“To the Electors of Washington County”
Posted March 2, 2023
Topics: Settlement & StatehoodArchives & Library

By Matthew Benz, Manuscripts Curator

The Statehood Day celebration held at the Ohio Statehouse on March 2 was a chance for the Ohio History Connection to highlight items documenting the history of the Buckeye State. Among them was this pre-statehood letter written to the “electors” of Washington County. Dated May 23, 1802, the unknown writer reports that the county is entitled to send four delegates to the upcoming Constitutional Convention. With as much gravitas as he can muster, the writer exhorts the recipients to “select men of talent, integrity and worth.” The writer expounds at length on the qualities necessary in a man for such an important task as creating a state government:

The occasion is momentous and the task truly arduous. The framing of a constitution ought to be committed to skillful and experienced hands. Our all is at stake. Our children and children’s children will experience the effects of these deliberations. A constitution upon good republican principles is what we all ought to wish for, and in order to obtain our end, we must choose good men to make it. Men whose abilities, information and experience qualify them for so important an undertaking, men who are acquainted with the theory of government, and the political history of Republics. Who can discover the rocks on which other nations have split. Men who have studied the nature of society; whose minds are matured by study and reflection, whose knowledge is built upon the experience of years. Whose souls expand with benevolence and virtuous principles. Men whose consciences are free from the shackles of superstition and bigotry. The fine men of uncorrupted morals and tried patriotism. Wherever you can find characters like these, give them your confidence.

The writer then goes on to make his own recommendations of Washington County men deserving of the honor of being named delegates: Paul Fearing, Return J. Meigs, Jr., Dudley Woodbridge and Elijah Backus.  He also issues a plea that the county should come together as “one great district,” united in its choice of delegates:

 Should each village or little town insist upon having a member go from it, the consequences might be very detrimental to the interest of the county. I will venture to declare that there is a large majority in this county who are friends to order and good government, but should they get distracted among themselves and vote for thirty candidates, the minority would take the advantage and we would then an enemy rather than a friend to represent us.

While the electors didn’t follow our humble writer’s recommendations, Washington County did come together as one to pick the four men of “talent, integrity and worth;” when the Ohio Constitution Convention convened in November at Chillicothe, the Washington County delegates were Ephraim Cutler, Rufus Putnam, Benjamin Ives Gilman, and John McIntire. These four men were among the thirty-five delegates who drafted the Ohio Constitution and established the framework for statehood, thus setting the stage for the US Congress, which passed an act recognizing the state of Ohio on February 19, 1803. The Ohio General Assembly met for the first time in Chillicothe on March 1, 1803, the date Ohioans now celebrate as Statehood Day.


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