The Many States of Jefferson, the could-have-been and might-be states
September 6, 2013 10:30 PM   Subscribe

If someone mentions the state of Jefferson that existed in an alternate universe, the question should be: which one? The western neighbor of the Kansas Territory, the eastern portion of Texas, the later effort to split off a western portion of Texas, or the new state composed of parts of Oregon and California?

The first would-be Jefferson State was the Territory of Jefferson which was never officially recognized by the United States, but existed for less than a year and a half, from October 24, 1859 until February 28, 1861. As seen in this 1860 article in the New York Times there were Jefferson Rangers and other formal governmental structures set up in the territory. Some folks even planned a whole grid network of streets for the region.

In 1845, Texas was admitted to the Union, with a provision that Texas could split into at most 5 separate states. That option was latched onto a number of times in Texas' early history with not one but two different proposals including a portion to be named Jefferson. 1870, the Howard Bill, called for three territories, Jefferson east of the San Antonio River, and Matagorda west of the Colorado, with the remainder (or rump state) to be admitted under Reconstruction plans. 45 years later, the western portion of Texas was booming, but residents felt like they weren't getting fair representation at the state level, and proposed to split off and create Jefferson State. The bill supporting this division died, but the idea was resurrected in 1921, when the governor vetoed the location of an agricultural and mechanical college in West Texas. (And theoretically, Texas could still split into separate states, as pondered by some modern map-makers)

This brings us to the most recent efforts to establish a new State of Jefferson. The roots of the Pacific State of Jefferson, can be tied back to early proposals to split northern California and southern Oregon into their own state, or simply lop off parts of California to create more manageable sized states, which went along with the local sentiment that this region is unique from Oregon and California, which went back to the 1850s, including a period when local miners refusing to pay taxes to the newly established state of Oregon in 1859. The first time "State of Jefferson" was associated with this region was as a publicity stunt, organized in 1935 by disaffected residents of southern Oregon and northern California, who were concerned that Salem and Sacramento were ignoring their region’s needs. The "stunt" passed, but his feeling of neglect didn't go away. In the 1940s, locals felt that the area, rich in timber and and mineral resources but operating with poor roads and old bridges, was being overlooked by their respective states and the region could play a role in war efforts. On November 27, 1941 the State of Jefferson Proclamation of Independence was produced and handed out to motorists at the blockade on Route 99, the major route in that region. It was a short proclamation, noting amongst other things that "Patriotic Jeffersonians intend to secede each Thursday until further notice." In early December 1941, Yreka, California was named as the capitol of the future 49th state. The State of Jefferson Citizens Committee gained attention for claiming their stat would be free of sales tax, property tax, and income tax, and instead would be paid for by opening red light districts and gambling halls. In December, there was a parade with some great slogans ("Our Roads Are Not Passable, Hardly Jackassable" and "If Our Roads You Would Travel, Bring Your Own Gravel") and national news coverage boomed, producing news reels to cover the inauguration of the new Governor of the State of Jefferson, Judge John Childs. But this news got shelved on December 7, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. (Coincidentally, the few casualties from the Japanese balloon bombs were in Lakeview, Oregon.)

This wasn't the last news from the would-be 49th state. The State of Jefferson vision hangs on, and the 1941 map (from Michael J. Trinklein's Lost States research) has expanded in various iterations of the Pacific Jefferson State efforts, with grand total of almost 20 counties combined in between Oregon and California. In 1995 or 1996, the State of Jefferson efforts were commemorated with a scenic byway, which you can virtually visit on this archive of Discovering the Scenic Klamath River Corridor or this single-page overview.

In a 1998 article on local reactions to federal attempts to protect the habitat of the coho salmon, it is note that "the topic [of seceding and forming Jefferson State] is bandied about, only half seriously, in bars and restaurants, more nowadays than at any time since 1941." And more recently, discussion of Jefferson State seceding have started again, primarily in response to increased regulations from a central government who the locals feel don't understand the rural realities.

If you want to read more about current thoughts and actions towards a separate Pacific state, check out Jefferson (linked previously), which notes that "the two X's symbolize the people being double-crossed by Salem and Sacramento, the capitals of Oregon and California." If you want to hear more, there's the State of Jefferson podcast which has the tagline "turning a state of mind into a state of reality." To date, there are 47 podcasts.
posted by filthy light thief (25 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up in Humboldt County and Shasta County, and my grandpa retired in Medford, Or (whichever Oregon county that's in...Jackson, apparently), and so we spent some time up there, too, and all of those places would have been part of Jefferson state and it's true, it's different up there than it is down here (I'm in the LA metroplex now).

