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12 Proposed U.S. States That Didn't Make the Cut

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The road to 50 states was littered with wannabes who couldn't wait to declare themselves—but never quite got to full statehood. Here are 12 states that could have been.

1. Franklin

After the Revolutionary War, it became common for states to gift their westernmost lands to the newly-founded (but broke) American government to repackage and sell to westbound pioneers. A conspiracy in North Carolina led to its western lands being sold to high-ranking members of the state government instead, then ceded to the U.S. Government under an agreement that ensured that those officials got a portion of the profits.

After the plan was discovered, a new government was elected and the deal was nullified, but the damage was already done. As a result of the shady land deals, counties in what's now eastern Tennessee proposed the State of Franklin, distancing themselves from North Carolina. Unfortunately, Franklin was a mere two votes shy of the 2/3 majority vote needed to become the 14th state. Franklin’s government collapsed shortly after and returned to North Carolina’s ownership.

2. Jefferson

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Four regions have been proposed as the State of Jefferson. The first was west of Kansas Territory in 1859. Mining communities in the Rocky Mountains came together and requested the formation of their own potential state, called Jefferson. The Kansas government agreed, setting its proposed borders east of Jefferson’s. Citizens of Jefferson could not agree on a constitution, however, so it became Jefferson Territory (later Colorado Territory) instead.

The second and third were both located in Texas. As part of its admittance into the United States, Texas could agree to split itself into as many as four states. In 1870, southeastern Texas, from the San Antonio River onward, was proposed as Jefferson, with other region-states to follow. The idea was never taken very seriously. Later, in 1915, Jefferson plans re-emerged, but in western Texas instead. Only six state senators approved of the idea, and it, too, failed.

The fourth, a mix of counties from northern California and southern Oregon, was proposed in 1941. Supporters in the area marched with guns, passing out flyers proclaiming secession. Their movement was overshadowed by the attacks on Pearl Harbor and mostly faded away. Some, however, still propose an expanded Jefferson even today.

3. Superior

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As one of the only non-island U.S. states with two distinct landmasses, it makes sense that citizens of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (frequently referred to as “yoopers”) would consider splitting off from the "glove" "mitten" part of the state.

It has been proposed on a number of occasions, usually with the proposed state being called “Superior” (for Lake Superior), though other names such as Sylvania (preferred by Thomas Jefferson) and Ontonagon have also been mentioned.

In fact, the idea has been brought forth in recent years, when murmurs of upper peninsula secession bubbled up once again after debates over Michigan tax laws.

4. Delmarva

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Similar to the Michigan Upper Peninsula statehood efforts, Delmarva’s attempts at self-government are persistent. Delmarva is the small peninsula off the east coast of Maryland that is split between three states: Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Hence, Delmarva.

The entirety of Delaware is located on the peninsula, but only portions belong to Maryland and Virginia. Most proposals call for Maryland and Virginia to cede their lands, Delaware to absorb them, and for the new state to be dubbed Delmarva (though some alternate plans call for the name to remain Delaware).

Some others want Delaware to remain an independent state and cede only a few counties to Delmarva, and others still insist that Maryland’s eastern shore also be included. No formal attempts have ever been made, but considering the odd borders currently present on the peninsula, a single government does sort of make sense.

5. Absaroka

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In 1939, portions of Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota attempted to secede and form their own state called Absaroka, named after the Absaroka Range of the Rocky Mountains. While they never actually came to Congress to propose statehood, they did make Absaroka license plates and even held a 1939 Miss Absaroka beauty pageant.

Sheridan, Wyoming street commissioner A. R. Swickard was the leading force behind the movement. He declared himself governor of Absaroka and began hearing grievances from the local populace. With the start of World War II, however, the populace lost interest in the idea and it eventually disappeared altogether.

6. Scott

You may be surprised to discover that there was a lost state as recently as 1986. In fact, it existed for 125 years, but you wouldn’t have found it on any U.S. maps.

