12 States That Considered Splitting Apart
There are 50 states today, but that number was never set in stone. A lot of state governments have had frosty relations with large parts of their own communities. While West Virginia is the only state to successfully break free from another state, plenty of other regions have tried.
1. South Nebraska
The organization of Nebraska Territory was shaped by one political operative, Thomas B. Cuming, who had powerful friends in the growing town of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Despite a census which showed most of the territory’s settlers lived in its southern half, Cuming used his position as acting governor to declare Omaha the territory’s capital in 1854. Outraged southern Nebraskans appealed to Congress, but Congress was wary of further complicating the guerrilla fighting in neighboring Kansas and sparking a civil war. After a brief flirtation with joining Kansas, south Nebraska’s feelings were so inflamed that a debate in the territorial legislature devolved into a fistfight broken up at gunpoint. Nebraska’s homegrown North vs. South contest was put aside during the Civil War, and one of the first acts of Nebraska’s government upon attaining statehood in 1867 was the creation of a new capital, Lincoln, south of the Platte River.
2. North Maine
Aroostook County in northern Maine is rugged terrain, and the land (and its valuable shipbuilding timber) was contested between the United States and Great Britain after the American Revolution. Clashes between American and Canadian militias in the 1830s almost sparked a war, and the small crisis spurred both governments to sign the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842. While Aroostook has been undeniably American territory since then, many of its residents have never felt a strong sense of attachment to the rest of Maine. In 1998, the region’s U.S. Representative, Henry Joy, sponsored a bill to study splitting Maine in two. Joy has periodically resurrected the idea since then. Without an official organization, let alone a map or even a name, Joy’s movement doesn’t look likely to succeed anytime soon.
3. South Alaska
In 1880 there were less than 500 white Americans in the Alaska Territory. The Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 ended the region’s isolation, and in 1900 there were 30,000. Most of the new immigrants settled in the less harsh Alaska Panhandle, giving the young city of Juneau a stranglehold on territorial politics. Juneau, for its part, was eager to separate from the rest of Alaska, which seemed to be an uninhabitable wasteland. In July 1923, President Warren G. Harding visited Alaska and declared that southern Alaska might soon become a state. Electrified, the Panhandle’s political leaders held a convention and approached Congress—which refused to consider the expense of two separate governments in Alaska. The idea was resurrected in the late 1950s as statehood became a real possibility, but by then most inhabitants endorsed the idea of a single Alaska—so much so that a small but vocal group of Alaskans endorses independence from the United States.
4. South Florida
Florida is a large state with wide regional and ethnic divisions, and the relatively richer south also resents the loss of tax dollars to capital Tallahassee, which they see as indifferent and remote. In 2008, city commissioners in North Lauderdale called for the creation of the new state of South Florida. As with most of these movements, the resolution was meant to express frustration, not ignite a real secession movement—but rumblings of secessionism continue.
5. East Maryland
The Eastern Shore region of Maryland, located on the Delmarva Peninsula, is physically separated from the rest of the state and its society was separate as well; for much of Maryland’s early history, the Eastern Shore maintained a separate treasury and administrative staff. The growing power of Baltimore’s urban population stripped the Eastern Shore of many perks, and before the Civil War, the region’s aristocracy openly discussed secession from the rest of Maryland. Eastern Shore secessionism flared up again in the late 1990s when fishermen based there protested restrictions on crab fishing. A bill calling for a secession referendum understandably died in committee in the Maryland House of Representatives, but the Eastern Shore’s separate identity is far from dead.
6. South Jersey
Until 1702, the southern half of the state was actually part of the separate Quaker colony of West Jersey, and Philadelphia remains a cultural magnet for the south in the way New York City is for the northern part of the state. The idea of separate statehood started with a tongue-in-cheek newspaper editorial, which local officials in the eight counties of southern New Jersey seized on to express their annoyance with a state government that was directing development funds to the north. On Election Day 1980, five southern counties voted to secede in a non-binding referendum. This was the high-water mark of the statehood movement; their point made, southern politicians returned to more traditional forms of politics.
