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Five U.S. States That Never Made the Map

In today’s polarized political climate, the political, economic, and cultural differences between regions and even states seem exacerbated. These divisions have led to renewed calls for carving up [1] or even secession [2] by some states, namely California.

In the meantime, efforts to incorporate Puerto Rico as a new state [3] continue unabated.

Among other potential “new states” are the island territories of Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

It remains to be seen whether any of these attempts—secession or incorporation—bear fruit. In a political and cultural climate as divided as the present’s, even a single new state (or loss of one) can tip the bipartisan political balance, making it difficult to imagine the ready consent of Congress, which would be necessary for ratification.


But what about the states in U.S history that almost were? Five, in particular stand out.

Sequoyah: This was the proposed name of a state constituting [4] Indian Territory, i.e. the territory in which the Cherokee and other tribes from the American south settled after the Trial of Tears. It would have kept with the U.S. constitution’s philosophy of federalism: separate states for separate cultures, and what better than the creation of a state that would represent America’s oldest culture? Unfortunately for proponents of the state, Eastern politicians did not want to admit both Sequoyah and neighboring settler-majority Oklahoma territory, as this would reduce the political influence of the East. President Theodore Roosevelt thus told the two territories to enter the union as a single state, and Oklahoma was admitted to the union in 1907. However, the constitution of Oklahoma closely resembles the one drafted for Sequoyah just a few years before.

Deseret was a proposed state for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who migrated from the eastern United States to the Great Basin desert in 1847 [5] in order to escape persecution. While most of the proposed state is desert, the word deseret actually comes from a word for honeybee in the Book of Mormon. The state, as originally proposed was designed by the LDS leadership to encompass deserted and infertile land throughout the American southwest in order to reduce potential future conflicts between Mormons and other settler groups. However, the proposed state was deemed too large by the federal government, as it encompassed modern Utah, Nevada, much of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and California. In 1850, the same year California was admitted to the Union, Congress passed an act [6] establishing the territory of Utah, which was significantly smaller than the proposed state of Deseret. Brigham Young became its first governor and its Mormon character was maintained, but not without further conflict.

Colorado (California): Proposals to split California into separate states trace back over a hundred years. However, the attempts that came closest to doing so occured in the 1850s, soon after the state of California itself was admitted to the Union. California was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1850 in its current borders because by encompassing the southern, mainly Hispanic sections of the state, the Anglo-dominated northern half prevented the creation of a new slave state to its south. Southern California would have been eligible to constitute itself as a slave state on the basis of the 36°30′ line of latitude established by the Missouri Compromise, in which slavery was permitted south of that line. Once California was created, its expansive size and demographic differences prompted the mainly Hispanic southern parts to petition in hopes of forming their own state. In 1859, the Pico Act was passed by the California State Legislature and signed by the State governor John B. Weller. It was approved by nearly 75 percent of voters in the proposed state of Colorado, in southern California. However, the Civil War soon broke out and nothing came of the proposal.

Long Island: My birthplace, Long Island, is very different economically, socially, and culturally from the rest of New York. In particular, Long Island pays [7] more taxes to New York state than it receives. A proposal to make Long Island a separate state first gained traction [7] in 1896, and an informal referendum approved the creation of a new state in 1996. Moreover, the chief executive of one of the two counties on the island outside of New York City publically endorsed the idea in 2010. However, Long Island has close economic ties with New York City, and a more viable plan should probably involve the secession of Long Island and New York City together from the rest of the more rural counties of the state. This would also be more politically viable in Congress as Democrat-leaning New York would be split into two new states, one of which would be Republican.

Superior: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is separated from the rest of the state by Lake Michigan. While the Upper Peninsula’s 320,000 people would make for a smaller population than the least populous state, Wyoming, a movement for a separate state began in 1858, largely because of the geographical isolation of the region from the rest of Michigan. In 1858, delegates from the Upper Peninsula, together with parts of neighboring Wisconsin and Minnesota, met at Ontonagon in order to create a separate state known as Superior. The idea was backed by many prominent publications [8], including The New York Times. The state was considered viable as the Upper Peninsula supplied [9] 90 percent of America’s copper by the 1860s. However, the events of the Civil War put a hold on this proposal. Further proposals were made in 1897 and 1962. But the opening of Mackinac Bridge connected the peninsula with the rest of Michigan and reduced the support of a new state, and today there is no active movement for Superior.

Akhilesh Pillalamarri is an editorial assistant at The American Conservative. He also writes for The National Interest and The Diplomat.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Five U.S. States That Never Made the Map"

#1 Comment By Brian Villanueva On September 13, 2017 @ 12:45 am

“In a political and cultural climate as divided as the present’s, even a single new state (or loss of one) can tip the bipartisan political balance”

That sounds a great deal like the political situation in the 1850’s. Hence the Missouri Compromise.

Tolerance only works as long as citizens agree on the core values of their society. In 1860, tolerance became untenable, since North and South irreconcilably disagreed on core values. How far away are we are from irreconcilable disagreement today?

#2 Comment By John Dodge On September 13, 2017 @ 7:59 am

Interesting, but you omitted the State of Franklin.

#3 Comment By AtomicZeppelinMan On September 13, 2017 @ 11:46 am

We should fold all the Pacific territories into Hawaii and all the Caribbean ones into a Puerto Rican state. Plus, every American city of more than, say, 1 million residents should get a Senate seat. And do we really need TWO Dakotas? Reunification for North and South Dakota!
Another good state idea would be to make every Federally administered Native American reservation into one, non-contiguous, American state.