The Free and Independent State of Scott was founded during the Civil War when Scott County, Tennessee opted to secede from its parent state after Tennessee joined the Confederate States of America. Citizens of Scott, who weren’t plantation holders or slave owners, had no interest in joining the CSA and so remained a Union state.

Tennessee ignored the proclamation and did nothing to stop them, so the tiny State of Scott was mostly forgotten about until its 125th anniversary, when it finally formally requested re-admittance to Tennessee. The state even held a celebration welcoming Scott back, although it had never officially recognized it in the first place.

7. Transylvania

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Everyone knows about the 13 colonies, but few know that there was an unofficial 14th. Dubbed Transylvania (over 100 years before Bram Stoker made that name scary), the land was made up of modern-day western and southeastern Kentucky and northern Tennessee.

Purchased from Cherokee Indians by the Transylvania Company, the hope was that the British would recognize the land and allow the Transylvania Company’s owner, Richard Henderson, to rule it as an autonomous territory, like William Penn and Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately for them, the plan unraveled when it was discovered that the purchase was illegal under British law and that the lands had already been claimed by Virginia and North Carolina. For less than a year, the land existed as an extralegal colony. Shortly before the formation of the U.S., Virginia declared the Transylvania Purchase void and officially re-claimed the lands.

8. Deseret

Named after a Book of Mormon word meaning “honeybee,” Deseret was a region in the southwestern United States claimed by Mormons who sought to govern themselves. Their proposed state took all of modern day Utah and parts of several other states.

Their statehood request was denied by Congress in 1849 and they were given the much smaller Utah Territory instead. The laws and regulations drafted by Deseret were quickly re-enacted under Utah Territory’s government.

However, a shadow government of Mormon elders were hopeful to one day resurrect the Deseret idea. They secretly met after each legislative session for the next twenty years and rewrote the day’s new laws under the “State of Deseret” name.

9. Westsylvania

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Franklin wasn’t the only region with a bid to become the 14th state. In 1776, the failed colony of Vandalia (modern day West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and eastern Kentucky) tried to reform itself the State of Westsylvania.

Unlike Franklin, however, Westsylvania’s bid never even went up for a vote. Congress ignored the petition and when the lands were taken up by the surrounding states, former Westsylvanians bristled and threatened to secede anyway.

Shortly afterward, Pennsylvania (which then owned most of the former Westsylvania lands) passed a law declaring talk of secession and the Westsylvania movement to be treasonous and punishable by execution. As a result, the dream of Westsylvania quickly died.

10. Nickajack

Much like the Free and Independent State of Scott, many in the South during the Civil War, namely those who weren’t rich enough to own large tracts of land or slaves, were unhappy with the idea of seceding. One such region where this sentiment was widely held was the mountainous lands found in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama, which attempted to merge together and form the state of Nickajack.

Instead of simply declaring themselves a new state like Scott, however, non-secessionist politicians attempted to break apart legally. While Tennessee struggled with its decision on joining the Confederacy, northern Alabama lawmakers were left attempting to block secession in their state, if not actively seceding themselves.

Unfortunately, the rules of the secession convention stated that delegates and their votes were determined by total population of their jurisdiction. Since slaves counted toward the total population, the southern and central regional delegates far outnumbered those of the north. Therefore, the slave owners were allowed to vote on behalf of their own slaves and the secession passed. A short time later, Tennesseans voted in favor of the Confederacy as well. Leaving the CSA was considered too dangerous for Nickajack, and the idea was dropped.

11. Sequoyah

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Not unlike the Mormon Church’s idea for its own state, Native Americans also sought to create a part of the U.S. that had their interests in mind. So it was that in 1905, the State of Sequoyah (named after the same Sequoyah who invented the Cherokee written language) was conceptualized.

