The Ohio System

Lithographic Print of Cincinnati, Ohio. 1800. By: Stobridge Lithographing Co.

Ohio was admitted into the Union in 1803, and it introduced a new political system to the United States. Each county in Ohio had county commissions that each county’s citizens elected, rather than the states of the South and Southwest, who had self-perpetuating commissions. Gordon Wood, Empire of Liberty, 365.

Further, each county commission had overlapping jurisdiction with “towns, school districts, and other subdivisions,” which produced a variety of offices for election. Id. Local citizens were responsible for electing its local representatives to these towns, school districts, and county commissions, as well as fulfilling their obligations for electing representatives to the Ohio State Senate and House of Representatives and of course the federal Senate and House of Representatives.

Gordon Wood notes in Empire of Liberty that so many political offices open created a widespread, competitive political atmosphere, with dozens and dozens of candidates running for the various offices then open for politicians in Ohio. For example, 116 men ran for “Hamilton County’s [the County including Cincinnati] seven seats in Ohio’s third territorial assembly.” Id. In 1803, 22 candidates ran to be Ohio’s first governor. Id.

Meanwhile, because of Ohio’s diverse economy, “with a variety of markets and no simple distribution for the region’s many products,” small towns began popping up all over Ohio. Id.

These early years in Ohio inevitably created a sense of participation in politics on all levels for Ohioans. As is familiar for modern Americans, early Ohioans, beginning in 1803, would participate in their local politics, state politics, and federal politics. Unlike other states in the Union in the South and Southwest of the country then, Ohioans would have an active role in electing their local governments and having a say in how local affairs were conducted.

The fact that so many Americans had no ability to be involved in their local elections prior to this Ohioan system being adopted deserves more analysis. The uniquely American obsession with having democratic principles from top to bottom and from small to large has spread throughout the United States by now, but in those early years, it is clear that the extent of democratic rights were, for some, perhaps just limited to state elections and federal elections.

Americans now enjoy the full benefits of democracy on the local level, the state level, and the federal level. Some in the early years of the Republic may have questioned the capability of the citizenry to be informed enough to elect their local politicians. But there is no question that the election of local politicians, whether they be in school districts, county commissions, or towns, is a fundamental responsibility that is valued by Americans who choose to inform themselves and exercise their right to vote.

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