of the lands became necessary, so Congress enacted the Land Ordinance of 1785.

Under the new ordinance, the lands between the mountains and the Mississippi River were divided into townships, each of which was six square miles. Once the government completed a township survey, the township could then be divided into sections, of 640 acres each. Sections could then be offered for sale at a minimum of $1 per acre. While that was an excessive price to pay for settlers of a brand new country, it could be purchased, and further divided. A half-section comprised 320 acres, a quarter section consisted of 160 acres, and so on. The principle concept of the Northwest Ordinance was self-government in the new territories.

Because most settlers could not afford such land costs, many of them moved into the regions beyond those which had been surveyed, promptly starting wars with the resident Native Americans, forcing Congress to conclude, as Britain had 20 years before, that settlers were not ready for self-governance.

In 1789, a new Northwest Ordinance met with congressional approval, which contained three stages for territorial governance. Among the stipulations was that the Northwest Territory would become no less than three states, and no more than five. Congress, which claimed the Northwest, could appoint a territorial governor, a secretary, and three judges, who would make laws for the designated territory. Once the population of a territory’s population reached 5,000 male residents of voting age, the territory could then elect a legislative body, which would elect a legislative council.

The region that would become Michigan was initially unorganized territory which, in violation of the Treaty of Paris, remained occupied by British troops. Northwest Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair, paid no heed to the British, and on June 20, 1790, created Knox County. Knox County included the western half of what is now the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and the middle third of the Upper Peninsula. Knox County was gradually reduced in size as more counties were created, and the county is now in Indiana, the county seat of which is Vincennes.

Also organized by St. Clair in 1790, was Hamilton County, and was expanded in 1792 to encompass eastern parts of modern Michigan not within Knox County. Today, Hamilton County is in the southwest corner of Ohio, the county seat of which is Cincinnati.

On August 15, 1796, St. Clair, and Secretary, Winthrop Sargent, created Wayne County from Knox and Hamilton Counties. Not only did Wayne County include most of the lands that would later become Michigan Territory, it also embraced nearly one-third of Ohio, and parts of western Indiana. Wayne County also embraced, of course, Detroit, whether the British claimed it or not. Great Britain would remain a problem to the Northwest Territory, and the United States, until 1815.


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