62

I'm interested in countries that voted themselves out of existence because they believe that joining another country is best for them (see e.g. world government). For example, say New Zealand votes to join Australia, becoming Australia's seventh state. If Australia accepts, then the country of New Zealand has effectively voted itself out of existence.

I'm wondering if this has happened before. The closest cases I'm aware of are the Dominion of Newfoundland:

Due to Newfoundland's high debt load arising from World War I and construction of the Newfoundland Railway, and decreasing revenue due to the collapse of fish prices, the dominion legislature voted itself out of existence in 1933 in exchange for loan guarantees by the Crown and a promise it would be re-established. On February 16, 1934, the Commission of Government was sworn in, ending 79 years of responsible government.

However this doesn't seem like a very good example, because 1) Newfoundland wasn't a sovereign country, and 2) if the description is correct, they're not uniting with the Crown, they just wanted more money, and they also received a promise that they'll be re-established.

Another case is Singapore, which became independent against its will in 1965:

... the then Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, seeing no alternative to avoid further bloodshed, advised the Parliament of Malaysia that it should vote to expel Singapore from Malaysia. On 9 August 1965, the Malaysian Parliament voted 126 to 0 (with Singaporean delegates not present) to move a bill to amend the constitution providing for Singapore to separate from the Federation of Malaysia. This gave Singapore independence, unusually against its own will.

This implies that if there was a vote then about whether Singapore should join Malaysia, the country would vote yes; however since Malaysia was not willing to accept it doesn't match what I'm looking for either.

Finally there is the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, but again that does not work because Scotland isn't a sovereign country.

  • 59
    Didn't Texas do exactly that? – T.E.D. Sep 9 at 1:39
  • 5
    Crimea voted for its own independence, then voted to join Russia. IMO, this doesn't really count. – axsvl77 Sep 9 at 1:40
  • 3
    As noted in my answer below, Newfoundland was a Dominion from 1907 until 1933, when the Legislature voted the Dominion out of existence. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 9 at 2:02
  • 5
    When you talk about a vote is it a public referendum focusing specifically and exclusively on the change of state? In a way, the breakup of Soviet Union, the Baltic States joining the SU (OK, just kidding), the break up of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, the reunion of Germany, etc are cases when countries went out the existence and were politically supported by a large part of the population. – Greg Sep 9 at 4:57
  • 6
    Unclear whether 'in-place replacements' -- like the USSR ceasing to exist -- are within scope or not. – Roger Sep 9 at 15:05

12 Answers 12

69

Frequently.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The most recent example might be Newfoundland and Labrador, which in 1949 voted to join Canada as its tenth province. A Dominion from 1907, the Newfoundland Legislature voted the country out of existence in 1933 when collapsing fish prices led to the threat of default on its World War One debt. This returned the country to colonial status governed by the Newfoundland Commission of Government appointed by Westminster.

In 1949 a two-phase popular referendum voted on the second ballot to join Canada, by a margin of 52.3% to 47.7%.

Although the Dominion of Newfoundland never ratified the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which formally ceded full individual sovereignty to the British Dominions, it did participate fully in the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and 1930 at which the agreement in principle on the terms of the Statue was reached between Westminster and the Dominions.


The Thirteen Colonies & Vermont

However, a more succinct example might be the Thirteen Colonies. Following their victory in the American Revolution, the individual States all retained complete sovereignty while attempting to act and operate in a unified manner, under the Articles of Confederation, through negotiations of the Continental Congress. This was, rapidly, a complete and utter failure; and led to the development of the United States Constitution. As each sovereign State ratified the Constitution, by vote of its legislature it in effect voted itself out of existence as such and became only a partially sovereign State in the United States.

The same argument of course holds for the Republic of Vermont, which existed as a sovereign state from 1777 to 1791.

This ratification, and consequent surrender of sovereignty, has been shown both de facto (by the American Civil War) and de jure (SCOTUS on Texas v White (1869)) to be permanent.

Texas is a more complex example, covered in another answer.


Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg (Hanseatic Free Cities)

Through the course of 1866-7, during and following the Austro-Prussian War, the last three Hanseatic Free Cities of Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg first surrendered military independence to Prussia, and then acceded economic and legal sovereignty to the North German Federation (effectively the Prussian Empire). While it is certain that there was suasion and coercion involved in both circumstances, in the end all three governments approved the negotiated terms. While formal dissolution of nominal independence would not occur until 1933, any notion of sovereignty had been surrendered in 1867 just as surely as it was by Bavaria, Baden, and the other German States in 1871.


Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands

By the 1581 Act of Abjuration the rebelling provinces of the Netherlands jointly declared that in failing to uphold his obligations to his Dutch subjects, Philip II of Spain had "forfeited his thrones as ruler of each of the provinces which signed the Act". This act was simultaneously a declaration of both independence and full sovereignty by each of the provinces signing the Act:

Full English text

The States General of the United Provinces of the Low Countries, to all whom it may concern, do by these Presents send greeting:

As it is apparent to all that a prince is constituted by God to be ruler of a people, to defend them from oppression and violence as the shepherd his sheep; and whereas God did not create the people slaves to their prince, to obey his commands, whether right or wrong, but rather the prince for the sake of the subjects (without which he could be no prince), to govern them according to equity, to love and support them as a father his children or a shepherd his flock, and even at the hazard of life to defend and preserve them. And when he does not behave thus, but, on the contrary, oppresses them, seeking opportunities to infringe their ancient customs and privileges, exacting from them slavish compliance, then he is no longer a prince, but a tyrant, and the subjects are to consider him in no other view. And particularly when this is done deliberately, unauthorized by the states, they may not only disallow his authority, but legally proceed to the choice of another prince for their defense. This is the only method left for subjects whose humble petitions and remonstrances could never soften their prince or dissuade him from his tyrannical proceedings; and this is what the law of nature dictates for the defense of liberty, which we ought to transmit to posterity, even at the hazard of our lives. And this we have seen done frequently in several countries upon the like occasion, whereof there are notorious instances, and more justifiable in our land, which has been always governed according to their ancient privileges, which are expressed in the oath taken by the prince at his admission to the government; for most of the Provinces receive their prince upon certain conditions, which he swears to maintain, which, if the prince violates, he is no longer sovereign.

In the immediate aftermath of the Act, the United Provinces investigated various possibilities for a new Prince, including the Duke of Anjou and William the Silent, and of being an English Protectorate without obtaining any satisfaction. In 1588 the signatory provinces of the Act of Abjuration united as a confederacy, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands or United Provinces for short, each voluntarily surrendering sovereignty.


What comprises sovereignty?

A key aspect of this question, and of any answers, must be the precise definition of sovereignty used. In my opinion a fully sovereign state must hold full authority over its own:

  • Currency;
  • Trade Treaties;
  • Legal structure and Laws;
  • Taxation;
  • Governmental Structure;
  • Citizenship;
  • Foreign Policy; and
  • Military Forces

An entity that possesses only partial authority over any of these has surrendered part of its own sovereignty, as well as part of the natural sovereignty of its citizens. If in exchange the state and its citizenry acquires a pro rata participation in the equivalent governance of a larger entity, that surrendering is possibly worthwhile.

The question is raised in comments below as to the sovereign status of the Hanseatic Free Cities immediately before and after their accession to the North German Confederation in 1867. my position is that, the temporary interruption of the Napoleonic era notwithstanding, the ability of the Hanseatic Cities to wage war and negotiate treaties against the Emperor, as well as other foes, through its long history is full evidence of full sovereignty.

