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8 Secessionist Movements in American History

We all know about the Confederate states leaving the Union. But that was far from the only secessionist movement in American history. Here are some rebellious regions you won't find in too many history books.

1. The Kingdom of Beaver Island

Strang.jpgBeaver Island, a small island in Lake Michigan, became the home of Mormon leader James Strang and his followers—called Strangites—in 1848. Two years later, Strang declared himself king of the church—complete with crown, scepter, robe, and a harem of 15 wives. However, most of the island's inhabitants were his followers, so he essentially became King of Beaver Island. The power got to his head, and he began forcing his rule onto the non-believers, causing some violence between the two factions. In 1856, the USS Michigan pulled into the harbor and invited Strang aboard. As he was walking towards the ship, he was shot in the back by disgruntled followers, who then ran up the gangplank and escaped. Adding to the mysterious circumstances, the assassins were set ashore on nearby Mackinac Island and never charged for their crime. Shortly after the assassination, angry mobs from surrounding islands eventually forced the Strangites from their homes, thus ending the short-lived Kingdom of Beaver Island.

2. The State of Superior

Concern over a perceived lack of interest from the Michigan state government, the people of the Upper Peninsula (U.P.), affectionately known as "Yoopers," have been trying to secede and form the State of Superior since as far back as 1897. The movement gained momentum after 1957 when a bridge connecting the U.P. region to Lower Michigan made it easier for southern "Trolls" (people who live "below the bridge") and Yoopers to mingle. This animosity continued into the mid-1980s, when 20,000 signatures were collected and submitted to the state for a secession request. However, the number was shy of the 36,000 required, and the request subsequently denied. The secessionist drive lives on today, as numerous grassroots organizations are trying to muster support for another official attempt at an independent U.P. Until that day comes, though, the Yoopers and Trolls will just have to try to get along.

3. The Great Republic of Rough and Ready

rough-and-ready-flag.jpgRough and Ready, California, was a mining town founded in 1849 by the Rough and Ready Company of Wisconsin. As the town's population rapidly exploded to 3,000, lawlessness was on the rise—and the U.S. government was not much help squelching the rampant crime. Additionally, a new federal tax on mining operations added fuel to the region's civil unrest. Seeing little support from Washington, on April 7, 1850, the townspeople voted to secede from the Union.

But just three months later, as the Fourth of July approached, The Great Republic of Rough and Ready wanted to have a celebration (which seems odd considering they were no longer, technically, Americans). When nearby Nevada City wouldn't sell liquor to "foreign miners," it was decided that maybe America wasn't so bad after all. The townspeople voted themselves back into the Union on the very same day and the party went off as planned.

4. The Conch Republic

conch-flag.jpgIn the early-1980s, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Florida Keys in an effort to stop illegal drugs and immigrants. The time to check everyone's identification at the checkpoint resulted in a 20-mile traffic jam that turned tourists away, thus damaging the economy in the Keys. After numerous legal attempts to have the checkpoint removed, on April 23, 1982, Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow declared the Florida Keys were seceding from the Union.

Moments later, now-Prime Minister Wardlow symbolically declared war on the U.S. by breaking a stale piece of Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. One minute later, Wardlow turned to the Admiral in charge of the U.S. Naval Base at Key West and surrendered, thus ending the Conch Republic's Civil Rebellion. He then immediately asked for $1 billion in federal aid to help rebuild his war-torn nation's economy. While officially the Republic conch-coins.jpgonly existed for one minute, the tongue-in-cheek spirit of the rebellion lives on. Today you can buy Conch Republic citizen and diplomatic passports (both of which have been used for international travel, though they are not intended to be official documents) and even an official flag of the republic (complete with the awesome motto, "We seceded where others failed"). The community has even minted a series of limited edition one-conch dollar coins that can be used as legal tender while in the Keys.

5. The State of Absaroka

Feeling that the Democratic southern half of Wyoming was not working in conjunction with the rest of the state, a secessionist movement was launched by northern Republicans in 1939 to create a new state that would better serve its more conservative population. This state, Absaroka—so named after the nearby mountain range—was to be made up of northern Wyoming, southeast Montana, and the western region of South Dakota. While the secessionist movement was never very large or pursued through legal channels, that didn't stop A. R. Swickard, the street commissioner of Sheridan, WY, from appointing himself governor of the "state."

