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

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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How the Log Cabin Became an American Symbol
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Many Americans have a special fondness for the log cabin, viewing it as the home of heroic pioneers, or at least a great weekend escape. But it wasn’t always this way. The log cabin was originally disdained here in America—and it took decades of pop culture and political shifts to elevate the structure to the vaunted status it holds today.

THANK THE SWEDES

While there’s plenty of imagery portraying log cabins in the English colonies of Plymouth and Jamestown (established in Massachusetts and Virginia, respectively), these depictions couldn’t be further from the truth. The English had no history of log cabins—they preferred more “refined” frame houses, and would sometimes squat in subterranean dugouts until they could be built. In fact, the log cabin was first constructed in the New World in the short-lived colony of New Sweden, established in the Delaware River Valley in 1638. Such structures had been around continental Europe for centuries, and the Swedish colonists were simply using a skill that had been passed down through generations.

Log cabins might have remained a Swedish anomaly in the New World had it not been for the German and Scots-Irish who adopted them after arriving in the mid-1700s. But none of these log cabins looked much like the quaint, cozy structures we revere today. They often had dirt floors, were crawling with lice and other pests, and were prone to drafts; as one traveler remarked around 1802, the gaps between logs were "filled up with clay, but so very carelessly, that the light may be seen through in every part." Yet as uncomfortable as these cabins were, they offered impoverished immigrants an invaluable slice of freedom. Cheaper and far easier to construct than finer homes, the log cabin thus became the go-to home for newcomers to the New World, helping millions of desperate refugees turn their dreams of settling in America into a reality.

But the practicality of the structure did nothing for the log cabin's public image, or that of its inhabitants. Benjamin Franklin wrote that there were only two sorts of people, "those who are well dress'd and live comfortably in good houses," and those who "are poor, and dirty, and ragged and ignorant, and vicious and live in miserable cabins or garrets." Dr. Benjamin Rush, Surgeon General of the Middle Department of the Continental Army and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, said the cabin dweller was “generally a man who has out-lived his credit or fortune in the cultivated parts."

As for cabins themselves, they were generally seen as “rude” and “miserable,” and no self-respecting American would deign to live in one. Not permanently, at least. Cabins back then were temporary stepping stones meant to be abandoned once something better could be afforded; barring that good fortune, they were to be covered with clapboard and added to as the cornerstone for a finer home.

LOG CABIN PRIDE

But the log cabin and its inhabitants’ public image got a makeover after the War of 1812. The nation had just defeated the British for a second time, and Americans were feeling good, forging their own identity and distinguishing themselves from the old world. Log cabins—ubiquitous and appropriately rustic—started taking on an all-American sheen.

Soon enough, writers and artists were portraying them in a positive light. One notable example is James Fenimore Cooper’s 1823 novel The Pioneers, where the house of protagonist Natty Bumppo is described as being “a rough cabin of logs.” That scene in turn is thought to have inspired artist Thomas Cole’s 1826 painting, Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake. Together, these works helped spark an entire movement that saw the pioneer as a hero. Log cabin dwellers were no longer disdained for their rough edges; these same edges were what made them romantic and distinctly American.

A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
A "Harrison & Tyler" woodcut used in the 1840 campaign
Library of Congress // Public Domain

Similar shifts occurred in the political realm during the 1840 election. President Martin van Buren faced an uphill battle for reelection that year, and a politically aligned newspaper thought it could give him a leg up by launching a classist attack against rival William Henry Harrison: “Give [Harrison] a barrel of Hard Cider, and settle a pension of $2000 a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his Log Cabin.” In other words: Harrison was an ignorant hick.

It was a lie—the wealthy Harrison actually lived in a mansion—but most of the public didn’t know it, and his rivals assumed voters would scorn Harrison’s poverty. They were wrong: Millions of Americans still lived in log cabins, struggling day-in-and-day-out, and they were not impressed. (“No sneer could have been more galling,” John McMaster wrote in his 1883 A History of the People of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War.)

In no time at all, Americans rich and poor were displaying their Harrison love and log cabin pride by holding cabin raisings and patronizing specially-constructed log cabin bars, marching in massive parades with log cabins pulled by teams of horses, and purchasing heaps of Harrison-themed, log cabin-stamped merchandise, including tea sets, hair brushes, and hope chests. With his eye on the prize, Harrison gamely played into this fib, telling frenzied crowds that he’d rather relax in his log cabin than run for president, but that he had heeded their call to run for the White House. That fall, he won handily.

Though Harrison died 32 days into his term, his log cabin campaign became a reliable template for candidates in the years ahead. Franklin Pierce downplayed his family’s wealth in 1852, instead focusing on a brief time spent in a log cabin as a baby. James Buchanan did the same in 1856, and Lincoln’s log cabin youth was brought up consistently come 1860. “Like President Harrison, Mr. Lincoln has spent about one third part of his life in a log cabin,” one biography read.