However, as part of acceding to the North German Federation in 1867 the Cities of Lübeck, Bremen and Hamburg all fully surrendered control over:

  • Currency;
  • Trade Treaties;
  • Legal structure and Laws;
  • Foreign Policy; and
  • Military Forces

in return for participation in the same of the Confederation, and retained only partial control over their own:

  • Taxation;
  • Citizenship; and
  • Governmental Structure.
  • 4
    Hanseatic cities are really an excellent example. However, I found the 1933 part difficult to parse at first (from HRR to North German Federation what is 'fully sovereign, anyway) And I guess a comparison to the fate of other free cities and Saarstaat might fit in as well? – LаngLаngС Sep 9 at 6:39
  • 4
    Lübeck was also a hanseatic free city until hitler removed it in the 1937 – Bregalad Sep 9 at 8:32
  • 4
    @Bregalad: My research shows that Lubeck was conquered, unlike Hamburg and Bremen which were merely coerced into the North German Confederation. Thus Lubeck fails to meet the terms of OP's question of "voting itself out of existence. A fine line perhaps, but there were distinct differences in the circumstances. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 9 at 11:10
  • 1
    Conquered by whom? Don't you conflate Lübeck with Frankfurt? – LаngLаngС Sep 9 at 11:53
  • 1
    With that definition of sovereignty, you could add all EU members to your list of examples, because (as the Brexit problems illustrate) the EU members don't have full control over their trade deals. – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Sep 10 at 18:04
39

The present US state of Texas was (at least in its own eyes) an independently sovereign country from 1836 until joining the US in 1846. Mexico never really recognized its independence and there was ongoing conflict, the US recognized it from 1837. It is worth noting that (at least in most tellings) the goal was always to join the US, but politics within the US prevented that from immediately happening.

A small region of California considered itself independent for a few weeks in 1846 (again, pre-statehood) though this does not seem to have been recognized by any other power.

Although those situations are effectively settled in history, one thing they demonstrate is that "independence" is to some extent subjective. There are disputes in the world today that, at least in some eyes, follow a similar pattern where a region claims to have broken away from country with the goal of joining another, often with the separation enabled by at least informal aid from the intended destination country.

A less disputed example could be the case of the German Democratic Republic (aka "East Germany") which chose to dissolve and join the Federal Republic of Germany (aka "West Germany") in 1990. Still, it is tempting to ask if the fact that reunification did not happen sooner, was because the GDR had not been fully sovereign and self-determinate - when it became practically so in 1989, reunification proceeded quickly.

  • 5
    Hi Chris Stratton and welcome to History SE. This looks like a good answer; adding a few links / sources would improve it and make it more likely people will upvote. – Lars Bosteen Sep 9 at 2:07
  • 2
    Funny thing is you mean 'fully western-democratic capitalist government for GDR'? As both German states weren't 'fully sovereign' – until 1990 the allied control commission was still in session? – LаngLаngС Sep 9 at 6:24
  • 5
    @LangLangC You're fighting windmills here. It's fine to be sceptical or dismissive of West Germany's sovereignty, as you are, but however you want to view that question, East Germany wasn't sovereign, not even by comparison to West Germany, or are you suggesting that the USA would have replicated the events of 1956 in Hungary and 1968 in Czechoslovakia in West Germany? – sgf Sep 9 at 10:58
  • 4
    @sgf Well, Germany remained under nominal military occupation until 15 March 1991…. Both weren't in 1989/90. The other things rel USA are a distraction on the levels of sovereignty on the one hand, and on the other you ask the hypothetical of 'what cold war Truman doctrine fighters would have done with Gladio in place and tanks on the ground if the West-Germans had decided communism would be the way forward'? Surely the US would have acted not like the SU in Budapest, but at least like US did in Iran, Guatemala, Grenada, Chile…? – LаngLаngС Sep 9 at 11:38
  • 2
    German situation was peculiar: the allied forces "bridged" the 6 months between reunification and March 15, 1990 by a declaration that practically made Germany souvereign under the condition of reunification (reunification was fixed when that declaration was signed, though). One may also argue that the reunification was souvereign in the sense that if the allies had executed their veto rights, there wouldn't have been a reunification: i.e. the reunification was not quite what the 4 allies wished, in particularly not UK and France after the Soviet Union did not oppose reunification any more. – cbeleites supports Monica Sep 9 at 16:17
27

Another interesting example - though almost the opposite of voting to join another country - is Czechoslovakia, which voted to divide itself into two countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czechoslovakia

You could also include the reunification of Germany, or the various states of the Italian peninsula deciding to become a single country, Zanzibar joining Tanganykia to form Tanzania https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanzania#Modern the short-lived union of Egypt & Syria in the United Arab Republic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Arab_Republic (There are probably more: this is just off the top of my head.)

