State of Jefferson: The Three-Time Failure

Three state proposals, shot down three times. What caused its failure?

The third proposal for the state of Jefferson even has a state flag.

It is quite apparent to the average American — hopefully — and to any other citizen of the world who has a vague knowledge of the United States, that the country in question, indeed, has fifty states. Of course, the United States didn’t always have fifty states, and during its growth, states were established little-by-little, in regions.

The United States would purchase territory as it pursued its thirst for Manifest Destiny, and form states from the acquired territory which would be established at once. For example, the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the size of the nation at the time, granted the U.S. fifteen new states, which were established during that time (however, several of those purchased states have since had their borders adjusted or expanded).

However, there were numerous states which were proposed over the course of the nation’s history, but unfortunately did not ever see the light. Looking at a current list of states, or on a map, you will not come across any state named Jefferson. However, look at a list of proposed states, and you will see the name Jefferson pop up thrice.

Jefferson was a planned state — and a failed state. But the motives behind its failure are not quite as obvious as one may think.

It is important to recognize that the state of Jefferson was proposed at least three major times in the history of the United States, and rejected all three times. It is also important to realize that a movement to create the state of Jefferson is ongoing, so it is by no means a dead topic. Nonetheless, this movement, which will be discussed later, does not seem to be gaining much traction and therefore its success is unlikely.

A map of the Jefferson Territory, via Wikipedia.

The fire underneath the state of Jefferson began in 1859, the first proposal for the state. A state named after Thomas Jefferson, the third United States President and Founding Father, was always desired, as well as a state named after Abraham Lincoln, which would be called, well, Lincoln.

The 1859 proposal for the State of Jefferson actually was partially successful, as it did exist from 1859 until the creation of the Colorado Territory in 1861, which would eventually become the State of Colorado in 1876. However, the Jefferson Territory was unrecognized, and was never officially a state.

The Jefferson Territory was located in what is now all of Colorado, plus significant portions of Wyoming, Utah and Nebraska. The summer of 1859 saw the holding of a constitutional convention, in the small mining settlement of Auraria, which is now part of Denver.

A constitution for the state of Jefferson was drafted by 167 representatives, but it was decided that the newly-found land would be a territory rather than a state, as then Congress would fund the creation of the territory, as opposed to the self-funding required if it was a state. Robert Williamson Steele was elected as the first governor of Jefferson, and assembled a cabinet which formed the Provisional Government of the Territory of Jefferson.

All seemed to be well with the Jefferson Territory for two years, but in February 1861, the Territory of Colorado was organized via a bill passed by Congress, and signed by President James Buchanan. The land where the Jefferson Territory had been was now officially the Territory of Colorado, and on June 6, 1861, the Jefferson Territory was officially disbanded by Governor Steele, ending its two year unofficial existence.

The state of Jefferson was officially proposed again in 1870, this time as the eastern half of the Republic of Texas. The Republic of Texas, a sovereign nation existing from 1836 to 1846, was annexed by the United States in December 1845 and turned Texas into the 29th state. However, the bill annexing Texas allowed for the creation of up to four new states from the Texas territory, and one of these proposed states was, in fact, Jefferson.

It was proposed to split the Texas territory in two, with the San Antonio River serving as the border: the part of Texas east of the river would be the state of Jefferson, and the western portion would become the state of Matagorda. However, this plan was never approved by legislature and faded out.

This proposal had a brief resurgence in 1915, when it was proposed in the Texas Senate, but only six senators voted for it, and it failed, fading away into oblivion. According to the Texas State Historical Association,

“Failure to reapportion representation after the Thirteenth Census brought new agitation on the division question in 1914. The growth of the western part of the state made it necessary for more representation from that section, a need the legislature ignored. West Texans were also annoyed because few state institutions were established in their region. The result was the proposal in the Texas Senate for the state of Jefferson, to be composed of the Twenty-fifth, Twenty-sixth, Twenty-eighth, and Twenty-ninth senatorial districts. No more than six senators supported the measure, and other proposals to the Thirty-fourth Legislature were equally fruitless.”

The state of Jefferson saw a third shot at life in 1941. When Oregon became a state in 1859, one of the proposed names for the state was, in fact, Jefferson. However, it was decided to name the state Oregon after the Oregon Territory which it already resided in. In 1941, however, the proposal to create a new state from portions of two states in the Pacific Northwest arose, and so arose the current Jefferson statehood movement.

The area proposed for the state of Jefferson, outlined in red (via Wikipedia).

Under this proposal, Jefferson would become the 51st state, created out of land from southern Oregon and northern California. In 2013 and 2014, the movement gained serious traction when multiple counties in California, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Glenn, Yuba and Tehama Counties, voted in a referendum to leave the state of California and form the state of Jefferson.

In the 2016 Presidential Election, the majority of the population which resides in the area encompassing the proposed state of Jefferson voted for Donald Trump, evident in an electoral county map. The area, while mostly rural, offers a stark contrast from the rest of the state of California, which saw overwhelming support for Hillary Clinton. This would imply that the state of Jefferson, with its estimated 2,869,685 residents and six delegates, would most likely be a Republican-won state in elections, creating a prominent Republican presence on the West Coast, which currently does not exist.

The movement has its own website, which outlines the specifications and desires of the state of Jefferson and the people which would inhabit it. On the website is the proposed state constitution, which cites political corruption in California as the primary motive of independence. The opening line of the constitution states,

“We the people of the 23 counties of Northern California, hereafter known as Jefferson, formally demand an immediate Article 4, Section 3, (U.S.) state split. We declare the State of California is in open rebellion and insurrection against the government of the United States.”

Of course, this movement, along with the other Jefferson proposals, have gained serious traction over their lifespans, but have failed to produce. It is likely that the current movement, the current proposed state of Jefferson, will fail, like those who have come before it.

Similar to the current movement of Cascadia, which aims to gain independence for the Pacific Northwest region and Canadian province of British Columbia, the Jefferson movement is stagnating. It is unlikely that the United States will expand beyond fifty states for the foreseeable future, let alone divide and break up some of its existing states, and create new ones out of them.

For now, the future of Jefferson is in doubt, but it is always nice to dream. But these proposals are proof that dreams, no matter how big, don’t always see the light.

Chris is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Follow him on Medium to be informed of new articles.

Native New Yorker. Pizza, Sports, Games, Life. Writing about whatever my heart desires. Follow me for more articles!

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