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 since its admission to the United States in 1850[1] including at least 27 significant proposals in the first 150 years of statehood.[2] In addition, there have been some calls for the secession of certain states or large regions in the American West (such as the proposal of Cascadia) which often include parts of Northern California.

Prior California partitions[edit]

California was partitioned in its past. What under Spanish rule was called the Province of the Californias (1768–1804) was divided into Alta California (Upper California) and Baja California (Lower California) in 1804 at the line separating the Franciscan missions in the north from the Dominican missions in the south.

After the Mexican–American War, Alta California was admitted to the United States as the present-day State of California. Baja California remained under Mexican rule.

In 1888, under the government of President Porfirio Díaz, Baja California became a federally administered territory called the North Territory of Baja California ("north territory" because it was the northernmost territory in the Republic of Mexico). In 1952, the northern portion of this territory (above 28°N) became the 29th state of Mexico, called Baja California; the sparsely populated southern portion remained a federally administered territory. In 1974, it became the 31st state of Mexico, admitted as Baja California Sur.

History of partition movements[edit]


Main article: Compromise of 1850

The territory that became the present state of California was acquired by the U.S. as a result of the Mexican–American War and subsequent 1848 Mexican Cession. After the war, a confrontation erupted between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North regarding the status of these acquired territories. Among the disputes, the South wanted to extend the Missouri Compromise line (36°30' parallel north), and thus slave territory, west to Southern California and to the Pacific coast, while the North did not.[3]

Starting in late 1848, Americans and foreigners of many different countries rushed into California for the California Gold Rush, exponentially increasing the population. In response to growing demand for a better more representative government, a Constitutional Convention was held in 1849. The delegates there unanimously outlawed slavery, and had no interest in extending the Missouri Compromise Line through California; the lightly populated southern half never had slavery and was heavily Hispanic.[4] They thus applied for statehood in the current boundaries. As part of the Compromise of 1850, the South reluctantly acceded to having California be a free state, and it officially became the 31st state in the union on September 9, 1850.


  • In 1855, the California State Assembly passed a plan to trisect the state.[5] 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. The primary reason was the size of the state's territory. At the time, the representation in Congress was too small for such a large territory, it seemed too extensive for one government, and the state capital was too inaccessible because of the distances to Southern California and various other areas. The bill eventually died in the Senate as it became very low priority compared to other pressing political matters.[5]
  • In 1859, the legislature and governor approved the Pico Act (named after the bill's sponsor Andrés Pico, state senator from Southern California) splitting off the region south of the 36th parallel north as the Territory of Colorado.[6][7][8] The primary reason cited was the difference in both culture and geography between Northern and Southern California. However, the proposal never came to a Congressional vote and the Federal government never acted on it because of the Civil War.[5]
  • 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.[9]
  • 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 (R-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.[10] 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.[11][12]

21st century[edit]

Bill Maze's proposal for the new state of Coastal California or Western California highlighted in green.
Jeff Stone's proposal for the new state of South California highlighted in red.
  • 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, highlighted in red) 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."[16] and fellow supervisor Bob Buster calling Stone "crazy," suggesting "Stone has gotten too much sun recently."[17]
  • In September 2013, county supervisors in both Siskiyou County and Modoc County voted to join a bid to separate and create a new "State of Jefferson".[9] 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 based on Article 4, Section 3 of the US Constitution. In January 2014, supervisors in Glenn County voted in favor of separation,[18] and in April 2014, Yuba County supervisors voted to become the fourth California county to join the movement.[19] On June 3, 2014, residents in Del Norte County voted against separation by 58 percent to 42 percent,[20] however, voters in Tehama County supported a separation initiative by 57 percent to 43 percent.[21] On July 22, 2014, Sutter County voted 5-0 to join the State of Jefferson.[22]
Map of the Six Californias
  North California
  Silicon Valley
  Central California
  West California
  South California
  • Six Californias: On December 19, 2013, venture capitalist Tim Draper submitted a six-page proposal[23][24] to the California Attorney General to split California into six new states, citing improved representation, governance, and competition between industries.[25] 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.[26] On July 14, the petition organizer announced that the proposal received enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in two years.[27] However, while more than enough signatures were turned in, it was determined that only about two thirds were actually valid, making the petition fall too far short to warrant a full count of the signatures, and disqualifying it for the November 2016 ballot.[28]
Another partitioning proposal



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."[29]


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. ^ William Henry Ellison. A self-governing dominion, California, 1849-1860 (1950) online
  5. ^ a b c Ellison, William Henry (October 1913). "The Movement for State Division in California, 1849-1860". The Southwestern Historical Quarterly 12 (2): 101–139. JSTOR 30234593. 
  6. ^ Two Californias: The Truth about the Split-state Movement
  7. ^ The Quarterly, Volumes 5-6 By Historical Society of Southern California, Los Angeles County Pioneers of Southern California.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Romney, Lee (September 25, 2013). "Modoc becomes second California county to back secession drive". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  10. ^ "California Senate acts to cut state in two in districting fight," Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 5, 1965, p1
  11. ^ Evans, Jim (2002-01-03). "Upstate, downstate". Sacramento News & Review. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  12. ^ "1992". Three Californias. Retrieved 2008-07-11. 
  13. ^ Holt, Tim (2003-08-17). "A modest proposal: downsize California!". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  14. ^ Hutchinson, Martin (2009-05-21). "Califournia Breakup?". Thomas Reuters. Retrieved 23 February 2011. 
  15. ^ Downsize California
  16. ^ "Could 'South California' become the 51st US state?". Daily Telegraph. 2011-07-11. 
  17. ^ Official calls for Riverside, 12 other counties to secede from California. KCBS-TV. Retrieved 2011-07-01.
  18. ^ 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. 
  19. ^ Janes, Nick (April 16, 2014). "Yuba County Joins State Of Jefferson Movement To Split California". CBS13 Sacramento. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  20. ^ June 3, 2014 Primary Election - County of Del Norte;
  21. ^ Wilson, Reid (June 4, 2014). "One California county votes to separate, two counties vote to stick around". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 28, 2014. 
  22. ^ Smith, Steven (July 22, 2014). "Sutter County Board of Supervisors Summary of July 22, 2014". Sutter County. Retrieved July 22, 2014. 
  23. ^ Draper, Timothy. "Six Californias". Initiative Measure Submitted Directly to Voters. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  24. ^ Draper, Timothy. "Six Californias". Website. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  25. ^ Draper, Timothy. "Tim Draper Wants To Split California Into Pieces And Turn Silicon Valley Into Its Own State". TechCrunch. Retrieved 20 December 2013. 
  26. ^ Fields, Kayle. "Petition to Split California Into Six States Gets Green Light". Retrieved 21 February 2014. 
  27. ^ Chaussee, Jennifer (July 14, 2014). "Billionaire's breakup plan would chop California into six states". Chicago Tribune. Reuter. Retrieved July 15, 2014. 
  28. ^
  29. ^ Matt Sledge (July 14, 2011). "San Francisco Secession: Could It Create 'Ecotopia'?". Huffington Post.