  • 4
    I spent two hours researching Italian unification this evening, and found zero instances of voluntary surrender of sovereignty. As for German unification I discounted decisions by single sovereigns as the question specifies "voted itself out of existence". If you have specific examples in either case besides the Hanseatic Cities of Bremen and Hamburg as in my answer above, please list them. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 9 at 5:03
  • 14
    @PieterGeerkens I guess he means the night of 23 August 1990 when the GDR Volkskammer voted to abolish itself and the whole state in favour of joining FRG? Gysi that night: ""Madam President, Parliament has just decided no more and no less than the downfall of the German Democratic Republic (to be) on 3 October 1990'." – LаngLаngС Sep 9 at 6:18
  • 3
    @LangLangC: ... and that parliament moreover was recently elected with reunification being the topic of the election campaigns. – cbeleites supports Monica Sep 9 at 15:27
  • 1
    @PieterGeerkens all annexations to the kingdom of Sardinia took place after a referendum, so technically voting did happen. – Rad80 Sep 9 at 15:55
  • 2
    @Rad80: In my reading I encountered no example of such a vote taking place prior to de facto military conquest. If I missed a case otherwise, please provide details. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 9 at 15:57
13

In 1707, the parliament of the sovereign state that was Scotland (with its own currency, parliament and legal system) voted to join an incorporating Union with England. This led to Scottish MPs going to the Parliament in Westminster.

The vote was highly suspect; Scottish MPS were openly bribed with land and money to vote for the Union. As a result, a country that had resisted English military aggression for centuries, volunteered to surrender its independence. The poet Robert Burns, had this to say:

The English steel we could disdain,
Secure in valour's station;
But English gold has been our bane -
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

  • To be fair, Scotland has kept its own legal system - which is why the Court of Session ruled the current prorogation of Parliament was illegal, and three of the most senior English judges ruled it legal. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Sep 12 at 9:52
  • @MartinBonner Indeed it did - also its education system and the right to print its own banknotes. We even have a Parliament again. Nearly there... – Oscar Bravo Sep 12 at 10:07
11

In 1938 Austria had a referendum on becoming part of Germany.

The vote was not democratic as Austria had been occupied by Germany at the time, but it still led to the „Anschluss“ of Austria to Germany.

8

Since you posit the country remaining in some form as a subnational unit, such examples are actually rather common.

Apart from the examples already given, from modern history see the admission of Baltic states to the USSR (at a gunpoint, but still there was a voting by the new puppet revolutionary parliaments). A bit more voluntary was the accession of Tannu Tuva to the USSR, the Anschluß of Austria to Germany, the annexation of Crimea, the reintegration of Bantustans to South Africa; while the integration of Far Eastern Republic to the USSR has been a mere formality and the annexation of Hawaii was supported by at least the non-indigenous population (the indigenous people did not count).

I am deliberately not mentioning unifications where the parties were at least formally equal (e.g. creation of Yugoslavia, Switzerland, Romania, Bulgaria, Gran Colombia, UAE, UAR etc.)

