10 Places That Should Join the U.S.
It’s been 59 years since a state was admitted into the American republic. The flag of the world’s most powerful country has been adorned with 50 stars for almost six decades now. On Aug. 21, 1959, the Territory of Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state in the union, joining the Territory of Alaska (which joined in January of that same year) as the last two territories of the republic to join as full-fledged states.
That’s a long stretch to go without new stars, and it’s high time to start thinking about adding some more to Old Glory. Annexation shouldn’t be done via conquest or coercion, of course, but neither should the possibility of expanding American constitutionalism (and the liberties protected therein) beyond its current borders be shied away from. Annexing new states means federation, and federation means ceding some sovereignty (“costs”) in exchange for some perceived benefits, which could range from more accurate representation in Congress to better military protection to fuller access of American markets.
Before the objections and insults begin to fly, your correspondent would direct you to the esteemed work of James Bryce, one of the most respected historians of the late 19th century, who, as a British citizen, wrote the post-Civil War equivalent of Alexis de Tocqueville’s pre-Civil War Democracy in America. Bryce’s massive treatise, first published in 1888 (with subsequent editons in 1910 and 1914), on the United States was titled, simply, The American Commonwealth (you can find it here [https://www.libertyfund.org/books/the-american-commonwealth]) and is best known for providing a snapshot of an America that stood in stark contrast to Tocqueville’s egalitarian description. To Bryce, the industrial revolution had made mincemeat out of the early republic’s agrarian ideals, and the vast inequality that confronted Americans was augmented by the territorial expansion of the United States westward through a constitutional framework that, by design, made territorial expansion difficult. Bryce pointed out the problems Americans faced in a manner that was so collected, and so thorough, that his treatise earned him the admiration of Americans on both the left and the right for two generations (until the end of World War II).
Stay with me here.
In a footnote found in the 1914 edition, in a chapter explaining the American Senate, Bryce predicted that Hawaii and Alaska, then territories, would never become states because neither contained “a civilized white population [that] would entitle either of them to be formed into states.” Less than 50 years later, both territories became states, even though Hawaii never had a white majority and Alaska’s now-dominant white population was driven by wartime calculations against Japan (World War II) and the Soviet Union (Cold War) rather than quixotic civilizing missions. Now, with the esteemed historian’s failed prediction in mind, here are 10 places that should join the United States:
10. Jefferson. Composed of counties in northern California and southern Oregon, Jefferson has been around as an idea since 1941, when residents of the region made a legitimate effort to carve out a new state. The citizens of Jefferson even went so far as to elect a governor in 1941, and, since then, Jefferson’s proponents have utilized nearly all options to draw attention to their cause (theirs is a non-violent one). While nothing of substance has yet materialized, there are several historical precedents for allowing new states to form within the borders of older states. West Virginia is probably the most famous case, when Charleston seceded from Virginia after Virginia seceded from the United States, but Maine left Massachusetts in 1820 (and was admitted to the American union as part of the Missouri Compromise), and Kentucky - birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis - also left Virginia, becoming the 15th state in the republic in 1792. Jefferson’s political climate is moderately conservative (marijuana is grown extensively there), and the counties don’t have much say in how their liberal states are run, so the State of Jefferson’s advocates share a common political component with the founders of West Virginia, Maine, and the Bluegrass State.
9. Puerto Rico. Officially an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Rico was acquired by Washington, along with Cuba and the Philippines, in the course of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Not quite an annexed state and not quite a colony, the island has been in legal limbo since the war with Spain ended. In 2017, a referendum was held on the issue of statehood (the fifth of its kind since 1952), and an overwhelming majority of those who voted preferred statehood to independence or the status quo.
Unfortunately, “those who voted” only accounted for about 23% of the island’s population, and referendum was popularly-held, meaning that the legislature didn’t vote on the matter (which is what the federal congress would require in order to consider a Puerto Rican application). Despite the odds being stacked against a Spanish-speaking state, there has never been a better time than now to join the union, especially if representatives could work in tandem with representatives of Jefferson. The history of American statehood is one of balance in the Senate. If Maine could join as a free state, then Missouri could join as a slave state. If Hawaii could join as a blue state, then Alaska could join as a red state. If Puerto Rico joined the union it would be as a blue state, and Jefferson could be the red yang to San Juan’s yin.
8. Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. When the United States beat Spain in its 1898 foray into imperialism, Washington took Guam but left the rest of the Northern Mariana Islands to Spain, which then sold off the possessions to Germany and retreated from the Pacific for good. (The best explanation for this split is that Guam was the most important island cluster in the Northern Marianas.) Japan seized the islands from Germany in World War I, and then the United States took the islands from Japan in World War II. The U.S. then placed the Northern Mariana Islands in its newly-created United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Popular referendums were held in the late 1950s and all throughout the 1960s on unifying with Guam, but the unification never happened and both territories continue to send one non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. If the two commonwealths merged and became a state in the American union, the locals would finally be self-governing, and Americans would get a state with high strategic and economic value in the South Pacific. Not too shabby.
7. Marshall Islands. While technically a sovereign country, the Marshall Islands is in practice a ward of the American republic. Located to the south and east of the Marianas island group, the Marshall Islands has a history that looks remarkably similar to that of its neighbors (Spain claimed the isles, then Germany bought them from Spain after the latter’s loss to the U.S., then Japan seized them from Germany in World War I, and then the U.S. seized them from Japan in World War II). Unlike the Marianas, though, the Marshall Islands were able to attain sovereignty, most likely due to the fact that the Marshall Islands were used extensively for nuclear weapons testing after the end of World War II. The locals on both island groups make up a majority of the population, and are Micronesian in culture.
6. Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. This is where things start to get crazy. The “prairie provinces” of Canada have long been at odds with the eastern establishment of Canada, and consider Canada’s west coast province of British Colombia to be full of stinking hippies. If this sounds familiar it’s because the prairie provinces share much of same culture as the people located in American “flyover country.” All three provinces would benefit immensely from an influx of not only American capital, but also American immigration, and the United States would benefit from the addition of states that share the same cultural traits as many of the republic’s conservatives. Adding three stars to Old Glory, to welcome Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba to the republic, would be an amazing, mutually beneficial accomplishment for both sides of the federation.
5. Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo León. These three Mexican states, located in the north along the border with Texas, once formed a short-lived republic called the Rio Grande Republic in 1840. It was formed in opposition to Santa Ana’s centralizing, anti-federalist schemes, as the Rio Grande states were some of the major beneficiaries of a federal system in Mexico. Rio Grande sought support from Texas, another Mexican state in rebellion [https://www.realclearhistory.com/historiat/2018/05/07/genesis_of_mexican-american_war_304.html], but the Texans, seeking official Mexican recognition of their own secessionist republic, instead declared their neutrality (but supported the Rio Grande Republic by covertly encouraging volunteers to fight with the Rio Grande army). This was not an easy decision for Texas to make, either. The Rio Grande Republic would have made an excellent buffer zone between itself and Mexico, but in the end public recognition of Texan independence by Mexico was deemed to be more important than having a buffer zone between the two sides. The federalist impulse is still strong in these states, too: in 2007, Coahuila became the first state in Mexico to recognize same-sex marriage. These three states deserve better than what Mexico City can offer. They deserve a chance to shine with the stars (and stripes).
4. England and Wales. The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and a few other dependencies scattered about the world. While it was once at the epicenter of the world’s most powerful empire, those days have long since faded from view. Indeed, the kingdom today is in shambles. Scotland wants out. London is thriving but the rest of England is suffering from the effects of deindustrialization. Brexit has highlighted Northern Ireland’s wishes to have ever-closer ties with the Republic of Ireland. The kingdom’s once-vaunted military depends on the United States for nearly everything. Adam Smith put forth a proposal in his 1776 treatise on the wealth of nations that’s worth discussing here. Smith argued that the best way to avoid a costly war with the 13 American colonies was to give them representation to go along with taxation. He proposed that the U.K.’s parliament should add some seats and give them to North American representatives. This way both sides could avoid the whole “no taxation without representation” dispute. Smith further opined that, were this federation to happen, the center of the British empire would inexorably move in the direction of the North American colonies. My friends, that day is finally here! Let Scotland have its independence. Let the Irish finally unite their island. The annexation of England and Wales by the United States would breath fresh life into the former’s stale economy, and would finally put an end to the free-riding that has been a constant thorn in the side of an otherwise special relationship.
3. Taiwan. Speaking of free riders, Taiwan has been nestled comfortably against the bosom of the U.S. military since the early stages of the Cold War, when communist forces on mainland China drove the nationalist forces into the sea and onto the island of Taiwan, which was quickly converted into an offshore fortress against communism. The nationalists set about building a non-communist Chinese society on the island (subduing and then oppressing the indigenous inhabitants along the way), and, after a few decades of one-party rule, flowered into a multi-party democracy with a very high standard of living, the two qualifications that political scientist Daniel Ziblatt identifies in his excellent book Structuring the State: The Formation of Italy and Germany and the Puzzle of Federalism (you can find it here [https://press.princeton.edu/titles/8201.html]) as necessary for successful federation. Even though Washington doesn’t officially recognize Taiwan as a country (a deal Washington made with post-Mao reformers on the Chinese mainland, in exchange for peace and trade), the two polities are deeply intertwined. Taiwan spends billions of dollars on American military equipment, and the U.S. spends significant political capital protecting Taiwan from China’s bellicosity. Taiwanese statehood would not only bring two close societies even closer together, it would force China to either fight the United States or reveal itself to be a paper tiger.
