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The Date of Ohio Statehood, by Frederick J. Blue, Ph.D.
Otterbein and the Goodwin Controversy, by Elizabeth MacLean, Ph.D.

The Date of Ohio Statehood

Frederick J. Blue, Ph.D.

Ohioans with more than a casual interest in their state’s history continue to debate the actual date of statehood even as we approach next year’s bicentennial celebration. The reason for the confusion and ongoing discussion is the federal government technically never officially admitted Ohio to statehood until doing so retroactively at the time of the state’s sesquicentennial in 1953! The long delay is only one of several controversial aspects of Ohio statehood.

As the Territory of Ohio prepared for statehood during the early months of the administration of Thomas Jefferson in April 1802, Congress passed and the President signed an enabling act authorizing the citizens to form a state constitution, a necessary step before formal admission to statehood. Even this action was controversial since the Northwest Ordinance required a population of 60,000 for statehood and the census of 1800 showed there to be only slightly more than 42,000 residents within the boundaries of the proposed state. Congress and the President agreed, however, that by the time of statehood far more than the required number would reside here even though the government failed to authorize a new census to confirm this assumption. When the census of 1810 showed Ohio to have a population of 231,000, the issue became moot.

The Ohio constitutional convention completed its work in late November 1802, and quickly submitted the constitution to Congress, not bothering beforehand to submit it to the voters for approval. On February 19, 1803, Congress simply recognized the existence of the "state of Ohio" rather than passing a separate resolution declaring Ohio a state as it had done and would do with other new states. Ten days later, on March 1, the first general assembly of the new state convened with voters having already elected Edward Tiffin as their first governor on January 11, 1803.

The lack of specific Congressional legislation admitting the new state left Ohio, in the minds of some, without an official date of statehood. Although the issue was largely overlooked both in Ohio and in Washington through the remainder of the nineteenth century, discussion later ensued. (Dispute is perhaps too strong a word.) Proponents have debated four possible statehood dates: 1) April 30, 1802, the date of approval of the Enabling Act; 2) November 29, 1802, the date the constitutional convention completed its work; 3) February 19, 1803, when Congress extended federal laws to Ohio; and 4) March 1, 1803, when the first general assembly convened. Although there are few supporters of the first two dates, the debate has continued over the remaining possibilities. Of equal concern to a specific statehood date was the lack of federal legislation officially admitting the new state.

Congress dealt with both issues on August 7, 1953, when it approved a joint resolution rectifying its earlier omissions. Its action was retroactive to 1803, thus making Ohio the seventeenth state rather than the forty-eighth! Both Congress and, later, the Ohio Bicentennial Commission designated March 1, 1803, as the official date, actions which have satisfied most but not all Ohioans, many of whom still contend that February 19 is the more appropriate date. Nonetheless, as the bicentennial approaches, Ohioans can agree that statehood, whenever achieved, did occur during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.

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Otterbein and the Goodwin Controversy

Elizabeth MacLean, Ph.D.

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Otterbein College recently experienced an object lesson in academic integrity, when in April it welcomed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin to campus. For the previous ten weeks, Goodwin had been denounced in the press as revelations of plagiarism in her 1987 biography, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, came to light. By March, several academic institutions had canceled invitations for speaking engagements, the PBS “NewsHour” had put her on indefinite leave, and she had withdrawn from the Pulitzer Prize Committee. Meanwhile, closer to home, The Columbus Dispatch, commenting on charges against Goodwin and three other historians, including Stephen Ambrose and Michael Bellesiles, informed the academic community that it was “overdue for a refresher course in ethics.” Recalling the Soviet experience, the editorial urged its readers to be aware that the “manipulation of history [was] not limited to totalitarian regimes.” It was hardly an auspicious time to welcome an accused plagiarist. Otterbein’s decision to go ahead, nevertheless, was the right one, I believe, for the students, the faculty, and the college as a whole.

The decision did not come easily; arguments for withdrawing the invitation were powerful. No ordinary guest, Goodwin was to be the inaugural speaker in a distinguished lecture series, the recent gift of Vernon Pack, a former Otterbein graduate. Her selection had been made the previous fall only after a long list of potential candidates had been narrowed down to fulfill the donor’s request that the first lecturer be a well-known, highly regarded historian and the college’s additional concern that the chosen speaker reach students and faculty across the disciplines.

