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FIFTY YEARS OF MICHIGAN AS A STATE.
ENERATIONS of men come and go, ripening with years for the
inevitable harvest, but institutions in harmony with eternal laws may expand and strengthen as the cycles of time roll on, and with every passing century strike their roots deeper and take on some new form of perennial growth.
A panoramic, historical view of the region which embraces Michigan, beginning with the first meagre accounts we have of it, would be of intense interest and give us many startling surprises. First, we should see on a background of almost total darkness the desperate struggles of powerful tribes of Indians contending, in their savage way, for its possession. Then a day of promise seems to dawn when the Jesuit fathers come, inspired with the purpose to convert the wandering tribes of savages to the true faith, but destined to give tireless labors for a harvest which seems but scanty when they come bringing in their sheaves. Not altogether in vain, however, do they labor, for on the picture we trace how the gleam of their mission fires lights the way for trade and settlement, and how the early commerce finds protection in the rude cross planted at the missions, about which the Indians gather with their furs and peltry for barter. Shortly appears upon the canvas the venerable figure of Father Marquette, who in 1668 plants at the Sault Ste. Marie the first permanent settlement in Michigan, and three years later founds the mission of St. Ignatius on the Straits of Mackinaw. Ninety years more roll on and the Chevalier la Motte Cadillac is seen to select with unerring sagacity as the site for his town the commanding position now held by the commercial metropolis of the state; but the town he establishes grows but feebly under the monopoly of trade which represses the energies of its people until it passes under British control. Then immediately the gloomy
and threatening countenance of Pontiac rises before us, and we have in succession the dramatic surprise and capiure of Mackinaw, with the massacre of its garrison and traders, followed by the close and persistent siege of Detroit, in the progress of which first romance and then tragedy excites intense interest. And then all through the warfor independence the lines of British influence over the Indians are seen to centre at Detroit, which is the mart for captives and the place where scalps torn from the heads of men, women and children in the back settlemenis are gathered in and paid for. Even after the treaty of peace the baieful British influence over the Indians is not withdrawn until two American armies have been disastrously repulsed, nor until a third, under General Wayne, has annihilated the savage power.
Willingly we allow so grewsome a canvas to be rolled up from our sight that we may open the record book of American supremacy, And here we find the very first pages radiant with the history of that grand and inspiring event in our National life—the founding of territorial government for the country northwest of the Ohio, on the principle of entire and absolute exclusion of chattel slavery. When the founders of the new government thus took stand in advance of their age, they builded not wisely merely, but better than they knew ; for their act was such “ a deed done for freedom" as sends “a thrill of joy prophetic " through the universe. In putting slavery under perpetual ban, a blow was struck at oppression everywhere whose echoes were never to die away till the conscience of the world should be so quickened that in America every shackle should fall from human limbs, and even in distant Russia church bells should ring in a jubilee of emancipation.
In the fullness of time Michigan, fourth in the list of free daughters of the old Northwest Territory, was decked with the honors of incipient statehood, under the same perpetual dedication to equal rights and universal liberty. It was fortunate in its name, which is American, derived from Indian words signifying a great lake. Mr. Jefferson had proposed for it the classical appellation of Chersonesus; but a kindly providence spared it the hard fortune to be thus named, and when it was organized in 1805, inspired its godfathers to give it the appropriate christening. In other particulars it was not so fortunate, and the early annals form dismal reading. In the very year of organization, Detroit was wholly burned to the ground and its people rendered homeless. And while the little settlement was still struggling with adversity came on the War of 1812, and the
Revolutionary soldier, who had been made governor and entrusted with the defense of the lake region, proved wholly inadequate to the military responsibilities of his position, and Detroit, under most humiliating circumstances, was delivered into the hands of the enemy. Then came the massacre of Kentucky's brave sons at the River Raisin, and the banishment of worthy citizens who refused to turn traitors; but competent leadership soon breasted and turned back the tide of success, and in little more than a year Perry had won possession of Lake Erie, Harrison had chased the British army across the river and broken it up in a decisive battle, and Colonel Lewis Cass had been sent to Detroit as military commandant, soon to be followed by a commission as civil governor.
If the first appointment of governor for the territory had proved unfortunate, in the second the people found ample compensation. Governor Cass had been a pioneer in Ohio; he knew the west and its needs, and during the war he had become well known to the people of his new government. He was of vigorous intellectual and physical constitution; he was a man of culture and courtesy; he was of pure life, so that with no affectation of dignity he commanded respect for abilities and deportment, and became a social force of marked and permanent benefit to his people. In his administration of public affairs it was soon perceived that he was a statesman in no narrow sense; that he thoroughly understood the interests committed to his charge, and that he might be relied upon to advance and cherish them with an energy proportioned to a nature so robust and vigorous. To the pioneers of Michigan it would be repeating a thrice-told tale
recount how Governor Cass, by just and fair treatment of the Indians, preserved their friendship and purchased in fair convention vast tracts of their lands; how he coníributed to the opening of the territory to settlement by means of good roads and the bringing of the public lands into market, and how, with a statesman's perception of the real point of danger in a democratic Republic, he urged upon the legislature from session to session that competent provision should be made for educating in the public schools all the children of the territory. Nor was his interest in public education bounded by the narrow limits of elementary instruction, but comprehending the best and the highest, so that even in one of his treaties with the Indiars we find him making a beginning in university endowment.
When Governor Cass was called to the government but few settlers of American birth had as yet located in the territory; but these