"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" by Frances Flora Palmer
"Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way"
Frances Flora Palmer, Library of Congress

Log cabins became an even more persistent presence in the arts, culture, and commerce in the decades ahead, making cameos in iconic images like Frances Flora Bond Palmer’s 1868 painting Across the Continent: Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, in which the cabin is the symbol of an ever-expanding American empire. The log cabin also figured into tales high and low, such as The Log-Cabin Lady—a prescriptive memoir about escaping low-class drudgery—and The Log-Cabin Bishop, an uplifting account of a man who brought religion to the frontier. The Log Cabin Library dime novels even peddled swashbuckling adventures to young boys.

FALSE MEMORIES

Most powerful in terms of ingraining log cabin adoration in young Americans, though, were the scores of false histories that projected the log cabin back onto Plymouth and Jamestown. Historians of the late-19th century had heard so much about the log cabin that they just assumed it was key to American growth and expansion, leading to assertions like John G. Palfrey’s 1860 claim, “[Settlers] made themselves comfortable in log-houses,” and images like W.L. Williams 1890s painting, Plymouth in 1622. The latter shows the colony as a smattering of log cabins and was widely distributed to elementary school classrooms, cementing the image of a cabin-laden Plymouth.

A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
A set of 1970s Lincoln Logs
Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

From then on, the log cabin was portrayed as the ultimate proverbial rag from which the rich nation of the U.S. had emerged, as when historian Warder Stevens declared in 1916, “The story of America is written in log cabins.” It’s this tradition of myth-making and believing that inspired subsequent outpourings of log cabin nostalgia: Lincoln Logs in the interwar years, log cabin chic of the 1990s, and today’s reality programs showing urbanites fleeing to the woods.

These days, the log cabin is emblazoned on money and sewn onto flags; it fascinates modern artists like Will Ryman (who created a gold-resin-covered log cabin at the New Orleans Museum of Art); and it appears in music of all genres, from country crooner Porter Wagoner’s 1965 track “An Old Log Cabin for Sale” to T-Pain and Lil Wayne’s 2008 romantic rap “Can’t Believe It.” That said, perhaps the log cabin itself is the nation’s greatest rags-to-riches story; it went from being sneered at as a poor immigrants’ hovel to being revered as an American icon. Not bad for something that writer John Filson, discussing Boone’s home circa 1784, described as “not extraordinary.”

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Did Queen Victoria Really Save Prince Albert From Drowning in an Icy Lake?
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Not many British queens have also served as daring emergency rescuers. But when the moment arose, Queen Victoria was ready to save the day. In 1841, she saved her husband, Prince Albert, from an icy lake he had fallen into while skating.

The incident didn't need much dramatization when it was included in an episode of the PBS drama Victoria. It really was a life-or-death situation, and 21-year-old Victoria was the hero.

On a cold February day in 1841, Victoria and Albert, who had married almost exactly a year earlier, went for a walk around the gardens of Buckingham Palace. Albert, an avid sportsman who loved to skate and play hockey, strapped on his ice skates and headed out onto the lake. In a diary entry, Victoria wrote that the ice was smooth and hard that day—mostly. As he skated toward her, she noticed that the ice around a bridge looked a little thin.

"I, standing alone on the bank," she wrote in her journal that evening, "said, ‘it is unsafe here,' and no sooner had I said this, than the ice cracked, and Albert was in the water up to his head, even for a moment below." By her own telling, Victoria screamed and reached out her arm to him, holding onto her lady-in-waiting, the only attendant present.

Albert grabbed Victoria's arm and she was able to pull him to safety. He had cut his chin and was dripping wet, but returned home, took a hot bath and a nap, and was up a few hours later to socialize when their uncle Leopold (Victoria and Albert were first cousins) came to visit.

"Her Majesty manifested the greatest courage upon the occasion, and acted with the most intrepid coolness," an account of the event that appeared in The Times a few days later proclaimed. "As soon as the Prince was safe on dry land, the queen gave way to the natural emotions of joy and thankfulness at his providential escape."

Albert recounted his side of the experience in a letter to his step-grandmother, Duchess Caroline of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. "I was making my way to Victoria, who was standing on the bank with one of her ladies," he described, when "I fell plump into the water, and had to swim for two or three minutes in order to get out. Victoria was the only person with the presence of mind to lend me assistance, her lady being more occupied in screaming for help." (Both the queen's diary entry and the newspaper account give the lady-in-waiting a little more credit, suggesting that she at least served as an anchor for the queen as she reached out to the prince.)

According to The Times, the problem was bird-related. That morning, the groundskeepers in charge of the various waterfowl that called the lake home had broken the ice around the edges of the water so that the birds could drink. By the time the queen and the prince arrived, those spots had frozen over with a deceptively thin layer of ice.

Thanks to Victoria, though, Albert emerged from the incident with little more than a bad cold and went on to live for another 20 years.

Had Albert died that day on the ice, it could have completely changed European history. Victoria and Albert had already had a daughter, and the future King Edward VII was conceived around this time. If Albert had died, seven of Victoria’s children wouldn’t have been born—children who were married to nobles and rulers across Europe (during World War I, seven of their direct descendants were on thrones as king or queen). And if the future Edward VII hadn’t been conceived, Albert died, and everything else remained the same, it’s possible Kaiser Wilhelm II may have become the ruler of both Germany and the United Kingdom.

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