The State of Jefferson
On the question of whether the United States will ever admit a 51st member, two names rightly dominate the conversation. As longstanding geographic entities with not-inconsiderable levels of political autonomy, Washington DC and Puerto Rico are commonly thought to be firmly at the front of queue when it comes to question of whether the United States will grow from a union of 50, to one of 51 or 52.
It might then sounds strange to learn that there’s another candidate out there that has gotten markedly closer to achieving statehood than either the nation’s capital or its largest unincorporated territory. In October 1941, a handful of counties from both sides of the Oregon-California border announced their intention to form a new pacific state – Jefferson. Just a month later, the secessionist movement gained national notoriety when a group of armed men stopped traffic on U.S. Route 99, just south of Yreka (the proposed capital), and distributed pamphlets declaring that the state of Jefferson was in “patriotic rebellion against the States of California and Oregon”.
Despite, however, progressing to the point that a Governor of the State of Jefferson was appointed in early December, the momentum the Jeffersonians had amassed was quickly eradicated following the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbour. Motivated by a broader patriotic duty that far exceeded any animus for the states of Oregon and California, the secessionists took what would become a decades-long hiatus from their statehood movement and focused their attention on a new foreign enemy.
In 2017, the Jefferson movement is witnessing something of a revival, and the geographic parameters of the proposed state have never been more extensive. If it were to declare and achieve statehood today, the Commonwealth would be the 36th most populous state in the union, and touch larger in area than North Dakota. Now more a Californian than an Oregonian ambition, the modern state of Jefferson would cover a geographic area three times larger than that which was proposed back in 1941. Staggeringly, as of January 2016, 21 counties in northern California had sent a declaration (or approved to send a declaration) to the State of California with their intent of leaving the state and forming a new one.
The case for Jefferson is really Calexit in reverse. Substantial numbers of Californians in the rural north of the state have long felt cut off from type of politics on display in Sacramento where the interests of urban centres are perceived to be dominant. Mindful that their views and interests hold an almost “fringe” status in liberal-California, secessionists in Jefferson’s counties see breaking away as the only method capable of securing meaningful representation. In this sense, proponents of Jefferson see their movement as both patriotic and pragmatic: They want acquire enhanced representation for rural, and more conservative, communities while adding another star to the flag.
Jefferson, it is true, would face a number of problems if it were to go-it-alone. The new Commonwealth would be one of the poorest in the nation, saddled with a share of California’s eye-watering debt and unable to draw on the vast wealth poured into Sacramento’s coffers by places like Silicon Valley and Los Angeles. But for Jefferson’s proponents, statehood would constitute an opportunity to fashion an economic revival for a region reliant on blue-collar industry. Those behind the secessionist movement cite the abolition of corporate taxes and the elimination of regulation as proposals that could attract new industries and provide a boost to the region’s existing logging and mining companies.
Although the Constitution’s Admission to the Union Clause lurks as a substantial roadblock to the movement’s aims, forming a new state from an existing state isn’t entirely without precedent. Maine, while never physically connected to Massachusetts, was once part of the Bay State, and West Virginia was famously created from the Commonwealth of Virginia during the Civil War. But that notwithstanding, it seems unlikely that Jefferson will go the way of Maine and the West Virginia: Those states were, after all, both established under conditions of war, and when the states of the Pacific coast faced their greatest threat in 1941, the secessionists of Jefferson rallied to their defence.
It seems then that the secessionists of northern California have the odds firmly staked against them. Even if they’re successful, they would have created a state with the wealth of a Mississippi and the tax base of an Idaho. The residents of Jefferson would then be charged with establishing an administrative bureaucracy which would cost $millions to form. But even as mountainous as those challenges might seem, the simple fact remains that building the state would be an easier task than forming the state. After all, Jefferson would have to be signed off by the congresses of California, Oregon, and the United States – and while this might not be impossible, it seems doubtful that Californians would sanction a move that would provide the U.S. Senate with two additional Republican members.