Partition and secession in California

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Present counties of California

California, the most populous state in the United States and third largest in area, has been the subject of more than 220 proposals to divide it into multiple states[1] including at least 27 serious proposals.[2] In addition, there have been various calls for the restoration of the California Republic, which would entail secession from the United States.

History of partition movements[edit]

Before statehood, the South strongly pushed for a slave state in Southern California below the 35th parallel north.[3] After the California Constitutional Convention of 1849 applied for statehood in the current boundaries, the South reluctantly acceded to a single, free state in the Compromise of 1850. Proposals for division continued up to the Civil War.


  • In 1854, the California State Assembly passed a plan to trisect the state. All of the southern counties as far north as Monterey, Merced, and part of Mariposa, then sparsely populated but today containing about two-thirds of California's total population, would become the State of Colorado (the name Colorado was later adopted for another territory established in 1861), and the northern counties of Del Norte, Siskiyou, Modoc, Humboldt, Trinity, Shasta, Lassen, Tehama, Plumas, and portions of Butte, Colusa (which included what is now Glenn County), and Mendocino, a region which today has a population of little more than half a million, would become the State of Shasta.
  • In 1859, the legislature and governor approved the Pico Act splitting off the region south of the 36th parallel north as the Territory of Colorado.[4][5][6] However, owing to the American Southeast secession crisis in 1860, the proposal never came to a Congressional vote and the Federal government never acted on it.
  • In the late 19th century, there was serious talk in Sacramento of splitting the state in two at the Tehachapi Mountains because of the difficulty of transportation across the rugged range. The discussion ended when it was determined that building a highway over the mountains was feasible; this road later became the Ridge Route, which today is Interstate 5 over Tejon Pass.

20th century[edit]

  • Since as far back as the mid-19th century, the mountainous region of northern California and parts of southwestern Oregon have been proposed as a separate state. In 1941, some counties in the area ceremonially seceded, one day a week, from their respective states as the State of Jefferson. This movement disappeared after America's entry into World War II, but the notion has been rekindled in recent years.[7]
  • The California State Senate voted on June 4, 1965, to divide California into two states, with the Tehachapi Mountains as the boundary. Sponsored by State Senator Richard J. Dolwig (D-San Mateo), the resolution proposed to separate the 7 southern counties, with a majority of the state's population, from the 51 other counties, and passed 27-12. To be effective, the amendment would have needed approval by the State Assembly, by California voters, and by the United States Congress. As expected by Dolwig, the proposal did not get out of committee in the Assembly.[8] A previous proposal to this effect, the Pico Act, was advanced in 1859-1860 but was tabled due to the American Civil War and never revived (see above).
  • In 1992, State Assemblyman Stan Statham sponsored a bill to allow a referendum in each county on a partition into three new states: North, Central, and South California. The proposal passed in the State Assembly but died in the State Senate.[9][10]

21st century[edit]

Jeff Stone's proposal for the new state of South California highlighted in red.
  • In the wake of the 2003 gubernatorial recall, Tim Holt[11] and Martin Hutchinson[12] proposed in newspaper op-eds that the state should split into as many as four new states, dividing distinct geographically and politically defined regions as the Bay Area, North Coast, and Central Valley, as well as the historic Shasta/Jefferson region, into their own states.
  • In early 2009, former State Assemblyman Bill Maze began lobbying to split thirteen coastal counties, which usually vote Democratic, into a separate state to be known as either "Coastal California" or "Western California." Maze's primary reason for wanting to split the state was because of how "conservatives don't have a voice" and how Los Angeles and San Francisco "control the state." The counties that would make up the new state would be Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles Counties (San Luis Obispo and Ventura Counties vote Republican more often than Democratic but are included for geographic contiguity).[13]
  • In June 2011, Republican Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone called for Riverside, Imperial, San Diego, Orange, San Bernardino, Kings, Kern, Fresno, Tulare, Inyo, Madera, Mariposa and Mono counties (see map at right) to separate from California to form the new state of South California. Officials in Sacramento responded derisively, with governor Jerry Brown's spokesperson saying "A secessionist movement? What is this, 1860? It's a supremely ridiculous waste of everybody's time."[14] and fellow supervisor Bob Buster calling Stone "crazy," suggesting "Stone has gotten too much sun recently."[15]
  • In September 2013, county supervisors in both Siskiyou County and Modoc County voted to join a bid to secede and create a new "State of Jefferson".[7] Mark Baird, spokesperson for the Jefferson Declaration Committee, is reported to have said the group hopes to obtain commitments from as many as a dozen counties, after which they will ask the state legislature to permit formation of the new state. In January 2014, supervisors in Glenn County voted in favor of succession,[16] and in April 2014, Yuba County supervisors voted to become the fourth California county to join the movement.[17] On June 3, 2014, residents in Del Norte County voted against secession by 58 percent to 42 percent,[18] however, voters in Tehama County supported a succession initiative by 57 percent to 43 percent.[19][20]
  • Six Californias: On December 19, 2013, venture capitalist Tim Draper submitted a six page proposal[21][22] to the California Attorney General to split California into six new states, citing improved representation, governance, and competition between industries.[23] On February 19, 2014, Secretary of State Debra Bowen approved the proposal allowing supporters to start collecting signatures in order to qualify the petition for a ballot. A total of 807,615 registered voters are needed by July 18, 2014 for the proposal to appear on the ballot.[24]