Initial enthusiasm surrounding the selection of Goodwin was short-lived. In January, news broke of her failure to quote and fully acknowledge material from three sources in The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. Overnight the visit took on negative connotations as fears of appearing to condone unethical practices became paramount. To make matters worse, the previous fall, our opening faculty conference had made academic integrity a major priority for the year. Honoring Goodwin as the inaugural speaker in a distinguished lecture series now seemed hypocritical.

Goodwin’s public explanations only heightened concerns. Relying on a restricted definition of “plagiarism,” based on the “intent” of the author, she claimed that because her failure was unintentional, it was only a “mistake.” Efforts to rationalize the limitations of her pre-computer citation system seemed equally lame, given that most other historians had successfully developed more effective techniques. Revelations of a financial settlement with one of the authors suggested that Goodwin, like Ambrose, might have sacrificed academic integrity for the sake of fame and the publisher’s bottom line.

But Goodwin was not Ambrose. While the production of over a book a year opened Ambrose to charges of sloppy scholarship, Goodwin had taken a decade to research and write each of her extensively documented biographies. Whereas Ambrose initially dismissed concerns about plagiarism with the quip that he “was not writing a Ph.D. dissertation,” Goodwin made clear that careful documentation was a sine qua non of good scholarship. Her plagiarism, moreover, was confined to one book, not some half-a-dozen a la Ambrose. Having upgraded her citation system and become computer literate, Goodwin had demonstrated her determination to avoid further failures. No undocumented passages were found in No Ordinary Time, her 1995 biography of the Roosevelts, nor for that matter, in her 1976 biography of LBJ. Goodwin had her research assistants comb The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys for further undocumented passages. When some were discovered, she informed the New York Times and asked Simon and Schuster to destroy its inventory of copies and issue a new version.

The more the issue was analyzed, the more conscious the faculty became of its own fallibility. No matter how careful one might be, mistakes, if not of the caliber of Goodwin’s, could be made, and in that context, the old phrase, “there but for the grace of God go I,” began to have resonance. When we looked at how we treated plagiarism by students, moreover, we had to admit that a first offense, seldom, if ever, had led to expulsion. In disciplining transgressors, “intent” was taken into account; redemption was possible. Should we not consider the same for a professional colleague?

In March, the Pack Lecture Committee aired the issue in a frank, but noncontentious atmosphere. Out of that discussion emerged the kernel of an idea that ultimately developed into a meaningful resolution of the issue. No one doubted that the easier, less risky, course would have been to call off the visit. But there was something potentially more positive to be achieved by going ahead—if Goodwin would accept a condition for her visit. In a conference call, we asked her to extend her stay so that in addition to her prepared talk she would address the issue of academic integrity in an open dialogue with faculty and students. A candid discussion with a popular historian facing the consequences of her own failures might make an indelible impression on our students, who acknowledged that they did not take plagiarism “as seriously as they should.” It might have more impact on their understanding of the importance of ethical practices than any of the traditional ways we had tried to communicate that message. Goodwin’s one request, which we accepted, was that the press not be invited to the special session. Fearing she had said too much already, she didn’t want another round of “distorted” accounts. She hoped her forthcoming book on Lincoln would again demonstrate her commitment to the highest standards of scholarship.

Despite a dreary rain-soaked day, Goodwin’s visit on April 9 could not have been more successful. As she entered the packed auditorium, many were surprised by her tiny frame and even more by her obvious exhaustion. As she began her presentation, however, she became more animated, and drawing heavily on anecdotes from No Ordinary Time, literally “wowed” the audience. “One of the greatest privileges of teaching on a college faculty is to be challenged intellectually,” said one professor, “and she did that for all of us with style.” “Spectacular,” “fabulous,” “enthralling,” were words heard afterwards. As our inaugural speaker, she had more than fulfilled our original goals.

And something more may have happened in that opening convocation. Goodwin’s essential humanity seemed to come through, possibly mellowing the reservations of at least some who still opposed the visit. Engaging in non-stop conversation with faculty and stýdents over lunch, she seemed to relax even more, which may have contributed to the genuine dialogue on academic integrity later that afternoon. Goodwin responded openly to questions, some clearly softballs, but others more pointed. Students seemed to understand how dear a price she had paid for her failures. She still avoided the word “plagiarism” in classifying her “mistakes,” which soured some and disappointed others, but her willingness to address the issues, the professionalism with which she handled the dialogue, and the sincerity and down-to-earth nature of her comments left a positive and lasting impression. Though not invited to the special session, The Columbus Dispatch covered both Goodwin and Otterbein with admirable objectivity. The visit, the high point in what had been a new level of dialogue about academic integrity over the previous weeks, testified to the successful manner in which the college had resolved its dilemma.

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