50 is such a nice round number. It’s clean, simple and symmetrical. It’s comforting and easy to remember.
The United States became 50 states in 1959 when Hawaii and Alaska were added to the contiguous 48 states (what an ugly number!). It’s been 56-and-a-half years since a state has been added to the Union.
Would it surprise you to know that is the longest time spanned in our entire history that we’ve gone without adding a new state to the union? The previous record was the time between Arizona and New Mexico (1912) with Hawaii and Alaska. Prior to 1912, the entire country’s history is a steady stream of new states that took us from 13 to 48.
While these seems all random for a blog post, I got thinking of this from the work Reason.com has done on the bugeoning movement in Northern California and Southern Oregon to create the State of Jefferson. It has dovetailed today with the modern tea party movement that is looking to bring true limited government and reassert 10th amendment rights across the country.
Depending on the source of the numbers, this movement includes upwards of 21 counties in California and 3 in Oregon. At least 5 California county boards of supervisors have voted to withdraw from California. Democrats dominate California, and less so in Oregon but they are still the majority. Their argument is the culture and politics of their region is completely unrepresented and ignored by their respective state governments, but particularly in California. The overregulation, environmental policies and high taxation have hurt these rural counties as their children are leaving the area, further limiting any kind of democratic muscle they might be able to wield.
I’ve looked around the country and really can’t find anything this comparable in the country to the political disparity in California, relative to the size of the state. Geographically, this State of Jefferson would be enormous and population-wise would be 37th in the Union, but they are completely powerless in state government. Even in deep blue or deep red states, nothing comparable exists except perhaps western Maryland. We have red and blue states, but none with a powerless minority in a part of a state that is so geographically large and one that can actually be a state. The State of Jefferson is also not a new idea (see the video in the Reason link above).
This wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened. Vermont was born out of a war between New York and New Hampshire over competing land grants and was briefly a republic. Maine was carved out of Massachusetts as part of the Missouri Compromise, Kentucky was a part of Virginia, and Michigan and Ohio almost went to war over the Upper Peninsula. Perhaps the most analogous instance to what is happening in California is West Virginia, where Appalachian farmers who for two generations had been ignored and left with little power in the Tidewater planter-dominated Virginia, used the Civil War as a way to create their own state.
Other states came to be through less than respectable means. Nevada became a state before it was ready because Abraham Lincoln needed more electoral votes in 1864. Also, during the Civil War, there were many communities in the Confederacy had similar sympathies as West Virginia, especially as you followed the Appalachian Mountains through the heart of Dixie. The aforementioned Hawaii and Alaska were also without controversy – southern segregationists questioned bringing in Hawaii on racial grounds, and Alaska was a distant military outpost closer to Russia than the United States. The great localist historian Bill Kaufman wrote an entire book on these histories and more.
So what do we think of this? This appeals to my limited government heart but I also wonder what forces would be unleashed if we just started creating states based on polarizing politics. No doubt Democrats would fight this tooth and nail because it would almost guarantee two new Republican senators. Is it healthy for a state like California to lose all of it’s political minority?
What is more important, the rule of law of today or the right of communities to live as they see best? California’s unique political culture, so thoroughly dominated by the liberal coast up and down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco to Los Angeles, that it leaves the rural north and west along with the San Diego military establishment further south to form a toothless minority that cannot win a statewide election and lacks the population to wield any sort of power within the state.
It’s a fascinating movement and one worth thinking about as Americans across the country have started to rethink the relationship of state and federal government that has failed us so badly.