Controversy over New Counties

This list of nine counties comprised what had been erected when, in pursuance of the proclamation from St. Clair, a territorial legislature was elected, in December, 1788. This proclamation was in obedience to the requirements of the Ordinance of 1787, as follows:

"So soon as there shall be five thousand free male inhabitants, of full age, in the district, upon giving proof thereof to the governor, they shall receive authority, with time and place, to elect representatives from their counties or townships, to represent them- in the General Assembly ; provided that for every five hundred free male inhabitants there shall be one representative, and so on progressively with the number of free male inhabitants, shall the right of representation increase, until the number of representatives shall amount to twenty-five, after which the number and proportion of representatives shall be regulated by the Legislature; provided, that no person be eligible or quaffed to act as a representative, unless he shall have been a citizen of one of the United States three years, and be a resident in the district, or unless he shall have resided in the district three years, and in either case shall likewise hold in his own right, in fee simple, two hundred acres of land within the same; provided also, that a freehold in fifty acres of land in the district, having been a citizen in one of the states, and being resident in the district, or the like freehold and two years' residence in the district, shall be necessary to qualify the man as an elector of a representative."

Some idea of the population of the territory, at that time, may be formed from the representation the different counties obtained in the Territorial Legislature. Washington had two, Hamilton seven, Ross four, Adams two, Wayne three, and St. Clair, Randolph, Knox and Jefferson one each. New Connecticut was a part of the territory, governed under the laws of Connecticut, and would have been entitled to a representation, but had none, because, as St. Clair said, he did not know of population enough in the district to entitle it to a member.

The legislature met at the appointed place, February 4, 1799. Before this time the people of several localities in the territory had been clamorous for the erection of new counties, but their desires had been refused by St. Clair. The territorial legislature having met, the matter now came before that body, and was a disturbing element between the executive and the General Assembly. Several acts were passed creating new counties, or changing the boundaries of those already existing. The legislature insisted that, after the governor had laid out the country into counties and townships, as he had already done, it was competent for them to pass laws, altering, dividing, and multiplying them at their pleasure, to be submitted to him for his approbation: that when the territory had been divided into counties by the governor, his exclusive power was exhausted, and any alterations thereafter required, were to be made by the legislature, with his assent. But St. Clair would not assent to any laws changing the boundaries of counties, or erecting new ones. Six acts of the kind, passed at this session, were vetoed by him. The governor made a speech to the legislature, on the day of its adjournment, in which he said:

''I am truly sensible, gentlemen, of the inconveniences that follow from a great extension being given to counties ; they cannot, however, be constructed while the settlements are otherwise, and the inconveniences are not lessened, but rather increased by being made very small, with respect to the number of inhabitants. "The expenses which necessarily attend the establishment of counties fall light when divided amongst a number, but become a heavy burden when they must be borne by a few, and the inconvenience of attending the courts as jurors and witnesses, which are sometimes complained of, are increased nearly in the same ratio as the counties are multiplied within the same bounds.

"There is yet another reason, gentlemen, why those acts were not assented to. It appears to me that the erecting of new counties is the proper business of the executive. It is, indeed, provided that the boundaries of counties may be altered by the legislature; but that is quite a different thing from originally establishing them. They must exist before they can be altered, and the provision is expressed that the governor shall proceed from time to time, as it may become necessary to lay them out. While I shall ever most studiously avoid encroaching on any of the rights of the legislature, you will naturally expect, gentlemen that I should guard, with equal care, those of the executive."

Another reason given by St. Clair for his dissent to the bills for erecting new counties, was, as he said, that in some of them the present number of inhabitants could not support a county, as it was not probable that the names of every man living within the proposed boundary exceeded a hundred. St. Clair's biographer, in the St. Clair Papers, advances another reason for his conservatism. He says: "The greed which characterized the transactions in land, actuated those who were speculators, to seek to control the establishment of county towns. They hoped to increase the value of their lands, as the public improvements in the way of buildings and roads, and superior advantages incidental to a county seat, would attract the better class of settlers to such neighborhood." An illustration of this is afforded in the case of the strife in the county of Adams, to which reference has been made.

It is quite likely that the true secret of St. Clair's unwillingness to erect new counties, was, that if a large number of them were represented in the legislature, the chance of his exercising much political influence over the body would be diminished.

Online Resources | Ohio AHGP

Source: Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Volume 5, John L. Trauger, 1898.




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