Ohio: The 48th State?
Posted March 15, 2018
Topics: Presidents & PoliticsSettlement & Statehood

By Tim Pawlak

If I asked you under which president the state of Ohio was admitted to the United States, most would say Thomas Jefferson in 1803. But what if I told you that technically Ohio was not admitted into the Union officially until 1953 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President? How could this be?

1804 Rufus Putnam Map of Ohio (Image: ohiomemory.org)

1802 Journal of the Convention of the Territory of the United States North-west of the Ohio. (Image: ohiomemory.org) 

Ohio is well-known as the 17th state admitted into the United States in 1803. The land now known as Ohio was part of the Northwest Territory. Ohio was the first state carved out of the old Northwest Ordinance laid out in 1787. The others were Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

In November 1802, the Ohio State Convention, located in Chillicothe, petitioned for admittance in the United States by approving the Ohio Constitution. Thomas Worthington, a delegate of the convention, personally delivered the document to Washington, D.C. and presented it to Congress in December. Congress proceeded to approve the action in accordance with President Jefferson’s newly signed 1802 Enabling Act, but forgot one critical thing, they neglected to ratify the Ohio Constitution.

In 1953, some 150 years and 31 states later, Ohio was getting ready to celebrate the state’s 150th birthday. In preparation for Ohio’s sesquicentennial, some Ohio school teachers headed to Washington, D.C. to obtain copies of documents pertaining to Ohio becoming a state in 1803. They thought, just as they do now, that this would be a good way to make history more exciting. Think about it for a second. Would you rather read about Ohio’s admittance into the Union in a musty old textbook or look at the actual documents? But a problem occurred because, the Library of Congress did not have some of the documents. Namely, the legislation that granted statehood to Ohio. It was quickly realized that Ohio technically hadn’t been legally admitted into the United States in 1803. This was a problem.

To understand why this important oversight happened, we need to go back to the early 19th century. The Meeting of the 7th Congress of the United States started with the Inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Congressional sessions at the time were kept fairly short, but in this case the 7th Congress ran long, giving it the nickname “the long Congress.” Several days earlier on April 30, 1802, Congress authorized “An Act to enable the people of the Eastern division of the territory northwest of the river Ohio to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union, on an equal footing with the original States, and for other purposes.” (Chapter XL of the 7th Congress of the United States)

Presidential Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale in 1800. (Image: White House Collection/White House Historical Association)

Photo of George H. Bender. (Image: Senate Historical Office) 

End of the story, right? Well, unfortunately it wasn’t that simple. Technically, Congress forgot to approve the newly written Ohio Constitution. And when we are talking about laws, technicalities are pretty important. Without Congressional approval of the Ohio Constitution, the lands remained part of the Northwest Territory.

So how did we finally become a state? Enter an Ohio Congressman named George H. Bender. Bender was a Cleveland area politician who entered national politics in 1938 and was an Ohio Representative of the 83rd Congress in 1953 when the Ohio statehood issue resurfaced. On January 13, he introduced legislation to grant statehood to Ohio. On May 19, the House voted to grant statehood to Ohio, retroactive to March 1, 1803. Later, Bender stated that, “The State constitutional convention presented the Constitution of Ohio to Congress on February 19, 1803, and Congress chose to ignore the whole business.”

So if I ask you now when Ohio was admitted into the United States, will your answer still be 1803? Well I guess legally it would but the point is you should always look further into that deeper story. You might just find something truly groundbreaking. And also, next time you are thankful for Ohio, thank a teacher. Because without teachers, we may not be a state today.

Notes from congressional session in 1953. (Image: Government Publishing Office)

Presidential Portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Image: White House Collection/White House Historical Association)

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