  • 4
    I would argue that any time the vote takes place after the arrival of nominally conquering troops, as in the Baltic States in 1939 and in Lubeck in the 1860's, any subsequent vote is a formality. the surrender of sovereignty has already been forced. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 9 at 11:55
  • 2
    @PieterGeerkens These are of course questions of definition. Since most conquerors declare themselves as 'liberators', whether true or not, and with people indeed in favour and against it: I'd argue a solution would be to let all examples stand, but noting more of the circumstances in the answer. All examples noted in this Q&A are different in their details. The Krim2Russia thing would be prime candidate to let readers cast their own verdict… Lest it comes down to true scotsmanship of of 'voting', 'free', 'democracy', 'true will of the people'… – LаngLаngС Sep 9 at 12:30
  • 3
    @LangLangC: Fine - but this post remains a very weak answer because no circumstantial details are provided. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 9 at 12:36
  • 2
    @PieterGeerkens That makes two of us suggesting these be added soon ;) – LаngLаngС Sep 9 at 12:37
8

The Kingdom of Sikkim voted to unite with India, in a referendum in 1975. It was in culmination of the internal strife in the country between the Crown and the pro-democracy Sikkim National Congress.

Wiki

enter image description here

6

German post-World War II history has two examples of a free democratically elected goverment deciding to give up independence and join another state; in both cases, the state they joined was the Federal Republic of Germany.

The first example is the Saar Protectorate which had been separated from French-occupied Germany in 1947. Its degree of independence was questionable as it was effectively governed from Paris and was required to use French currency but it did get its own consitution, its own government, have its own political parties independent of the French ones and, most visibly for most of the world, participated in international sporting events as Saarland rather than Germany or France (in fact, in the qualification for the 1954 FIFA football world cup, Saarland and (West) Germany played two qualifying matches against each other which the FRG won 6:1 aggregate).

In 1955, a referendum was held whether the Saar Statute should be adopted, effectively increasing Saar independence but retaining the economic union with France. This Statute was rejected by 68 % of voters with a turnout of incredible 97 %. The result was acknowledged by all parties as the will of the Saar population to rejoin Germany – or rather newly join the Federal Republic of Germany. On the 14th December 1956, the parliament of the Saar Region declared its accession to the FRG and on the 23rd December of the same year the Law of Incorporation of the Saar Area (Gesetz zur Eingliederung des Saargebiets) of the FRG came into force declaring the Saar Protectorate as the new 10th German state, the Federal State Saarland.

The second example is the one more commonly known as German reunification: the end of the German Democratic Republic. In brief, after what is known as the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, the first free election in East Germany was held on 18th March 1990. In this election, the CDU and its partners in the Alliance for Germany won 48 % of the vote share (93 % turnout). The subsequent government was a grand coalition encompassing the Alliance for Germany, the East German SPD (social democratic) and the liberals.

All parties in government plus a couple more had campaigned for the accession of East Germany to West Germany and indeed that was the politics they assumed rather rapidly. On 23rd August 1990, the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber, the GDR parliament) declared the accession to West Germany which was effected on the 3rd October.


You may well argue that the Saar case was not exactly a fully independent and sovereign nation although the decision making was fully democratic including a referendum. I don’t see much opposition one could come up with against the East German case where the general election was effectively the referendum.

  • 1
    Why not include Saar a few years earlier? Fully democratic vote that gave Hitler 90% approval? – LаngLаngС Sep 10 at 9:08
  • 1
    @LangLangC Because I chose to focus my answer on post-WWII. Other answers have already mentioned e.g. the Anschluss of Austria. – Jan Sep 10 at 9:09
5

Scotland and England

By the Acts of Union 1707 the kingdoms of England and Scotland (which were in personal union under Anne) united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Great Britain and Ireland

Similarly, the Acts of Union 1800 merged the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

4

Relatively recently there is the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

Technically they did not vote themselves out of existence but were given the choice of independence vs integration with Australia.

The islands were claimed by the Clunies-Ross family in the early 19th century. In 1857 the islands were annexed by the British Empire. In 1955 the islands were transferred to Australia, note that the Clunies-Ross family still owned the vast majority of the land. Due to their feudal style of ruling, Australia forced the family to sell the islands in 1978. In 1984 the locals voted on their future from 3 choices. Full independence, free association, or integration with Australia. They chose the third option.

