The occasion arises from time to time when I am asked what to call Michigan natives, those individuals who call Michigan home. In my book there is but one correct term…and you can guess from the title of this article what it’s not.
The Michigander label, initially written as Michi-gander, was a sarcastic derogatory label that meant “a stupid inept person”, “an imbecile”. And because those Michigan natives today that support this term are unaware of the term’s history I have decided to write this article of explanation and support behind my selected label and why I choose it.
Please allow me to introduce Lewis Cass as he appeared late in life. Born the 9th of October, 1782, in Exeter, New Hampshire, Mr. Cass was a Brigadier General in the War of 1812, was appointed the 2nd Territorial Governor over Michigan (1813-1831), served as Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson (1831-1836), served as Ambassador to France, having been appointed by Jackson (1836-1842), served as a US Senator from Michigan (1849-1857), and served as Secretary of State under President James Buchanan (1957-1860) resigning from that position prematurely over the secession issue.
Buchanan felt that the Southern States didn’t have the right to secede but concluded that there was nothing he could Constitutionally do to prevent such from transpiring. His term was over. Lincoln was coming aboard so he likely chose to do nothing – to allow the President-Elect to decide how to handle the matter. Cass resigned in disgust over Buchanan’s indecision and returned to Michigan holding firm to the Union cause.
Cass was a recognized leader of the Democrat party (at that time the Conservative Party) and held his name out there for President in 1844. Unfortunately, Martin Van Buren, defeated for re-election in 1840, had the most support. That is until Van Buren stood opposed to the annexation of Texas. This cost him much needed votes from the Southern Democrats (Conservative). Cass, realizing his opponent’s folly immediately stood out in favor of Texas but it wouldn’t matter. Andrew Jackson’s protégé, fellow Tennessean James Polk won the election because of southern support.
Fortunately for Cass, Polk promised to run a single-term Presidency. Cass was again in front of his party in line for the 1848 elections.
The issue over whether to allow new western States to allow slavery became a hot issue during the Polk era. The Democrats (Conservative) believed that the several States should be allowed to choose for themselves, per the Constitution, and the issue should not be decided by Congressional mandate.
This position wasn’t new to Cass. During his time as Michigan governor he held true to Conservative principal allowing the people as much power to govern themselves as possible, free of federal restraints. This was a Pro-Constitution platform.
Lewis Cass won the Democratic (Conservative) Presidential nomination in 1848 but he was opposed by the Whig (Liberal) Party that placed Mexican War hero Zachary Taylor on their ticket. Taylor won, but not before a bitter campaign from whence we get our term “Michi-gander”. Here are a few period articles that use the term in referring to Cass as an inept, stupid goose.
Gen. Cass has been appropriately dubbed “the great Michigander” by someone who knows his character. – We now understand why he showed so much anxiety to be started on a “wild goose chase” by the Baltimore Convention.
Source: 29 July 1848 – Cecil Whig (Elkton, Maryland)
The Battle of the Ballot Box.
‘Twas on the seventh of November, in the year of ’48,
We met the old Cass Hunkers in our little Jersey State,
We fought from eight in the morning until the hour of seven at night,
When we put the Michigander and his followers to flight.
Source: 15 November 1848 – Trenton State Gazette (Trenton, NJ)
John Van Buren and Lewis Cass. – The former would do his country good service by exhibiting the defunct Michigander as a new specimen of the poultry tribe in the shape of a wet hen.
Source: 22 November 1848 – Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) [Whig Article]
Mad dogs! Shoot ‘em! This is the cry to-day. – Be careful – if guns are fired and dogs shot this afternoon, Gen. Cass will think it is meant to honor his arrival. Don’t deceive the great Michi-gander. ‘Twould be cruel.
Source: 21 February 1849 – Daily Commercial Register (Sandusky, Ohio)
The Michi-gander label was allegedly created by Whig (Liberal) party member, Abraham Lincoln and it may thus prove to be so. In any case, the term was not of friendly origins and should not be used today because it’s not the original.
I love an article I found written in 1940 from South Carolina of all places. It’s entitled… HE’S NOT A MICHIGANDER NOR A MICHIGOOSE, BUT A MICHIGANIAN.
The article was referring to the opinion of Chase S. Osborn, former Governor of Michigan who objected “mightily to the word – if it is a word – Michigander.” Gov. Osborn goes on to say, “How in the world the absurd and ignorant and vulgar and reflective term MICHIGANDER came to be popularly used to designate a citizen of Michigan, no one on earth knows…it is the limit. A gander is the husband of a goose. A goose is a first cousin to a foolish person.”
Osborn’s choice of terminology for a Michigan native was my own… Michiganian. Unfortunately, way too many natives prefer Michigander over Michiganian, according to a Northern Michigan University survey. The sample size was only 500: 90% chose Michigander, 7% Michiganian, with 3% choosing such terms as Michiganite, Michiganese, or Yooper (for those in the upper peninsula).
The issue was brought before the State house in the 1980s where it was debated. Michiganian was selected for official use 51-42 over Michigander.
An article published in the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on 3 May 1959 states that “residents of Michigan properly are referred to as ‘Michiganians’…a word derived from Michigania, one of the 10 states originally designated to the Northwest Territory by the Jefferson Plan of 1784.”
Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd President, drew plans to separate the area encompassing today’s States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan into 10 distinct rectangular-shaped States with some very strange-sounding Greek names. They include: Sylvania, Michigania, Cherronesus, Assenispia, Metropotamia, Illinoia, Saratoga, Washington, Polypotamia, and Pelisipia. [Source: Report of a Plan of Government for the Western Territory, dated 1 Mach 1784].
Michigania was not a proposed name for what is Michigan today but rather southern Wisconsin.
That of the territory under the 45’th. & 44’th. degrees that which lies Westward of Lake Michigan shall be called MICHIGANIA, and that which is Eastward thereof within the peninsula formed by the lakes & waters of Michigan, Huron, St. Clair and Erie, shall be called CHERRONESUS, and shall include any part of the peninsula which may extend above the 45th degree.
What is now Michigan being called, according to Jefferson’s proposal, Chersonesus, the Greek term for peninsula with the bottom 1/5th of the State rolled into Northern Indiana and Ohio, entitled Metropotamia.
Of course, Jefferson’s plan didn’t pan out and the territory east, not west, of Lake Michigan came to be called Michigan.
On 26 August 1817 a Michigan territorial act was passed that established the University of Michigania, an act that envisioned a Napoleonic-styled education system from elementary to university levels. The University of Michigania became a legal entity overseen by 13 professors.
Because of its early usage, years before Michi-gander, I believe Michiganian is the proper terminology for a Michigan resident. Not only does it sound better, but it doesn’t have any sarcasm attached to it. Let’s leave Michigander to the geese.
An article published 16 August 1883 in the Jackson Citizen Partriot (Jackson, Michigan) disagrees:
“‘Wolverine’ is the best name for a native or resident of Michigan, when you would be irregularly civil. Like the corresponding term for an Ohioan – Buckeye – it has a good sound.”
Fortunately for Michigan State fans the term never caught on.