#4 Comment By Cliff Story On September 13, 2017 @ 11:49 am

State of Franklin, yes. I was going to mention that but I had thought it was the State of Sevier. Nope, John Sevier was its governor (there’s a Sevier Street in Murfreesboro, where I have lived from time to time). None of the “states” mentioned in the article ever had real existence but Franklin was self-governing for four or five years. It’s now part of east Tennessee.

#5 Comment By Thrice A Viking On September 13, 2017 @ 12:14 pm

I agree that it’s interesting, but would add that the author omitted Jefferson, comprising northern California and southern Oregon. John Dodge, I believe that Franklin did appear on maps, but changed its name to Tennessee.

#6 Comment By Wesley On September 13, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

When I read the Lincoln-Douglas debates, I thought it was interesting that splitting Texas into more states was taken as a foregone conclusion. No particular state was mentioned, but Lincoln and Douglas were constantly referring to the additional states from Texas.

#7 Comment By mrscracker On September 13, 2017 @ 12:42 pm

Where’s the Republic of West Florida?

#8 Comment By Carl On September 13, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

How could you leave out West Florida? Not only did the West Floridians want to enter the US as a state, it was, like Texas, an independent republic (albeit for only a short time in 1810). Although it was split up among Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, even today many West Floridians retain a sense of identity, the areas of Louisiana north and east of Lake Ponchartrain are known as the “West Florida Parishes,” and I-12 is officially designated the “West Florida Highway.” Seems to me like a much bigger claim to an “almost state” than any of these five.

#9 Comment By connecticut farmer On September 13, 2017 @ 1:21 pm

You seem to have omitted a sixth proposed “state”– John Sevier’s “Franklin” (an effort to split off from North Carolina) back in the late 18th century.

#10 Comment By PrairieDog On September 13, 2017 @ 1:23 pm

Yes, what about Franklin? I also recall having read about a scheme in the 1840s to settle German immigrants somewhere in the upper Missouri valley and form a German state.

There are periodic calls to create a separate state in the urban Northeast corner of Illinois, but such proposals are generally no more than stunts. (unfortunately)

#11 Comment By mrscracker On September 13, 2017 @ 2:22 pm

Carl says:

“How could you leave out West Florida? … Seems to me like a much bigger claim to an “almost state” than any of these five.”
Plus, they had a very cool flag.

#12 Comment By polistra On September 13, 2017 @ 8:19 pm

One quibble: Oklahoma’s constitution didn’t follow the Cherokee. It followed Jennings Bryan. Pure populism.

20 years later when the original populist oilmen sold out to Morgan and duPont, the populist government was replaced by standard globalism. At that point the Cherokees, who had money and knew how to use it, regained considerable power.

#13 Comment By Mike Hawkslarge On September 13, 2017 @ 11:35 pm

We need to take over Cuba – and should have done it the day after Russia took Crimea. We could have used it as a bargaining chip to force Russia to give up Crimea and we would release Cuba – OR we could keep Cuba and add it to the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and make all those islands a single new state.
We should do that right now given that Cuba has been harming our diplomats and we could use the excuse of needing to protect American Citizens…as Russia used a similar nonsensical reason when they took over Crimea.

#14 Comment By Tom S On September 14, 2017 @ 10:48 am

The Missouri Compromise was in 1820. The events of the 1850’s killed it (popular sovreignty).

#15 Comment By awfulorv On September 14, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

The state of Hillary, or at least her head, should be considered, it’s certainly big enough.

#16 Comment By jamie On September 14, 2017 @ 2:12 pm

That sounds a great deal like the political situation in the 1850’s. Hence the Missouri Compromise.

Almost from the beginning, new states were added on a one-for-one slave/free split in order to preserve the senate balance. After the Civil War, previously large territories were subdivided into two and three states at a time in order to render the southern bloc in the senate permanently outnumbered. The statehood accession process was always the tail on the dog of senate composition.

#17 Comment By SeanD On September 14, 2017 @ 6:47 pm

Akhilesh, Long Island may have had a distinct identity early on, as is was first settled from Connecticut rather than New Amsterdam/York, but it has been absorbed into the New York metro-area for generations now. Re: “Long Island pays more taxes to New York state than it receives,” join the club! I grew up in NYC, where everyone believes the rest of the State is sponging off our economic dynamo. I went to college Upstate, where everyone believes they are being bled white by a tax and regulatory regime that only Downstaters can afford, and get nothing in return but state colleges and prisons. Now I live in the suburbs (Westchester) where everyone believes that we are being milked from both ends by the City and Upstate. In fact, the Crony Capitalist/Welfare State Establishment, that rules from Albany but is mostly composed of Downstaters, redistributes wealth from the politically unconnected to the politically connected. As long as we keep blaming other parts of the State, this will never change.

As for adding stars to the Stars & Stripes, the most likely scenario is that Puerto Rico breaks the pattern of past referenda and votes to become a State. Congressional Democrats will lick their chops, but Republicans will predicate support on carving a new State essentially out of California’s Central Valley. With a few tweaks to exclude the current State Capitol and include the far North and East, you would have all the California counties that voted for Trump, and a half-dozen “blue” counties in the same geographic, economic and social sphere. I’d suggest naming it after Adams, as he is the only prominent Founding Father who hasn’t had anything important named after him, and who didn’t own slaves. (Nothing against Jefferson, but who needs the Antifa drama?) Perhaps naming Modesto the capitol would express hope for a more modest government than social engineers like Jerry Brown would allow.

#18 Comment By Q On September 15, 2017 @ 7:22 pm

Mayor Fernando Wood got the ball rolling for New York City (just Manhattan) to secede from the friggin Union in the late 1850s. Danzig on the Hudson, anyone? Again, the civil war shelved it.