Michigan’s Superior Boundary

Douglass Houghton, on some unintended consequences of including Isle Royale as part of Michigan (instead of Wisconsin–or Minnesota, which hadn’t yet been imagined):

By the act admitting Michigan as a State into the confederacy, and in which her boundaries are defined, it does not appear to have been the intention to include within her limits any portion of territory lying upon the north shore of Lake Superior, but in consequence of the peculiar shape of the coast at that point where the national boundary line "last touches Lake Superior," at the mouth of Pigeon River, a direct line to the mouth of the Montreal River, if followed literally, would throw within the State of Michigan several small rocky islands, together with a few miles of the south cape of Pigeon Bay, situate on the north coast. This boundary leaves in Wisconsin the whole of the Apostles’ group of islands, near to the south coast, while it includes within Michigan, Isle Royale, situate near to the north coast of the lake.

From Houghton’s 1841 Fourth Report to the Michigan Legislature, as excerpted in Alvah Bradish’s Memoir of Douglass Houghton.

This map may help you parse the Houghton paragraph. I find from Google that the "last touches" wording is from the federal law establishing the (prospective) state’s boundary as a result of the Toledo War, and that it is repeated early in the 1850 State Constitution. (I also see that current Michigan AG Mike Cox quoted the phrase [pdf] in a 2004 opinion.) It looks like Houghton didn’t expect a fully literal interpretation of the boundary to stand. He was right in that Michigan evidently doesn’t "own" the last few miles of Minnesota’s North Shore, nor the aforesaid rocky islands–but Isle Royale remains part of Michigan, regardless of its proximity to Minnesota. And Ontario.

Apologies, couldn’t resist that "aforesaid." And Houghton’s use of "confederacy" caught my eye. Nowadays we’d likely say "union." Maybe "federation" if we wanted to insert some variety. I’m guessing confederacy went out of style in this context around 1860, and never recovered.

Revision History:

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