7. North Colorado
Colorado has a long tradition of rugged independence, which conflicts with the views of many new left-leaning residents. As the state’s political balance has shifted, many of the state’s rural inhabitants no longer feel comfortable in the new Colorado. In 2013, county commissioners in northeast Colorado called for the creation of the new state of North Colorado. Referenda were placed on several county ballots in the 2013 election, and passed in about half. The statehood movement there is young, but the continuing tensions between Colorado’s rural counties and its growing cities ensure secessionism will continue.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has had complaints about the rest of Michigan pretty much since Michigan snagged it as a consolation prize in 1836 for losing Toledo to Ohio. There were occasional rumblings of secessionism during the 19th century, as new mines opened and created wealth the Upper Peninsula didn’t want to see flowing to distant Lansing. The proud isolation of the Upper Peninsula suffered another blow in 1957, when a five-mile suspension bridge physically connected the region to the rest of Michigan for the first time. Within a few years, a full-fledged movement to create a new “State of Superior” had re-emerged. The half-serious campaign briefly picked up steam in the early 1980s; a secession bill was submitted to the Michigan legislature, and a petition for a statehood referendum gathered 20,000 signatures. Today, the statehood movement is dormant but the Upper Peninsula proudly maintains a distinct identity.
9. West Kansas
When Topeka became the capital of Kansas, it was at the center of the territory’s settlements—but it’s over 200 miles from the state’s western border, a region flush with money from fertile fields and the oil and gas industry. The region’s sense of isolation from Topeka crystallized in 1992, when the state proposed changes to public education which would raise property taxes in west Kansas while cutting their per-pupil spending. Protestors launched boycotts and lawsuits, and three counties held non-binding secession referenda. Before long, people from Oklahoma and Colorado joined the West Kansas movement. The protests went unheeded; the reforms were signed into law, and the state’s attorney general declared any secession illegal. Delegates from seven counties went ahead and held a constitutional convention on September 11, 1992, but the secession movement never had a broad base and ran out of steam. Today, the movement is moribund, and the state legislature and courts have heavily modified the 1992 education law.
10. Baja Arizona
Southern Arizona joined the rest of the territory a little late, after the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, and it sees itself a little differently. Arizona politics have become increasingly conservative in recent years, to the point where leaders in Democratic-leaning Tucson formed a statehood movement to leave Arizona and form the new state of Baja Arizona. The statehood movement failed in a 2011 drive to create secession resolutions in the south, and while frustration with the rest of the state remains, it seems unlikely a split is in the offing.
Chicago is famous for a lot of things that happened during the 1920s, but secessionism isn’t one of them. Tensions between the state government of Illinois and the state’s most powerful city came to a head during the Roaring '20s, as the city’s prosperity, resentment, and reputation for lawlessness all reached new peaks. In 1925, the City Council of Chicago approved a resolution calling for secession. After reaching out to neighboring counties to join the movement, Chicago gave the state government two years to meet demands for reapportionment based on population—which would give the city a majority in the state legislature. Another resolution calling for secession passed in 1931, and secessionism rose again when a 1947 reapportionment gave Chicago less than 40 percent of the state legislature. It was not until 1981 that population-based districts ended the long fight between Chicago and Springfield, which ironically led state representatives in 2011 to introduce a bill calling for Chicago to be kicked out of Illinois.
When the new state of California was created in 1850, it threatened to break the nation’s fragile political balance and plunge the United States into civil war. Many state and national leaders wanted to balance the new free state with a new slave state, and to that end a number of proposals were raised to create the new state of “Colorado” from southern California. The state government actually approved a secession law in 1859, but Congress refused to act and the coming of the Civil War stopped talk of splitting California. California’s periodic secessionist movements continue to the present day.