Writer Ernest Callenbach wrote a 1975 novel, entitled Ecotopia, in which he proposed a full-blown secession of Northern California, Oregon, and Washington from the United States in order to focus upon environmentally-friendly living and culture. He later abandoned the idea, feeling that "We are now fatally interconnected, in climate change, ocean impoverishment, agricultural soil loss, etc. etc. etc."[25]


While mostly consisting of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia in Canada, proposals for an independent Cascadia often include portions of northern California.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniel B. Wood (July 12, 2011). "51st state? Small step forward for long-shot 'South California' plan". The Christian Science Monitor. Yahoo! Inc. Retrieved July 18, 2011. 
  2. ^ "History of Proposals to Divide California". Three Californias. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  3. ^ Mark J. Stegmaier (1996). Texas, New Mexico, and the compromise of 1850: boundary dispute & sectional conflict. p. 177. 
  4. ^ Two Californias: The Truth about the Split-state Movement
  5. ^ The Quarterly, Volumes 5-6 By Historical Society of Southern California, Los Angeles County Pioneers of Southern California.
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b Romney, Lee (September 25, 2013). "Modoc becomes second California county to back secession drive". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  8. ^ "California Senate acts to cut state in two in districting fight," Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 5, 1965, p1
  9. ^ Evans, Jim (2002-01-03). "Upstate, downstate". Sacramento News & Review. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  10. ^ "1992". Three Californias. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  11. ^ Holt, Tim (2003-08-17). "A modest proposal: downsize California!". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  12. ^ Hutchinson, Martin (2009-05-21). "Califournia Breakup?". Thomas Reuters. Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  13. ^ Downsize California
  14. ^ "Could 'South California' become the 51st US state?". Daily Telegraph. 2011-07-11. 
  15. ^ Official calls for Riverside, 12 other counties to secede from California. KCBS-TV. Retrieved 2011-07-01.
  16. ^ Romney, Lee (January 23, 2014). "Glenn County is third in Calif. to back breakaway State of Jefferson". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  17. ^ Janes, Nick (April 16, 2014). "Yuba County Joins State Of Jefferson Movement To Split California". CBS13 Sacramento. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  18. ^ June 3, 2014 Primary Election - County of Del Norte;
  19. ^ Ballotpedia - Tehama County 51st State of Jefferson State Split Question, Measure A (June 2014)
  20. ^ Wilson, Reid (June 4, 2014). "One California county votes to secede, two counties vote to stick around". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  21. ^ Draper, Timothy. "Six Californias". Initiative Measure Submitted Directly to Voters. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  22. ^ Draper, Timothy. "Six Californias". Website. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  23. ^ Draper, Timothy. "Tim Draper Wants To Split California Into Pieces And Turn Silicon Valley Into Its Own State". TechCrunch. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  24. ^ Fields, Kayle. "Petition to Split California Into Six States Gets Green Light". Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  25. ^ Matt Sledge (July 14, 2011). "San Francisco Secession: Could It Create 'Ecotopia'?". Huffington Post.