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Michigan 150th Birthday Celebration More Than A Year Late?

January 24, 1987

FLINT, Mich. (AP) _ Michigan residents will celebrate the state’s Sesquicentennial on Monday, but at least one historian contends the state’s 150th birthday party should have been celebrated in 1985.

Richard Scharchburg, a professor of industrial history at GMI Engineering and Management Institute in Flint, figures the state’s founders would be outraged if they knew their descendants recognized Jan. 26, 1837, as Michigan’s official birthday.

″Every single bit of historical information would suggest that Michigan has functioned as a state since Nov. 2, 1835,″ Scharchburg said.

That’s when Michigan’s first Legislature and governor took the oath of office and sent representatives to Washington, history books agree.

The dispute stems from what followed Michigan’s bold assertion of statehood. Almost immediately, Congress refused to recognize the state’s congressmen when a bitter boundary dispute broke out with Ohio.

After being forced to swallow a compromise it never officially accepted, Michigan was formally welcomed into the union by President Andrew Jackson and Congress on Jan. 26, 1837.

And while many historians point to the 1837 date for the birthday, much of the record leans in favor of either 1835 or 1836:

-The official Michigan state seal bears the Roman numerals MDCCCXXXV, or 1835.

-Michigan celebrated its 50th birthday on June 15, 1886. It was on that date in 1836 that Congress first agreed to the boundary compromise that paved the way for Michigan to enter the union.

-Half a century later, Michigan held its centennial celebration Nov. 2, 1935. In honor of the occasion, the U.S. Postal Service issued a three-cent centennial stamp.

-A Michigan Supreme Court decision in 1843 determined that Michigan was indeed a state since November 1835.

-A historian writing in 1929 in the Michigan Historical Magazine referred to the ″heresy of 1837.″ Shelby Schurtz concluded: ″In the face of all these facts, the state of Michigan becomes 100 years old on Nov. 2, 1935. We can think of nothing more out of place than celebrating the state’s 100th birthday in 1937.″

So why didn’t Michiganers grab their party hats, ring their church bells and celebrate their proud heritage more than a year ago?

″That’s always been the problem,″ explained retired Eastern Michigan University history professor George May. ″Do you date Michigan’s statehood from the time Michigan’s voters declared themselves a state or from the time the federal government says you’re a state?″

Opposing Scharchburg are a number of his fellow historians, including John Collins, co-chairman of a steering committee formed in 1982 to study the issue.

″It was never a question in my mind as to when it should be celebrated,″ said Collins, an amateur historian. The steering committee agreed on Jan. 26, 1987, as the best date, he said.

″We were not a star on the flag in 1835,″ Collins said.

Scharchburg agrees Jan. 26, 1837, was a significant date. But he feels an earlier sesquicentennial would have focused more attention on the colorful history of Michigan’s fight to enter the union.

As proof of his theory, Scharchburg noted that Michigan’s own founders steadfastly believed it was a state in 1835. Why else, he said, would the first governor, Stevens T. Mason, have taken the oath of office Nov. 2, 1835?

″Michigan functioned for all practical purposes as a state for two years before it was admitted to the union,″ Scharchburg said.

But for Sesquicentennial Commission Chairman William Zehnder, the point is moot. ″I’ve been involved with historians a long time and they can dispute anything that takes place,″ Zehnder said.

″Historically, I think (1837) is correct,″ he said. ″And we can’t go back and celebrate it two years ago. So I guess if we missed it then, let’s celebrate it now.″

″I figure on being around for the bicentennial, so let’s see what date they pick for that one,″ he said.

Each Michigan county will hold a noon ceremony Monday, which will include raising the state’s sesquicentennial flag, reading of Michigan’s statehood admission bill and reading of the governor’s proclamation.

In addition, a ball will be held at the state Capitol for the first time in 100 years, while other balls are held at Marquette in the Upper Peninsula and at Detroit.

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