Shasta County's former longtime State Assemblyman (R-Natch) Stan Statham is a big proponent of Jefferson. Back in high school, one of my pals' fathers had an office just down the hall from Statham's office. My pal had a key, the office was near a good, secluded, view of the Sacramento river, and so on weekend evenings, we'd bring dates there to drink beer (and wine coolers) and later after taking our dates home, crash. It always felt wrong walking by Stan Statham's office on those nights and early mornings. State Assemblyman is a high rank. And we're breaking lots of rules.

Hey "Siskiyou Seperation" folks noted in the link: there's "a rat" in "separate."

You've made me homesick.

What in the world inspired you to dig this up?
posted by notyou at 11:54 PM on September 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I prefer Cascadia for the Pacific Northwest.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:43 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I prefer Cascadia for the Pacific Northwest.

Best known as the source of delicious Cascadian Dark Ale.

While it was considerate to mark Vancouver as Cascadia's capital on that map I think we'd rather not secede.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:09 AM on September 7, 2013

psycho-alchemy: "I prefer Cascadia for the Pacific Northwest."

Cascadia would be nice but that map would have a heck of a time getting through anywhere. Eastern WA and northern BC would revolt before being part of an even larger "lihbrul" country/province/state/territory.

justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow, I'd totally secede if it meant that Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver got to live together in economic, political, and cultural harmony for the rest of my days.
posted by fireoyster at 2:11 AM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

So the new effort's list of reasons for leaving California are (if I can parse their badly written prose) :

- They're mad about plans for walkable, sustainable development.
- They don't like paying construction workers a living wage.
- They don't like public transportation.
- They don't want to pay $115 tax for fire prevention.
- They don't want transgendered people to use the rest rooms in schools.

Well, they've convinced that it's time to leave Jerry Brown's oppressive regime.
posted by octothorpe at 5:38 AM on September 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'd like to complain about the map of Cascadia. Suggest that rather than vaporizing the panhandle, we invade and annex it.
posted by Meatbomb at 5:55 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would revel in schadenfreude when the Jeffersonians in California have much higher taxes after they break away.
They are angry about an "unfair" fire fee that is in all liklihood artificially low for them because areas with a lower fire risk pay the same rate.
It is also my understanding that theses areas typically are the beneficiaries of state expenditures far beyond the amount they contribute to the state treasury. They may hate LA and the Bay Area, but those regions are paying their way.
posted by vorpal bunny at 6:30 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

What a great post!
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:36 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some folks even planned a whole grid network of streets for the region.

That's a just map of the proposed street grids (quite a few of which were actual streets in 1859) of the three settlements clustered at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek -- Denver City, Highlands and Auraria -- rather than the region as a whole. (The three consolidated in 1861 to form Denver.)

Jefferson Territory served actual needs. People living in these settlements, and in gold towns and mining camps up in what is now the Front Range of Colorado were really, really far from established towns, courts and other government centers. They were also on the borderlands of several territories -- depending on where you were, you could be in Kansas Territory, Nebraska Territory, New Mexico Territory, or Utah Territory -- which made it difficult to figure out who to turn to if someone assaulted you or took your mining claim. Traveling to established courts was difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. People in these towns set up mining courts, wrote town charters and constitutions, and tried other means to bring some sort of legal order to Colorado's gold settlements. But territorial governments weren't really interested -- they had more pressing matters. Hence, Jefferson Territory. Its borders were grandiose, and it was incredibly illegal, but people in Jefferson were trying to bring order to what could be a lawless mining frontier.
posted by heurtebise at 6:46 AM on September 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

notyou: What in the world inspired you to dig this up?

The NPR piece, which has some great quotes that I didn't want to pull out in the OP, for concern of sounding like I was mocking the movement.
KOBSEFF: Well, in California the state legislature continues to ignore the voice of rural counties. The regulation that's coming through for our ag industry for just doing business in California is becoming so burdensome that most are just throwing in the towel and leaving the state or giving up the family business that they've had for decades or, some of them, even 150 years.

INSKEEP: So you don't like the regulation. Anything else?

KOBSEFF: Well, that's enough in itself.
INSKEEP: Now, I should mention that the Democratic governor's office in California has responded to this as if it's a political stunt. There's an aide to Governor Jerry Brown who said, "If you want to live in a Republican state with very conservative right wing laws, then there's a place called Arizona." That's a quote. Let me just put the question to you so that you can answer it. Is this just a partisan complaint because you're unhappy that Democrats run the state?

