The Popular Vote

William Woodbridge (1780-1861)

William Woodbridge (1780-1861)

As stipulated by the Northwest Ordinance, a territory that reached a population of five thousand free male inhabitants would reach the second phase of development toward statehood. Having surpassed the population requirement, the Michigan Territory was given the opportunity to elect a territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress in 1819. The voters in the territory selected William Woodbridge as their delegate. Woodbridge had been active in the territorial government for years. Appointed secretary of the territory in 1814, Woodbridge served in that capacity until he was elected as the territorial delegate. He held the delegate position from March 4, 1819 to August 9, 1820. Woodbridge resigned as delegate to return as secretary, a position he held until 1828 when he was appointed a judge of the Michigan Territory. William Woodbridge remained active in Michigan's territorial government and subsequent state government for several decades, eventually serving as governor of the State of Michigan from 1840 to 1841. 

Following Woodbridge's resignation as the territorial congressional delegate in 1820, the people of the Michigan Territory elected seven subsequent delegates from 1820 through 1837. This popularly elected position was abolished once Michigan became a state, as states receive two senators and a number of representatives based on its population. 

Journal of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan, 1824.

Journal of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan, 1824.

Though Michigan received its delegate to Congress in 1819, it took several more years to fullfil the other piece of the second phase of development, which, according to the Ordinance, was supposed to occur simultaneously with the election of a delegate. On March 3, 1823, the old Michigan territorial government, comprised of an appointed governor and judges, was abolished and legislative power was given to a governor and legislative council, which was made up of nine people appointed by President Monroe but nominated by the people of the territory by popular vote. The judge positions, created with the territory, still existed, however they no longer had legislative-like duties and were restricted to a judicial role in the territorial government. 

The first session of the Legislative Council was held on June 7, 1824 in Detroit. Lewis Cass retained the governorship. Cass along with the new unicameral legislature were the governing body of the territory. Little was done by the Council, its primary purpose was to fulfill the elected assembly developmental step toward statehood as laid out by the Nortwest Ordinance. 

On February 5, 1825, Congress increased the size of Michigan's territorial legislative council from nine to thirteen members. From the creation of the council in 1824 until 1827, members were appointed by the President of the United States from a pool of candidates selected by popular vote of the people of the territory. Following the congressional act of January 29, 1827, the council was directly elected by the people of the Michigan Territory and there was no longer an appointment by the president.

The direct election of representatives by popular vote was the final step completing the second phase toward statehood. The Northwest Ordinance's second phase of territorial development toward statehood was the election of a legislative assembly and one non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress. Michigan received its delegate in 1819 and attained a fully popularly elected legislative council between 1824 and 1827. With this step complete, after a process of eight years, Michigan was off to its third and final phase toward statehood. 

Below you may explore the Journal of the Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan from 1824, which has been digitized and placed online by the University of Michigan and HathiTrust. 

The Popular Vote