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A History Channel report on the failed attempt by counties in southern Oregon and northern California to create a new state called Jefferson suggests that supporters would have brought their case to a vote in Congress on December 8, 1941, but for the attack on Pearl Harbor. I couldn't find any evidence that a vote was actually scheduled that day, but the statehood attempt was abandoned when war was declared.

  • DC statehood is still an ongoing effort and the subject of a license plate campaign.

  • Puerto Rican voters seem to have rejected statehood in favor of commonwealth status.

  • Residents in the Upper Peninsula section of Michigan have sought separate statehood, too, and the idea resurfaced in the 1970s over taxation disputes with Michigan's state house.

There are other states where there are or have been discussions about secession, partition and statehood.

The following questions are provided to try to analyze the topic and guide the answers away from raw opinion and towards scholarly opinion, supported by evidence and analysis.

What would be necessary for one of these movements to succeed?

What are the barriers/gateways?

Did any of these attempts generate any official action? For example, have any of them caused any of the following:

  • a committee hearing in Congress
  • a successful referendum at the local level?

Which statehood campaigns are still on-going? Are there any that are likely to succeed? Are there structural impediments that are out of proportion to the motivation of the backers? Are there any where the backers appear to have the momentum necessary to overcome the structural barriers?

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How do you measure "closest"? –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 31 '14 at 13:21
As the question currently stands, any answer seems to be a matter of opinion (on what "closest" means). –  Semaphore Jul 31 '14 at 13:28
Edited to provide more precision. –  Bruce James Jul 31 '14 at 13:40
@BruceJames, I've gone rather further afield in my edit than I had hoped. Please feel free to revert if my edits didn't help. I was trying to be constructive rather than critical, and I'm not sure I succeeded. I remain concerned that this is at the margin of "history", but I'll leave that for others to determine. –  Mark C. Wallace Jul 31 '14 at 14:10
@MarkC.Wallace Actually, I like your edits a lot. It's an interesting topic and I'm glad you found a way to flesh it out within the rules. –  Bruce James Jul 31 '14 at 14:31

3 Answers 3

Vermont was split off from New York and/or New Hampshire. The Vermonters had provided the cannons needed to win the siege of Boston during the American Revolution.

Maine was split off from Massachusetts as part of the Compromise of 1820.

West Virginia was split off from Virginia during the Civil War.

So two themes are:

  • It helps if your region is already organized as a discrete political unit (a la the Vermont District) or as a discrete region (Maine was not contiguous with the rest of Massachusetts) or is separated by military front-lines that do not seem to be about to move soon (a la West Virginia).

  • It helps if Congress owes your region a debt of honor for either winning a war, preventing a war, or potentially winning a war.

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Actually Maine and all territories claimed by states outside their borders were ceded to the US in the Articles of Confederation. Many had vague claims off west indefinitely, which they gave up in exchange for the US assuming their debt. So Maine went from Mass. Territory to US Territory to US State. West Virginia is the only time where a large portion of a state changed identities. From time to time the movement of the Mississippi River makes a chunk of land change states. –  Oldcat Jul 31 '14 at 23:14
I believe the first condition is necessary for far more reasons than you note. –  Pieter Geerkens Jul 31 '14 at 23:14
Neither Maine nor Vermont was ceded to the federal government under the Articles of Confederation. Vermont was a self-governing District during the Revolution, but it was still claimed by New York until it was decided to make Vermont a state. Maine was very much governed by the Massachusetts General Court (aka legislature) until the Compromise of 1820. –  Jasper Jul 31 '14 at 23:27

Assuming we are talking about either failed petitions, or ones that have yet to bear fruit...

Wikipedia has a list of areas which attempted to become states, but failed.

As an Okie, my favorite example is the "colored" State of Sequoyah, which actually drafted a state constitution and petitioned to join the union in 1905. Congress however was not excited about the idea of a "majority-minority" state, nor the idea of Oklahoma and Indian territories becoming two small western states rather than one normal-sized one (somewhat diluting all the other states' power in the Senate). They insisted Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory had to join as a unit.

There are always little state areas that feel politically neglected enough by the rest of their state that they threaten to form a new state. In general its not a very serious threat though. Article 4, Section 3 of The Constitution requires both state and Congressional approval for any such action.

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress. ...

Congress has historically shown a preference for states of a rather uniform size and shape. Thus getting congressional approval for the splitting of existing states is extremely unlikely. Getting the majority of the existing state to agree seems like it would be problematic in most cases as well.

There is one major exception though. Texas by law has the option of splitting into up to 5 states if it wants to (without any further approval required from Congress).

Puerto Rico is a US territory that has had a serious ongoing debate about statehood since the 1960's. They have had multiple (non-binding) referendums on the subject, but the most recent one (2012) was the first to gain a majority support for statehood.

For information on more minor state border issues, I'd recommend How the States Got their Shapes. Its much more exciting reading than one might expect. (You'd think being part of the same country would prevent violent border disputes, wouldn't you?)

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Texas may not split up. The 5 state thing refers to the annexation document which said TX could be incorporated as up to 5 states at the time. –  Clint Eastwood Aug 1 '14 at 23:37
@ClintEastwood - You have online backup for that claim you can point me to? The "annexation document" was a bill passed by Congress. The best I could find supporting you was Snopes, which essentially says its true, but pointless because the above quoted passage of the Constitution allows for that anyway. However, it doesn't address the (I guess to them minor) issue of requiring Congressional approval. –  T.E.D. Aug 2 '14 at 11:19

I would love to see an answer to the "guiding questions" too.

Here I will provide a mathematician's (game theorist's, in this case) background on the subject, answering the question "qui prodest" - in case of one state splitting in two.

If you think this "side topic" has no place here, I will delete the answer.

Tax base: this is a zero-sum game: is those who secede are "rich", then they benefit from keeping their taxes to themselves, while those they secede from suffer. This is not interesting.

Presidential Elections: this is interesting because the Shapley value is super-additive! This means that the total power of the two new states will be smaller that that of the original state. This implies that the other states will benefit from the secession.

To make it clear, let us consider an example. Suppose we have a huge state which has over 50% of electoral votes. This means that this state determines the outcome of the presidential election completely. So its Shapley value is 1 and everyone else's 0.

Now that the state is split in half, the other states have a say in the presidential elections, which benefits them.

Congress: the share of representatives is proportional to the population and thus does not change, but the number of senators is fixed per state and this does change. Since this is more visible and simpler to understand than Shapley value, the other states might incorrectly think that the secession is against their interests because it dilutes their representation in the Senate.

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The two new states, combined, would have at least two additional electoral votes than the original state, from two additional Senators and at least as many Representatives. How does this decrease Shapley Value? –  Pieter Geerkens Jul 31 '14 at 22:09
@PieterGeerkens: Shapley value wtr to the presidential elections is decreased. –  sds Jul 31 '14 at 22:16
That's definitely not obvious from the obvious increase in Electoral College votes, so please add a proof to your post. –  Pieter Geerkens Jul 31 '14 at 22:21
@PieterGeerkens: do you want me to prove that Shapley value is super-additive? This is a relatively well-known fact. –  sds Jul 31 '14 at 22:52
@Oldcat, PieterGeerkens: Excellent points, thanks! I guess this analysis is not as simple as I thought at first. –  sds Aug 1 '14 at 0:42

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