Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1835: Michigan leader calls a constitutional convention

By: - January 12, 2023 4:11 am

Stevens T. Mason statue in downtown Detroit. | Detroit Public Library photo

On Jan. 12, 1835, Stevens T. Mason, Michigan territorial governor, called for a constitutional convention. The 24-year-old had been appointed by President Andrew Jackson to serve as secretary of the Michigan Territory four years earlier. 

Mason’s request came two years before Michigan was admitted into the union. Held in Detroit, 91 delegates attended the convention – all white men. Black people, Indigenous people and women were allowed to take part in the effort and thus could not vote on convention matters.  

Congress required that at least 60,000 live in the state before being admitted. The Michigan convention called for a census of people living in the territory – and the result was that 85,000 people were living within its boundaries. On Oct. 5, 1835, territory voters approved the constitution and elected Mason as the first governor. 

In section of the 1835 Constitution entitled “Electors,” the absence of gender and ethnic equity was clear: 

“In all elections, every white male citizen above the age of twenty-one years, having resided in the state six months next preceding any election, shall be entitled to vote at such election; and every white male inhabitant of the age aforesaid, who may be a resident of this state at the tie of the signing of this constitution, shall have the right of voting as aforesaid; but no such citizen or inhabitant shall be entitled to vote, except in the district, county, or township in which he shall actually reside at the time of such election.”

Before the Michigan territory could become a state, however, it needed to resolve the Toledo War with Ohio. Both entities had been fighting over a small strip of land near present-day Toledo, Ohio. Congress refused to allow Michigan to become a state until  a compromise was reached. Ultimately, Toledo became part of Ohio.

On Jan. 26, 1837, Michigan became a state.

Mason left Michigan for New York City in 1841 where he established a law practice. There, he suffered a bout with pneumonia and died at 31 in 1843. The Michigan city and county of Mason is named in his honor. A 16-foot bronze statue of Mason was dedicated in Detroit’s Capitol Park in 1908.  

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.