Ohio's First Statehouse
The Northwest Territory
Before Ohio was admitted to the Union in 1803, it was part of the Northwest Territory. Congress appointed a
: Ohio was the first state to be carved out of the Northwest Territory.
governor and three judges to administrate the area. Not until the territory's population reached "five thousand
free male inhabitants of full age" were settlers given the right to elect representatives. The territorial
legislature consisted of a House of Representatives and a five-member Legislative Council -- the precursor of
the Ohio Senate. In February of 1799, the United States House of Representatives chose the first members of the
Legislative Council. Council members included Jacob Burnett of Hamilton, James Findlay of Cincinnati, David
Vance of Vanceville, Henry Vanderburgh of Vincennes, Indiana and Robert Oliver of Marietta.
Map of Ohio before statehood.
Prepared in 1802, Ohio's first constitution established three branches of government. The legislative branch of
: Politics and personalities shaped Ohio's entrance into the Union. Arthur St. Clair, the Governor of the
Ohio Territory opposed Ohio's statehood. St. Clair, a Federalist, wanted the territory to be divided into two states instead of one.
President Thomas Jefferson, a Democrat-Republican, removed him from office in 1802. Jefferson believed St. Clair's rule was more about
self agenda than the good of the Ohio Territory. Ohio's first Constitution affirmed Jefferson’s opinion. The first Constitution provided
for a strong legislature and a weak Governor as a result of St. Clair's method of governance.
government, called the General Assembly, was composed of a House of Representatives and a Senate. Thirty
representatives and fourteen senators, representing seventeen counties, took their seats as the first legislature
was called to order in Chillicothe on March 1, 1803. At this time, the state legislature held virtually all the
power; the governor, having no veto authority, was a figurehead. The General Assembly appointed judges and all
state offices, except the governor.
The first speaker of the Senate was Nathaniel Massie. Massie was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a surveyor
by trade. He is credited with founding the city of Chillicothe, which served as the first state capital until 1810.
The Statehouse as it looked following the Civil War.
The Constitutional Convention of 1851 produced the Ohio Constitution still in use today. Initially, the convention was
held at the first State Capitol building in Columbus from May 6 to July 9, 1850. However, the location of the meeting
had to be changed due to a cholera epidemic in Columbus. The convention reconvened in Cincinnati from December 2, 1850
to March 10, 1851.
William Medill, a former state legislator, supervised the convention as the president. After 135 days of contentious debate,
the convention delegates produced a new Ohio Constitution which was adopted by the popular vote of the people. Popular
opinion at the time held that the legislative branch had too much power. As a result, the new Constitution added many
limits to legislative authority. The Constitution contained provisions for the people to elect executive and judicial
officers. Formerly these executive and judicial positions were made by legislative appointment. The new Constitution
also created the office of the Lieutenant Governor who presided over the Senate. The majority leader of the Senate became
the President Pro Tempore. Medill went on to become the first Lieutenant Governor who served over the Ohio Senate in 1852
The joint convention of the General Assembly in the House Chamber
during the Constitutional Convention of 1912.
In 1912, a fourth constitutional convention was held. Several famous politicians, including Theodore Roosevelt, William
Jennings Bryan, and President William H. Taft, addressed the convention. The convention representatives agreed to refine
: The last lieutenant governor to serve as the presiding officer of the Senate in 1978 was Richard Celeste, a
Democrat. Celeste later served as governor from 1983 to 1991.
the Governor's veto power over legislation and to give legislators the authority to pass labor laws. Delegates also decided
to grant municipalities "home rule" authority – the power of a local government to self-regulate.
Fifty-five years later, voters approved a constitutional amendment establishing the General Assembly's makeup as the
99-member House and 33-member Senate we know today. Later voters approved an amendment requiring the governor and
lieutenant governor to run together beginning with the 1978 election. Since this change, the Senate majority leader and
presiding officer of the Senate has been the Senate President. The Senate presidents who have served since 1978 are Oliver
Ocasek, Paul E. Gillmor, Harry Meshel, Stanley J. Aronoff, Richard H. Finan, Doug White, Bill M. Harris, Thomas E. Niehaus,
and current President Keith Faber.