The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1: “New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be forced by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” This provision in the U.S. Constitution granted Americans living in territories the right to become a State after meeting the necessary requirements; it also gave new states the same standing as all other states.
Many of the Founders and Framers of the Constitution believed that the United States of America would eventually stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean; some of them apparently thought it would cover the entire North American continent. New territories and states were added from time to time. These territories included the purchase of the Louisiana Purchase from France during the administration of Thomas Jefferson in 1803, which stretched from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. It also included the purchase of Florida from Spain during the administration of James Monroe in 1819.
Texas joined the Union in 1845 with an interesting condition: Texas can be divided into five different states whenever it desires. This condition is still in place even though Texans have not chosen to do it. If Texas decided to divide into five states, the area would still have the same number of Representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives but would have ten Senators instead of the present two.
The United States purchased all of the territory between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean after the war with Mexico (1846-48). Under the direction of President Andrew Johnson, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. The Hawaiian Islands became a U.S. territory in 1893 when Americans living there revolted. The United States acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, and other Spanish territories in 1898 after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The U.S. acquired the Virgin Islands in 1917 during World War I.
“As new states have been admitted by Congress, the rule of `equal footing’ has been honored – until the western states began to seek admission. The Congress began imposing restrictions on these states which had never been imposed on earlier states. The most significant restriction was the retention of huge sections of these states (e.g., 87 percent of Nevada) as federal territory. About 96 percent of Alaska was retained. Restrictions imposed on the territory of Utah kept that region from becoming a state for forty years.” (See W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, pp. 635-636.)
The clause stipulating that a state could not be formed within an existing state gave each state the right over its own territory. According to Skousen, James Madison commented: “The particular precaution against the erection of new States, by the partition of a State without its consent, quiets the jealousy of the larger States; as that of the smaller is quieted by a like precaution against a junction of States without their consent.”
This is an interesting subject at the present time because counties in two current states – California and Colorado – are petitioning to secede from their respective states. Conservative residents of the northern counties in each state desire to secede from the more liberal southern counties. I have also read information stating that Puerto Rico wants to become a state.
Four states were created from existing states. Kentucky split off from Virginia in 1790 and West Virginia split off from Virginia during the Civil War. Most of Tennessee was once part of North Carolina. Vermont was once claimed by both New Hampshire and New York and became the 14th U.S. state in 1791. Arizona was part of the New Mexico Territory, and Washington was once part of the Oregon Territory.
David F. Forte of The Heritage Foundation commented on the New States Clause: “… Thus the Congress, utilizing the discretion allowed by the Framers, adopted a policy of equal status for newly admitted states…. Utilizing its discretion, Congress admitted new states from newly acquired territory and opted to give equal status to each.
“The Supreme Court, however, chose to impose the very constitutional requirement that the Framers had rejected. With the growth of states’ rights advocacy during the antebellum period, the Court asserted that the Constitution mandated admission of new states on the basis of equality…. The doctrine remains constant to this day and has engendered problems in construing the legal effect of conditions that Congress has placed on the admission of a number of states.
“According to traditional historic practice, Congress passes an enabling act prescribing the process by which the people of a United States territory may draft and adopt a state constitution. Texas is the exception: it was an independent republic, and, under the Resolution of Annexation, has the option of creating up to four additional states out of its territory. Many enabling acts contain restriction, such as the prohibition of bigamy in the Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Oklahoma acts. The applicant state then submits its proposed constitution to Congress, which either accepts it or requires changes. For example, in 1866, Congress refused the proposed Nebraska constitution because it limited suffrage to white males. Upon approval of the new state constitution, Congress may direct the President to issue a proclamation certifying the entry of the new state into the United States. A number of states, however, drafted constitutions for submission to Congress absent enabling acts and were subsequently admitted.
“Although the enabling act becomes a `fundamental law’ of the state, its provisions must give way to the `equal footing’ rights once the new state becomes a member of the Union….
“Finally, despite the ambiguous second semi-colon in the clause, new states may be formed out of an existing state provided all parties consent: the new state, the existing state, and the Congress. In that way, Kentucky, Tennessee, Maine, West Virginia, and arguably Vermont came into the Union.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, pp. 277-278.)