Based out of Indian Territory (present day eastern Oklahoma), a tract of land where Native Americans had been relocated by the U.S. Government, the state design would have counties for all of the major tribes and allow their system of tribal government to continue unabated.

When presented with their constitution and plans for statehood, Congress was hesitant due to a desire to keep the number of states between the eastern and western U.S. balanced. In the end, President Teddy Roosevelt decided that Sequoyah should be merged with the existing Oklahoma statehood proposal, creating the state as we know it today.

12. Lincoln

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There have been multiple attempts to create a State of Lincoln. The first has an origin similar to one of the many Jeffersons. As mentioned before, a clause in Texas’s admission to the U.S. allowed it to be split into multiple entities. One of these proposed spinoffs, the State of Lincoln, would have taken up anything south and west of the Colorado River. Just like the state of Jefferson that would have been found in East Texas, the idea never came to fruition.

The second Lincoln would have been found far from Texas. After the crafting of the Washington, Idaho, and Montana Territories in 1864, it was briefly unclear if what is now known as the Idaho Panhandle would become a part of Idaho or Montana. In the meantime, the Panhandle led a petition to become a state called Lincoln. When this failed, the idea was re-proposed in the early 1900s and included Eastern Washington, thus splitting the existing state in two. Again, the idea failed, but it has perpetually recurred since that time. The most recent proposition for the idea was made in 2005.

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Space
On This Day in 1962, NASA Launched and Destroyed Mariner 1
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NASA // Public Domain

On July 22, 1962, NASA launched the Mariner 1 probe, which was intended to fly by Venus and collect data on its temperature and atmosphere. It was intended to be the first interplanetary craft—the first time humans had sent a space probe to another world. Unfortunately, NASA aborted the mission 293 seconds after launch, destroying the probe in the Atlantic. What happened?

First off, a bit of history. Mariner 1 was based on the pre-existing Block 1 craft used in the Ranger program, which was aimed at gathering data on our moon. Those early Ranger probes didn't do so well—both Ranger 1 and Ranger 2 suffered early failures in orbit. Mariner 1 was a modified version of the Ranger design, intended for a much longer mission to another planet. It lacked a camera, but had various radiometers, a cosmic dust detector, and a plasma spectrometer—it would be capable of gathering data about Venus, but not pictures per se.

The two previous Ranger missions had used basically the same launch system, so it was reasonably well-tested. The Ranger probes had made it into orbit, but had been unable to stabilize themselves after that.

Mariner 1 launched on the evening of July 22, 1963. Its Atlas-Agena rocket was aided by two radar systems, designed to track data on velocity (the "Rate System") and distance/angle (the "Track System") and send it to ground-based computers. By combining that data, the computers at Cape Canaveral helped the rocket maintain a trajectory that, when separated, would lead Mariner 1 to Venus.

Part of the problem involved in handling two separate radars was that there was a slight delay—43 milliseconds—between the two radars' data reports. That wasn't a problem by itself. The Cape computer simply had to correct for that difference. But in that correction process, a problem was hiding—a problem that hadn't appeared in either of the previous Ranger launches.

To correct the timing of the data from the Rate System—the radar responsible for measuring velocity of the rocket—the ground computer ran data through a formula. Unfortunately, when that formula had been input into the computer, a crucial element called an overbar was omitted. The overbar indicated that several values in the formula belonged together; leaving it out meant that a slightly different calculation would be made. But that wasn't a problem by itself.

The fate of Mariner 1 was sealed when the Rate System hardware failed on launch. This should not have been a fatal blow, as the Track System was still working, and Ground Control should have been able to compensate. But because that overbar was missing, calculations on the incoming radar data went wonky. The computer incorrectly began compensating for normal movement of the spacecraft, using slightly incorrect math. The craft was moving as normal, but the formula for analyzing that data had a typo—so it began telling Mariner 1 to adjust its trajectory. It was fixing a problem that didn't exist, all because a few symbols in a formula weren't grouped together properly.

