restricted access 5. Thomas Worthington and the Quest for Statehood and Gentility
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N NOVEMBER 1, 1802, a confrontation between two groups illustrated a decade-long dispute over the future of the Ohio country. On one side, Thomas Worthington, Dr. Edward Tiffin (Worthington’s brother-in-law), and other Jeffersonian Republicans wanted statehood for Ohio. Territorial status did not appeal to these rising young men. Worthington frequently claimed that having the federal government appoint a governor and judges for the territory put residents in the same position as colonists subject to European powers. On the other side, territorial governor Arthur St. Clair and the Federalists believed that the Ohioans were not ready for self-government . St. Clair feared that self-government would dissolve into anarchy. The setting for the conflict was Ohio’s Constitutional Convention , which had been brought about by the election of Thomas Jefferson to the White House two years earlier. Although Edward Tiffin had been elected president of the convention, St. Clair was determined not to relinquish his power without a fight. He entered the chamber where the delegates were gathered, appointed a secretary, and demanded the delegates’ certificates of election. In the words of one of the delegates, “Col. Thomas Worthington with a manly intrepidity & his usual firmness in support of political Justice successfully interfered & we proceeded to the choice of a president and Secretary & to our own organization.” St. Clair was not easily deterred. The following day, he asked to address the convention. “Give him rope and he will hang himself,” remarked one of the Republican delegates. The majority shared this 5 60 Thomas Worthington and the Quest for Statehood and Gentility MARY ALICE MAIROSE  O vantne_3rd_chap5.qxd 11/10/2003 3:27 PM Page 60 feeling and allowed him to speak but as a private citizen rather than territorial governor. The Republicans could not have wished for St. Clair to make a better speech to advance their cause. St. Clair began by exhorting the delegates to beware of party spirit, an evil threatening the future of the nation. He then stunned the convention by announcing that the delegates need not be bound by the Enabling Act—the law recently passed by Congress giving the delegates authority to write a constitution and become a state. Congress , St. Clair declared, had no right to take such action. He argued that the Ohio country would progress better if the delegates ignored the Enabling Act and allowed the territorial government to continue uninterrupted. St. Clair’s attack on the Enabling Act finally gave the Republicans the grounds they needed to have him removed. Not content to let St. Clair’s tenure in office run out, Worthington and other delegates wrote to President Jefferson and members of his administration detailing St. Clair’s speech, and the Revolutionary War veteran was immediately removed from office. This episode has become the cornerstone of a popular depiction of Ohio’s entrance into the Union as a struggle 61 THOMAS WORTHINGTON FIG. 3 Thomas Worthington. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society. vantne_3rd_chap5.qxd 11/10/2003 3:28 PM Page 61 between Worthington, the energetic, forward-looking young Virginian , and the drunken, gouty St. Clair, an elderly tyrant who wished to subvert the will of the people. After the American Revolution, some citizens, who eventually identified themselves as Federalists, felt that the democratic ideals for which they had fought were impractical, that the masses were not capable of governing themselves. They watched in alarm as common folks openly defied the government as had happened during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 when farmers in western Pennsylvania attacked the federal agent collecting a tax on whiskey and closed the courts and robbed the mail. Such incidents left them feeling that “the people” were not capable of governing themselves. The Federalists were also concerned about the wholesale slaughter of the French Revolution and believed that tighter government control was needed to insure that mass violence did not break out in America. St. Clair, a Federalist himself, described the early settlers to the Ohio country as a “multitude of indigent and ignorant people.” From his years as governor , he knew that many of the area inhabitants tended to be squatters with little respect for established laws, and that people of the frontier were widely scattered and had no strong allegiance to the government. Consequently, he wanted statehood delayed until a more respectable class of men inhabited the territory. Others of the Revolutionary generation, most notably Thomas Jefferson, believed in the importance of local autonomy. Many in the Ohio country supported Jefferson and wanted...


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