  • Obviously realize this, which is why I put that sentence at the start of my answer. Which means I also realize this does not answer the question precisely as asked. However there was a vote, with one outcome being independence and another being absorbed by another country. This seems highly relevant to the question being asked, as opposed to your comment which provides absolutely nothing. – Tim Andrews Sep 11 at 5:14
  • I repeat - the question specifically asks about countries that voted themselves out of existence; not about protectorates, mandates, territories, colonies, or autonomous regions that did so. Your post is not about a country. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 11 at 5:32
  • Strictly speaking country != sovereign state - Scotland, Wales, England are all regarded as countries inside the state of the United Kingdom, for instance. – Semaphore Sep 11 at 6:17
  • 3
    Pieter in your own answer you go more in depth on exactly what comprises sovereignty and settle on a reasonable conclusion that is ultimately just your opinion. Even the definition for countries is not always clear (is Taiwan independent or does it belong to China?). Why are you hounding me over the precise phrasing of the question when you cannot define it even in your own answer? A pedant cannot answer this question because it has too many ill-defined terms. The question therefore requires some interpretation and I believe my answer is well within the bounds of acceptable interpretation. – Tim Andrews Sep 11 at 7:07
4

American Samoa used to be an independent nation. In 1900 the chiefs got together and gave their country to the United States, an event celebrated every year as Flag Day. When I lived there and worked as editor of the newspaper, I referred to it as Dependence Day in an editorial. This ruffled some feathers, perhaps because it was correct.

The US was interested because the main island, Tutuila, with its capital town of Pago Pago, has a natural deep water harbor with a protecting dogleg that's a great place to park warships during a typhoon. There's also an airport with a runway large enough to land anything. During World War II there were more marines on Tutuila than Samoans. Since joining the US as an unincorporated territory the country has benefited from an inflow of US government cash, along with facilitation of trade with the US. Samoans born there are nationals, but not citizens, of the US.

  • 3
    I see no readily available historical evidence to back this claim - and much that contradicts it. Please provide evidence to support the claim that the Samoan islands had any sort of sovereignty subsequent to the Tripartitie Convention that distributed ownership of Samoa and the Solomons between U.S., U.K., and Germany. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 10 at 18:43
  • The Tripartite Convention happened in 1899, just one year before the Treaty of the Cession of Tutuila, which was the act by the chiefs that I mentioned. The text of the cession is online here. – James Bradley Sep 11 at 20:48
  • Perhaps try reading your own link, first paragraph: "and whereas owing to dissen­sions, internal disturbances and civil war, the said governments [of the UK, US & Germany] have deemed it necessary to assume the control of the legislation and admin­istration of said state of Samoa; and ... have by said arrangements amongst the said governments, been severed from the parent State," Sovereignty of the islands was already surrendered by the forcible intervention of all three governments in forcibly ending the civil war. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 11 at 20:58
  • 3
    It seems a little weird to include "there's an airport large enough to land anything" in reasons for the U.S. wanting to take control of Tutuila in 1900. I mean, technically the facilities there in 1900 were large enough to land any airplane that was flying in 1900, but only because no airplanes were flying in 1900 (at least not more than 100 feet or so.) It's certainly a reason that the U.S. valued its possession of American Samoa from the 1920s on (especially prior to the jet age, when aircraft needed to stop more frequently for refueling,) but not really a reason in 1900. – reirab Sep 11 at 21:58
1

There was the case of Carpathian Ruthenia: after Austria-Hungary collapsed in 1918, the region claimed independence, and after some rather complicated back-and-forth between Hungarian Democratic Republic, West Ukrainian People's Republic and Czechoslovakia, a newly formed National Council voted to join Czechoslovakia for a promise of near-autonomy.

However, I'm not sure if this is applicable - the other contenders claiming that it was practically an annexation, with Czechoslovakia holding the area by military force against the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

In a similar vein, ceding the area from Czechoslovakia to USSR in 1945 was officially voluntary, but with the area already effectively under Soviet control.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carpathian_Ruthenia#Transitional_period_(1918%E2%80%931919)

  • What about the Dominican Republic reverting to being a Spanish colony in 1865? – Jonathan Webster Sep 10 at 21:24

protected by Pieter Geerkens Sep 10 at 18:38

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.