MissAbsaroka1939.jpg

The movement went so far as to press Absaroka license plates and crown a Miss Absaroka beauty queen. Absaroka could even brag about a visit from a foreign dignitary, King Haakon VII of Norway (though he was officially visiting Wyoming and just happened to be in Absaroka).

Despite all of the hoopla, the state never came to be, and now, so many years later, the intent of the secessionist movement is in question. Some believe there was a genuine attempt to create a new state, while others say it was just a fun way for cowboys to distract themselves during tough economic times.

6. The State of Jefferson

jefferson-flag.jpgNorthern California and southern Oregon have been trying to merge since 1852. The attempts have been met with mixed results, though the "State of Jefferson" movement of 1941 came closest to making it happen. The region felt it was being ignored by their respective state legislatures, so in response the people created the "State of Jefferson Citizen's Committee" to explore the possibilities of secession. The group began stopping cars on Highway 99 to hand out the state's "Proclamation of Independence," a pamphlet outlining the grievances they held and the solutions they proposed. To help rally their cause, they developed a state flag made up of a gold miner's pan with two black X's inside, representing the double-cross they felt the Oregon and California state governments had pulled.

On December 4, 1941, Judge John Childs was elected governor of Jefferson in the state's temporary capital of Yreka, CA. The event was filmed by numerous newsreel companies who were set to air the footage during the week of December 8th. History had other plans, as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor the day before the big premiere. Driven by a sense of national obligation, the Jefferson secession was put aside and never really regained momentum. While the official movement might have died out, the residents of this region still hold the concept in their hearts, with many identifying themselves even today as the population of the great state of Jefferson.

7. The McDonald Territory

Noel, Missouri, located in McDonald County in the far southwest corner of the Show Me State, has been a popular tourist destination for many years. Therefore, when the Missouri State Highway Commission left Noel off their annual "Family Vacationland" map in 1961, the region was not happy pleased. To display their dissatisfaction, McDonald County drew up papers of secession and presented them to the state legislature, declaring itself the independent McDonald Territory. The county went so far as to elect officials, form a territorial militia, and even printed up visas that were issued to visitors so they could travel throughout the territory.

mcdonald-stamp.jpgPerhaps the most lasting impression were the thousands of McDonald Territory stamps that were printed and sold throughout the area. While most agree that the secession was done purely for publicity, the state of Missouri wasn't necessarily happy about the type of publicity it was garnering. So in order to end this mock rebellion, the state declared that state employee retirement pension payments would be suspended for McDonald County, all current state employees would be fired, and all state funding would be withheld. Needless to say, McDonald Territory surrendered and returned to being simply McDonald County, Missouri, once again.

And here's one more secessionist movement recently covered here on the _floss:

8. Alaska

For decades, a well-organized separatist movement has campaigned to turn America's largest state into its own nation. The bitterness dates back to 1958, when Alaska's citizens were given a simple yes-or-no vote on statehood. Many Alaskans felt they were denied more options on the issue, prompting a land developer named Joe Vogler to organize a re-vote that would offer Alaskans four possibilities—remain a territory, become a state, take commonwealth status, or become a separate nation.

AIP.jpgUsing the vote as his platform, Vogler ran for governor in 1974—and soon made a habit of it. With colorful slogans such as, "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions," Vogler spearheaded the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), and his campaign has twice topped 5 percent of the vote. More surprisingly, former U.S. interior secretary Wally Hickel got elected governor on the AIP ticket in 1990. Unfortunately for the party, Hickel only ran on the ticket because he lost the Republican primary. Never a supporter of the plebiscite idea, Hickel left the AIP and rejoined the Republicans in 1994.

Today, the AIP continues to draw about 4 percent of voters statewide. And in 2006, Alaska took part in the first-ever North American Secessionist Convention, joining other groups from Vermont, Hawaii, and the South. As for Vogler, he was murdered in 1993—reportedly the result of an argument over a business deal. On a brighter note, honoring his wish to never be buried in U.S. soil, Vogler was laid to rest in Canada's Yukon Territory.

"“Jeff Fleischer (From '9 Modern-Day Independence Movements')

Rob Lammle is probably the only cartographer you'll ever meet who has an English degree. Read more on his own site, spacemonkeyx.com.

See also...

The Map With Only 38 States
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The Confederacy's Plan to Conquer Latin America

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The Tone-Deaf Man Who Invented Karaoke
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7 Crafty Zoo Escapes
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Money for (Almost) Nothing: Big Paychecks for Little Work
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Forgotten American Border Disputes
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The George Costanza Candy Identification Quiz

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 


PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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