Alaska and Hawaii officially joined the United States in 1959, becoming the nation’s 49th and 50th states, respectively. Over the past several decades, there have been talks about the U.S. potentially adding even more states.
Some territories that have been considered for statehood include Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Granting Washington, D.C. statehood has been discussed often over the years as well. And more recently, there have been talks of California splitting into two or even three states.
However, Old Glory continues to tout 50 white stars, begging the question – will there ever be more than 50 states? How does a territory even become a state? We’ll explore some potential additions below.
How Do You Become a U.S. State?
According to the U.S. Constitution, only Congress has the ability to grant an entity statehood, but there are some typical procedures followed in most cases when a new state is admitted to the Union.
Typically, Congress requires that the applicant have a certain minimum population. The territory would then usually hold a referendum vote to determine whether the majority of residents want statehood, and then send a petition to Congress if the vote passes.
The territory then needs to create a form of government and constitution that are in compliance with the U.S. Constitution. Once this is satisfied, both the House and Senate vote on the measure. If passed, the joint resolution is then given to the President to sign and pass into effect.
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Potential California Split
With the bid to split the Golden State into three now gaining traction, a landmark decision might be made this November. In June, 2018, a plan to split California into three different jurisdictions earned a spot on the November 6th ballot.
If passed (and Congress approves), three new states would be created: Northern California, California (New), and Southern California. The move would section San Francisco away from Los Angeles and divide the Central Valley.
Supporters of the division believe that it would lower taxes, create better infrastructures, and improve education systems. They argue that many districts of California are underrepresented, with state decisions often appealing to representatives from a small portion.
This isn’t the first time that there have been discussions about splitting California. Since being admitted to the Union in 1850, there have been more than 200 attempts to alter California’s shape. This includes attempts to adjust the boundaries, split it into portions, or to have the state secede entirely and become a sovereign country.
If California does eventually split, it would be the first time a U.S. state has been divided since the creation of West Virginia in 1863.
It wouldn’t be a conversation about potential statehood if Puerto Rico wasn’t discussed. The Caribbean island has been a U.S. territory since 1898, when the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. Prior to being invaded by the Americans, Puerto Rico had been a Spanish colonial territory.
It wasn’t until 1917 that Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship. In the 1950s, U.S. Congress passed a bill that gave the Island of Enchantment the right to draft its own constitution. The constitution was approved two years later, recognizing Puerto Rico as a commonwealth and granting U.S. Congress major legislative power over the island.
Since first being proposed in 1967, there have been seven referendums that have pushed for Puerto Rico to become a state. The most recent (and major) push happened June, 2018, when 97% of Puerto Ricans voted to officially be recognized by Congress as a state. It should be noted, however, that less than a quarter of registered voters turned out to the polls.
District of Columbia
Though it might come as a surprise to some, Washington, D.C. is not a state at all. The seat of the federal government is actually a compact city, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers believed that the capital should be free from political pressure, and that if it were to become a state, an uneven power dynamic would take place between the Federal and State governments.
Currently, there are only three ways that D.C. can become a state: amending the U.S. Constitution, Congress passing a bill that admits the District of Columbia into the Union, or formally petitioning for the former to occur. All three have been attempted as part of the fight for statehood. In 2016, 79% of residents voted in support of joining the Union as the 51st state.
For decades, residents have complained that they are unfairly represented due to their lack of representation in the U.S. Senate. They also do not have a voting member in the House of Representatives. With a larger population than both Vermont and Wyoming, city officials believe Washington, D.C. should have greater representation in Congress. “Taxation Without Representation” has become a bit of an unofficial motto in the city.
So will there ever be more than 50 states? For now we will have to wait and see. There certainly are some promising candidates, and it is definitely possible. We know that the process for achieving statehood can take decades, so only time will tell if more stars will need to be added to the U.S. flag in the future.