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 formed 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.
—U.S. Constitution, Article IV, Section 3
The framers of the Constitution expected the young American nation to quickly grow beyond the original 13 colonies. In fact, the first new state, Vermont, had been under consideration during the Articles of Confederation—before the U.S. Constitution had even been drafted—and entered the Union on March 4, 1791, less than a year after Rhode Island became the final former colony to ratify the Constitution. Over the next 150 years, the United States took possession of new territory through war, diplomacy, and the often violent displacement of American Indian nations. From the original 13, the country has expanded to 50 states.
The country’s founding document, however, is rather vague on the process by which territories become states. Article IV prevents the House and Senate from carving up existing states to form new ones without the consent of the state legislatures, otherwise the Constitution leaves the details of the statehood process to Congress.
Ultimately, the admission of a state to the Union is contingent on the new state’s creation of a government and the approval of a majority in both chambers of the U.S. Congress. Nevertheless, Congress can, and has, set different conditions for statehood. Generally, these have included a minimum voting population, the compliance with various federal laws, and finally—once permitted—the ratification of a state constitution. At times in the past, as with the lengthy admittance process of Hawaii, Congress debated more ambiguous—and often discriminatory—questions of identity, culture, and “Americanness.”
States have frequently been admitted in pairs in the hope of maintaining a sense of political equilibrium. Vermont’s entry as a northern free state was directly linked to Kentucky’s admission as a southern slave state roughly a year later—a decision Congress hoped would maintain a sectional balance in the Senate. In the antebellum period, debates over the expansion of slavery continued to create elaborate but fragile compromises and infamous rancor within the Capitol. Much later, when Congress admitted the 49th and 50th states in 1959—Alaska and Hawaii, respectively—the working assumption was that they would elect new Representatives and Senators from opposite parties. These political considerations have contributed to lengthy waits for some territories seeking statehood. New Mexico, for instance, struggled for more than 60 years to attain statehood over the issues of slavery, religion, and language.
This month’s Edition for Educators focuses on the often-complex process of attaining statehood through the lens of the House of Representatives.
William Henry Harrison of Ohio
Before he won election as the ninth President of the United States, William Henry Harrison had served in the 6th Congress (1799–1801) as a Delegate from the Northwest Territory—a huge swath of land north of the Ohio River which today makes up all or part of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Minnesota. Within 15 months, however, Harrison resigned to become governor of the Indiana Territory. After leading troops during the War of 1812, Harrison was elected to the U.S. House from the state of Ohio with full voting rights to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John McLean. Harrison served in the 14th and 15th Congresses (1816–1819), later held a seat in the Senate, and served as President for all of one month before he died in 1841.
Mary Elizabeth Pruett Farrington of Hawaii
Mary Elizabeth Farrington served as the first female Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Publisher of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and director of the National Federation of Republican Women's Clubs, Farrington had a profile similar to Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Chase Smith, and Bess Truman. When her husband Joseph died in 1954 during his sixth term as Delegate amidst a major statehood push for the Hawaii Territory, Mary Elizabeth Farrington won the special election to fill the vacancy caused by his death. She dedicated the rest of her time in office to securing statehood for the Hawaiian Islands.
Rhode Island’s Ratification of the Constitution
On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the thirteenth state to enter the Union after ratifying the Constitution. By that point, the First Congress (1789–1791) had already passed 12 proposed amendments to the Constitution. The state’s lone Representative, Benjamin Bourne, arrived in Philadelphia on August 31, 1790, fashionably late to the First Congress.
The Admission of California into the Union
On September 7, 1850, the bill admitting California as a free state into the Union passed the House by a vote of 150 to 56. The measure was part of the Compromise of 1850, engineered by Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky who, as Speaker of the House 30 years earlier, had also played an instrumental role winning passage of the Missouri Compromise.
The Veto of the Omnibus Southern States Admission Bill
On June 25, 1868, President Andrew Johnson submitted to Congress his veto of the Omnibus Southern States Admission Bill (H.R. 1058). The measure was a significant piece of Reconstruction legislation that set stringent guidelines for allowing Southern states to rejoin the Union and send Representatives to Congress following the Union victory during the Civil War. Among its provisions was a requirement that Southern states ratify the 14th Amendment, which protected the citizenship rights of African Americans.
The Admission of Ohio as a State
On August 7, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a law ending an unusual dispute about the actual calendar day Ohio was admitted into the Union. The Members of the 83rd Congress (1953–1955) poked fun at the expense of their colleagues from Ohio, claiming, as did Representative John E. Lyle of Texas, that “If Ohio is not a member of the Union and we have some illegal members of the Senate and the House here, I should like to know it.”
Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822–2012 and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress, 1900–2017
Two books in the Office of the Historian’s series on minority representation in Congress delve directly into statehood fights. New Mexico’s long fight for statehood is chronicled in the first two essays of Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822–2012. The Hawaii territory sent the first Asian Pacific American to Congress as its first Delegate. Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in Congress, 1900–2017, includes a lengthy section in its first essay that describes Hawaii’s evolution from independent kingdom to American state.
Samuel Wilder King stands tall, looking directly into the camera. The Hawaiian Delegate’s eyes twinkle with pride. His open hand gestures to one star on the U.S. flag behind him—the 49th star. This unofficial flag, made by Hawaiian women in 1935, showed the territory’s aspiration to become a state, including it as a star. In the twentieth century, flags became symbols of Hawaii’s status in the offices of its Territorial Delegates.
Joint Resolution Annexing Texas
After fighting a war for its independence from Mexico in 1836, the Republic of Texas sought to become part of the United States. The Texas minister to Washington proposed annexation to President Martin Van Buren in August 1837. The Van Buren administration initially rejected the proposal, fearing reprisal from Mexico and the political calculus that would follow the addition of another slave state. It wasn’t until late 1844 that Congress approved this joint resolution and Texas drafted a state constitution. Texas was officially annexed on December 29, 1845.
Oklahoma Statehood Bill
Until the late nineteenth century, the area which is now the state of Oklahoma was two separate territories: one primarily populated by American Indians who had been driven from their ancestral lands by the federal government, as well as those already living in the area; and the other by U.S. soldiers and a growing number of white settlers. As the area became increasingly populated by white migrants, however, its residents demanded representation in Congress, first with a non-voting territorial Delegate, and then statehood. This engrossed version of the Enabling Act reflects changes by both the House and the Senate that went to President Theodore Roosevelt for signature on June 16, 1906. It paved the way for Oklahoma to draft a constitution and establish a state government for the two merged territories. Oklahoma officially joined the Union on November 16, 1907.
Find many more records on the subject of statehood in our Records Search.
Members of the House of Representatives by State and Territory (PDF)
This helpful PDF chart (last updated on January 3, 2019) compiled by the Office of the Historian notes the date and order in which each state entered the Union.
This dynamic map displays the change in representation over time as more states joined the Union.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.Follow @USHouseHistory