I don’t think there is a reader of this blog who I don’t also know personally, so I’m gonna keep it pretty informal.
I’ve been pretty stressed out lately for reasons which are not important to this story, but something which has made me a bit less stressed is I found my world atlas book which I had gotten from the free book section at the library last summer and which I had, until a few days ago, considered totally and hopelessly lost. (It was in a drawer in a table that sits in our living room and is probably as old as me, at least). I genuinely like that atlas more than I like some people.
Anyway, the atlas got me thinking about state capitals. And that got me thinking about Michigan’s capital, and why it’s terrible. So without any further adieu, I present: why Michigan’s capital should be moved back to Detroit.
First, some history. During the War of 1812, the British basically walked into Detroit which at that time was the territorial capital of Michigan (or possibly the Northwest Territory at this point) and captured it with a total of 7 casualties. The British held Detroit for ~a year, before being driven back to Canada. Then, in the late 1830’s, Michigan wanted to become a state, and so did (ignoring some bullshit with Ohio which is a topic for a separate post), with Detroit remaining the capital.
The only thing complicating matters was a clause written into the Michigan Constitution which stated that the state capital would remain “at Detroit, or at such other place or places as may be prescribed by law until the year eighteen hundred and forty-seven when it shall be permanently located by the legislature”. If you ask me, that’s a stupid system. But I digress. As the year 1847 approached, people had two main arguments against keeping the capital in Detroit permanently. The first was that they worried that with a state capital so far to the east of the state, the western bits of Michigan wouldn’t develop very well. The second argument was concerning that whole business with the British 35 years ago, and wouldn’t a more centrally located capital be better from a defense standpoint. So in 1847, they selected… the nearly uninhabited Lansing Township. They renamed it “the Town of Michigan” (and then quickly changed it back to Lansing a few years later), and called it a day.
And now fast forward to 2018. Or later, if you’re a future internet archaeologist who carves out layers of internet search results like a physical archaeologist carves out layers of rocks. 20xx, we’ll just call it.
Let’s reexamine those criteria from a 20xx perspective. I’m going to take the second one first. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 150 years, England no longer has a presence in Canada. Also, barring a terrible catastrophic breakdown in relations, we will never be at war with that country again. Also, even if the previous two points weren’t true, it still wouldn’t matter because we don’t subscribe to that ancient western ideal of war in which once the capital is taken, the territory is taken.
Ok, so the reason that I’m tackling these arguments in this order is that I think the first argument put forth is the stronger one. Namely, the argument that moving the capital to more of a central location would assist in development of the western side of the state. So, in order to take down this argument, we must turn to… geography.
First, let’s examine Nevada. Nevada’s capital is…anyone? anyone? Carson City. I know, I hadn’t heard of it either, but there you go. Carson City is located at the extreme western border of Nevada, NOWHERE NEAR the most populous city in Nevada, Las Vegas. The population of Las Vegas, as an interesting side-note, is more than ten times the population of Carson City. Carson City was named and settled in 1858, a full 53 years before Las Vegas. But Pat, I hear you shouting at your computer screen, surely that’s just an outlier? I bet you don’t have two other examples which support your argument! And that’s where you’re wrong. Texas is my next example. Austin is the capital, and it’s ~150 miles away from the most populous Texas city of Houston. That’s about double the distance from Lansing to Detroit, for anyone keeping score. The third and final example here is Florida. The capital of Florida is Tallahassee. Tallahassee is located at the northern end of the state, while Miami is located at the far southern tip. Miami has about triple the population of Tallahassee, despite the fact that it’s located over 400 miles away.
So what has all this proven? Well, I hope it has cast some doubt on the idea that having a capital city close to you makes you grow and develop more. There is no proof that that is the case, it just seems like it kind of should work. Unfortunately, it appears that location of a capital city is irrelevant to the development of another city in the same state.
Next, I want to address the idea that moving a state capital is somehow bad. This is a very recent idea. The last state to move its capital was Oklahoma in 1910. And before they did, many other states did this. In fact, exactly half of the states in the Union did move their capital at some point. Notably, Georgia changed their state capital TWELVE TIMES before settling on Atlanta in 1868. So there’s no reason that we should be embarrassed. If anyone makes fun of us, we can just remind them about Georgia’s shame and that’ll take care of it.
So, that leaves the question of where to move it. And this is the part of the idea that I really like: back to Detroit. That’s right, we’re going to move the capital of Michigan back to Detroit. Why? Let me count the ways. First, it’s historical. Detroit was the first major city in Michigan, and it helps connect us to our heritage. Also, it’s quite near Canada which means there’s a border crossing. This is ideal, because it means that new immigrants from Canada can immediately start their new American lives with all the bureaucratic necessities in their new city. Detroit is also the most populous city in Michigan, and there’s something to be said for having the capital city be also the most populous. Third and finally, the west side of the state doesn’t need help with development anymore. But you know who does? Detroit. Detroit has been in the midst of a great comeback for the past five or so years now, and that’s great, but it appears to be stagnating somewhat. If Detroit is to return to its former glory, it must become the capital of Michigan again.
So anyway, that’s my idea. It feels good to have written it all out like this. Thanks for reading this long thing. Also, sorry it’s been a while, I’ll try to post more on here in the future.