Mariner 1's rocket did as it was told, altering its trajectory based on faulty computer instructions. Looking on in horror, the Range Safety Officer at the Cape saw that the Atlas rocket was now headed for a crash-landing, potentially either in shipping lanes or inhabited areas of Earth. It was 293 seconds after launch, and the rocket was about to separate from the probe.

With just 6 seconds remaining before the Mariner 1 probe was scheduled to separate (and ground control would be lost), that officer made the right call—he sent the destruct command, ditching Mariner I in an unpopulated area of the Atlantic.

The incident was one of many early space launch failures, but what made it so notable was the frenzy of reporting about it, mostly centered on what writer Arthur C. Clarke called "the most expensive hyphen in history." The New York Times incorrectly reported that the overbar was a "hyphen" (a reasonable mistake, given that they are both printed horizontal lines) but correctly reported that this programming error, when coupled with the hardware failure of the Rate System, caused the failure. The bug was identified and fixed rapidly, though the failed launch cost $18,500,000 in 1962 dollars—north of $150 million today.

Fortunately for NASA, Mariner 2 was waiting in the wings. An identical craft, it launched just five weeks later on August 27, 1962. And, without the bug and the radar hardware failure, it worked as planned, reaching Venus and becoming the first interplanetary spacecraft in history. It returned valuable data about the temperature and atmosphere of Venus, as well as recording solar wind and interplanetary dust data along the way. There would be 10 Mariner missions in all [PDF], with Mariner 1, 3, and 8 suffering losses during launch.

For further reading, consult this Ars Technica discussion, which includes valuable quotes from Paul E. Ceruzzi's book Beyond The Limits—Flight Enters the Computer Age.

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Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain
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This Just In
Lincoln’s Famous Letter of Condolence to a Grieving Mother Was Likely Penned by His Secretary
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Brown University Library, Wikipedia/Public Domain

Despite his lack of formal schooling, Abraham Lincoln was a famously eloquent writer. One of his most renowned compositions is the so-called “Bixby letter,” a short yet poignant missive the president sent a widow in Boston who was believed to have lost five sons during the Civil War. But as Newsweek reports, new research published in the journal Digital Scholarship in the Humanities [PDF] suggests that Lincoln’s private secretary and assistant, John Hay, actually composed the dispatch.

The letter to Lydia Bixby was written in November 1864 at the request of William Shouler, the adjutant general of Massachusetts, and state governor John Albion Andrew. “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming,” it read. “But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.”

Unknown to Lincoln, Bixby had actually only lost two sons in battle; the others had deserted the army, were honorably discharged, or died a prisoner of war. Nevertheless, word of the compassionate presidential gesture spread when the Boston Evening Transcript reprinted a copy of the 139-word letter for all to read.

Nobody quite knows what happened to Bixby’s original letter—some say she was a Confederate sympathizer and immediately burnt it—but for years, scholars debated whether Hay was its true author.

During Hay’s lifetime, the former secretary-turned-statesman had reportedly told several people in confidence that he—not Lincoln—had written the renowned composition, TIME reports. The rumor spread after Hay's death, but some experts interpreted the admission to mean that Hay had transcribed the letter, or had copied it from a draft.

To answer the question once and for all, a team of forensic linguists in England used a text analysis technique called n-gram tracing, which identifies the frequency of linguistic sequences in a short piece of writing to determine its true author. They tested 500 texts by Hay and 500 by Lincoln before analyzing the Bixby letter, the researchers explained in a statement quoted by Newsweek.

“Nearly 90 percent of the time, the method identified Hay as the author of the letter, with the analysis being inconclusive in the rest of the cases,” the linguists concluded.

According to Atlas Obscura, the team plans to present its findings at the International Corpus Linguistics Conference, which will take place at England’s University of Birmingham from Monday, July 24 to Friday, July 28.

[h/t Newsweek]

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