KOBSEFF: Absolutely not. And quite frankly, if Arizona wants to take Siskiyou County into its state, we'll go. The whole problem is we're getting, across the board - not - this isn't a partisan issue. Across the board, young and old, any party, 40 to one are the ratio that I'm getting in responses in support of the state of Jefferson. The regulation is burdensome.
But it seems that the quote about moving to Arizona was first used for a recent southern California attempt to secede from the state.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:18 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Future AskMe: alternate history books where every single alternate state/separatist movement hapepened, Jefferson, Deseret, Vermont, Independent Texas, Cascadia, Cherokee Nation, all of them.
posted by The Whelk at 7:35 AM on September 7, 2013

If Siskiyou County, the current epicenter of the movement, were to become its own state tomorrow, it would instantly be the second-poorest state in the union, just ahead of Mississippi. I doubt the other secessionist counties would bring up the median household income much.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:04 AM on September 7, 2013

You may scoff if you wish. The subcultures here in Southern Oregon / Northern California are pretty much set in their ways. They range from academics, to a kind of hippie that's hard to define, to a few other individualistic sorts that defy description. Then there's the proverbial middle class.

I dunno about being a viable state unto themselves, but culturally...yeah. Also, we are political checkerboards--I guess we are sort of purple, if you don't count the gerrymandering up there in Portland.

Go Ducks.
posted by mule98J at 9:33 AM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've lived in "Jefferson" for thirty-some years and while I see some validity to the whole "different culture" thing, I'm telling you the Jefferson movement in its current incarnation is largely a conservative dogwhistle for "we don't like lib'ruls and minorities."

Less Thomas Jefferson and more Jefferson Davis, in other words.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:20 AM on September 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

I've read that a number of these 'split the state' movements were (among some people) efforts to create more states in favor of slave-holding--sort of a Gerrymandering on a grand scale.

So The Whelk's alternate history book could be one where the South wins, or there isn't even a Civil War at all because the South has more votes in Congress. Reminds me of that KKK wet dream alternate reality book Guns of the South where the Confederate army had AK47s. Which means that the book would probably sell really well.
posted by eye of newt at 11:12 AM on September 7, 2013

Democracy didn't vote the way I wanted. I want out!

New Staters are anti-American. They want to devolve the Republic into anarchy, like Syria.

Why do they hate the idea of America?
posted by SPrintF at 11:43 AM on September 7, 2013

I'd be all for these new little crummy states if they didn't get two U.S. Senators in the deal.
posted by mrhappy at 12:30 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about a deal: the tax dodgers get their state, and the District of Columbia gets one too.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:44 PM on September 7, 2013

How about this deal: merge all the older "little crummy states" into one called New England. Come talk to me when your proportional representation in the Senate equals what we get out here in California. Get your damn pilgrims and colonies off my lawn.
posted by astrobiophysican at 6:39 PM on September 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a resident of Northern Virginia who doesn't much like being technically part of Virginia, I have to wonder what if any actual mechanism exists for the splitting of an existing state into two states, or the merger/division of two states into three. Is there an actual process for this? Who has to be involved?
posted by kafziel at 10:12 PM on September 7, 2013

Now that we've finally got 2/3 in each house, after decades of being fucked in every budget by inland reactionaries and Prop13; no way you get form your own state. It's payback time!
posted by professor plum with a rope at 12:44 AM on September 8, 2013

I have to wonder what if any actual mechanism exists for the splitting of an existing state into two states, or the merger/division of two states into three. Is there an actual process for this? Who has to be involved?

There's a Wikipedia page (section) for that!
51st State : Legal Requirements
Under Article IV, Section Three of the United States Constitution, which outlines the relationship among the states, Congress has the power to admit new states to the union. The states are required to give "full faith and credit" to the acts of each other's legislatures and courts, which is generally held to include the recognition of legal contracts, marriages, and criminal judgments. The states are guaranteed military and civil defense by the federal government, which is also obliged by Article IV, Section Four, to "guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government."
The Contitiution Daily Blog has a longer write-up on the process, which they note was successfully used five times: to create Vermont (from New York, in 1791); Kentucky (from Virginia, in 1792); Tennessee (from North Carolina, in 1796); Maine (from Massachusetts, in 1820); and West Virginia (from Virginia, in 1863).
posted by filthy light thief at 6:47 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

And for The Whelk's future AskMe: Balkanized North America, with 1787 as the point of divergence from our reality, with the related chronology. Matthew White, the author of the map, first imagines that a fire in the State House kills Washington, Madison and Franklin, shaking up the Constitutional Convention by removing key players. From there, the fun starts. I should note that this is just one of eight different surreal histories from White.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:51 AM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to wonder what if any actual mechanism exists for the splitting of an existing state into two states, or the merger/division of two states into three. Is there an actual process for this? Who has to be involved?

It can be done with an ordinary federal law and the consent of the legislature of the state being split.

Which means that Texas's proviso doesn't mean anything. Congress can split any state up any number of ways, so long as the state being split agrees.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:41 AM on September 8, 2013

Not just Oregon and California, Tea Partyers in Western Maryland want to secede from those communists in Annapolis.
posted by octothorpe at 6:34 AM on September 10, 2013

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