A 51st State in the U.S.?

Driving through the Sierra Foothills over the last few weeks, I have noticed several green signs and banners in fields, along fences, and on the sides of barns that mention a State of Jefferson. Usually, these types of signs along roads and in front yards spring up like mushrooms during election season, but it is still too early for that. Also, the signs were bigger than the usual political support. So I was intrigued. What is the State of Jefferson and how come I have not seen these signs in other areas?



Signs around Northern California for a New State

The idea of a State of Jefferson is not new it seems and has been proposed several times before (for the first time in 1852) but has never come to its full fruition. The goal it seems is to create the 51st State of the Union by combining the northern counties of California (and also the southern counties of Oregon) and create a new state; the main purpose is to become independent from California. The issue is the lack of representation of the North’s interests as well as the high deficit and high taxes in the current state of California. Becoming an independent state would mean what is now just a region would have its own two U.S. senators and Congressional representatives, a governor, and a state senate.


Portrait of Thomas Jefferson (1800) by Rembrandt Peale; White House Art Collection

The name for the new state is connected to President Thomas Jefferson, who sent the Lewis and Clark expedition West and envisioned an independent nation there. Thus, his name is associated with the idea of regional autonomy. The signs already show the seal of the proposed new state: the yellow circle is actually a gold mining pan, and the double cross refers to the sense of abandonment from the state government as the region feels it has been “double-crossed.” For me the signs illustrate the American pioneering spirit that I have heard so much about before I moved here; Americans, especially those in the (rural) West, are willing to explore new ideas and try out new things. I doubt that this 51st state will ever come into existence, but it would be interesting to be in the midst of a “velvet revolution” and watch a new state being born.


Sutter Mill in Northern California (1850) – photo from the U.S. Library of Congress

PS: The topic is now also showing up in the local media more; see this editorial for example: Editorial in the Amador Ledger Dispatch