2. Liberia. Established along the coast of West Africa by the United States as a place for freed slaves, Liberia quickly became dominated by said freedman, so much so that the locals were subdued and oppressed for the good part of two centuries. In 1821-22, the American Colonization Society (ACS) founded a colony on the Pepper Coast of West Africa and called it Liberia. The aim of the colony was to provide freed slaves in the Americas a place to enjoy their freedom, since racism was still rampant in the Americas. The freedman quickly came into conflict with the locals, a clash of cultures that has continued into the present day. Liberia, governed by its New World migrants, declared its independence in 1847 but it wasn’t until 1862, in the early stages of the American Civil War, that the U.S. recognized Liberia’s declaration. The African continent’s first and oldest republic, predating Ghana by over one century, it survived as an independent entity the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th century and has been at the forefront of regional coalition-building in Africa since the end of World War II (when the British and French empires collapsed). Liberia, like almost all republics, has decayed politically and socially, especially over the last few decades. Federating with the United States would do wonders for the Liberians, and give the Americans a foothold on the African continent.
1. Cuba. Once, long ago, Cuba and the United States has a semi-toxic but symbiotic relationship with each other. On the one hand, Cuba was a popular tourist destination for Americans and a strong producer of American culture. On the other hand, Cuba’s independence was a sham and the dictatorship that was propped up by the United States led directly to the communist rebellion (and subsequent dictatorship) of Fidel Castro. Sovereignty is overrated, as the Batista and Castro dictatorships highlight so well, and it is certainly not an absolute [https://www.realclearhistory.com/articles/2017/11/14/10_longest-ruling_monarchs_254.html]. That Cuban statehood would show that sovereignty can be traded and negotiated upon; it can be used to establish relationships with other polities to that ensure a healthy element of equality exists between political units large and small. The annexation of Cuba by the United States would give the Cuban people a chance to finally experiment with self-government, and that’s a price worth paying.
Odds and ends
Why not the Navajo or other Indian territories? Why can’t the Navajo and their large reservation be turned into a state within the U.S.? The main reason for this not happening is that critics on the left would call such a state a “Bantustan,” even if it was a full-fledged state with senators and representatives in Washington. A Bantustan was a South African invention during the era of apartheid. The South African government established several “homelands” for black people and moved them onto these homelands, all in the name of racial separation. Some of the Bantustans were recognized as independent by the South African government and some of them were treated as semi-sovereign states by the South African government. No other country in the world followed suit. In reality, the annexation of Indian reservations would look a lot more like the Canadian territory of Nunavut than the Bantustans of South Africa. Nunavut is an Inuit-dominated territory within Canada that participates in both federal politics and governs with the locals in mind. Prior to the establishment of Nunavut, the Inuit in Canada were subject to some awful, paternalistic policies that led to numerous social and economic problems. A union between the United States and its Indian reservations would look a lot more like Nunavut and nothing at all like Bantustans (which, if anything, resemble American Indian reservations).
Why not the Philippines? The short answer is that it’s too large, geographically and demographically. The Philippines was once the crown jewel of the official American Empire, seized from Spain at the same time as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The American-governed Philippines were conquered by the Japanese in World War II and the population suffered immensely [https://www.realclearhistory.com/articles/2018/04/12/10_japanese_prison_camps_in_the_philippines_293.html]. When the American military retook the archipelago from Japan, Washington recognized Filipino independence on July 4, 1946. Today, the people of the Philippines absolutely love the United States. Were a union to happen, it would probably have to be via the three island groups of the Philippines - Visaya, Mindanao, and Luzon - rather than the Philippines itself.
What is the Guano Islands Act? On Aug. 18, 1856, the United States Congress passed a law stating that the U.S. could seize any unclaimed islands that had guano (bat feces) on them. The Act led to numerous disputes with other countries (but no wars) and to the direct ownership of six small, uninhabited islands throughout the world. The Act was ruled constitutional in 1890 and so, to this very day, the United States lords over six guano-rich uninhabited islands as well as a transcontinental imperial domain. There’s no need to add any stars to Old Glory for the sake of the guano islands, but any story involving feces and world politics deserves to be told.
Have a great weekend!