Note: The article below originally appeared in the January/February 1999 issue of Michigan History Magazine. It has been updated in two ways: 1) “State Archives of Michigan” was changed to “Archives of Michigan,” to reflect the Archives’ current name. 2) The statistic on the amount of paper in the Archives (see concluding paragraph) now reflects a more recent (2012) number, rather than the number from 1999.
The Archives of Michigan collects and preserves significant records generated by the state and local governments of Michigan. On rare occasions, however, this depository of Michigan’s documentary heritage is called upon to care for selected federal papers. There are four good examples of this unusual situation, and they all occurred years ago and at the same time.
The story of these seemingly strayed records begins in 1933, when U.S. Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg discovered several interesting items squirreled away in the nation’s Capitol. In the files of the secretary of the Senate, he uncovered several original sheets of parchment that qualify as Michigan’s birth certificates.
The first of these handwritten treasures was a letter from President Andrew Jackson dated December 9, 1835. Addressed to the members of “the Senate and House of Representatives,” it notified Congress that Michigan had met the qualifications for statehood. [Editor's note: To read this letter, click Andrew Jackson, Page 1 and Andrew Jackson, Page 2.]
The next find was Senate Bill 81 from the second session of the Twenty-fourth Congress. This document, bearing the date it was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee, December 29, 1836, was the bill granting statehood to Michigan. [Editor's note: To read this bill, click Senate Bill 81, Page 1 and Senate Bill 81, Page 2.]
The remaining two documents were the credentials of Michigan’s first two U.S. senators, Lucius Lyon and John Norvell. Both of these men took their seats on January 26, 1837, the same day Michigan joined the Union.
Believing that these manuscripts would be more appreciated in Michigan than in Washington, Vandenberg crafted and submitted Senate Resolution 341. This measure directed the secretary of the Senate “to make photostatic copies” of the noted documents and deposit them in the Senate files. This having been done, the originals were to be sent to Lansing for permanent retention and preservation.
Vandenberg’s colleagues agreed to his proposal on February 9, 1933, marking the first time any state had been given the original documents admitting it to the Union. Two weeks later, the four congressional records arrived in Lansing.
Within the nearly full vaults of the Archives of Michigan are housed over sixty thousand cubic feet of the most important papers produced by public officials at the state, county, township and municipal level. But it is doubtful that anything in this vast amount of material has more sentimental value than the four isolated sheets of paper that declared Michigan the twenty-sixth state in the Union.
President Andrew Jackson’s signature on the December 9, 1835 letter to Congress.