Our 51st State?

Jefferson-flagA recent road trip took me through the heart of the State of Jefferson, our 51st state. What’s that, you say? We have only 50 states? Read on.

The State of Jefferson comprises Del Norte, Siskiyou and Modoc counties in northern California and Curry, Josephine, Jackson and Klamath counties in southern Oregon. The name is a gesture to President Thomas Jefferson, who sent the Lewis and Clark expedition into the Pacific Northwest in 1803. He envisioned an independent nation in the western portion of North America. He saw this as the “Republic of the Pacific.” The region previously had attempted to become the 49th or 50th state, but that effort was not successful.

Agitation began in 1852. A bill introduced in the California State Legislature, meeting in Vallejo, to form a new state. The bill went nowhere, but subsequent proposals surfaced for a new state, formed from the State of California and the Oregon Territory. (Oregon became a state in 1959.)

The roots of secession efforts lay in the widespread perception by people in rural areas that their needs are ignored by the government powers located in the more populated regions. jefferson-cartoonTransportation has been a major issue. President Rutherford B. Hayes paid a visit to the area in 1880. His entourage included his wife, “Lemonade Lucy,” – a strong temperance advocate – and William T. Sherman, the famed Union General. They came by train to Siskiyou County, where the track ended. They travelled by stagecoach from there, stopping overnight in Yreka California, Jacksonville, Wolf Creek and Roseburg Oregon. From Roseburg they were able to continue by rail to Portland. Train service finally came to the State of Jefferson in 1887.

Transportation was again a sore subject six decades later. In October of 1941, Gilbert Gable, mayor of Port Orford on the southern Oregon coast, led a delegation to the county court with a petition to form a new state comprising four Oregon counties and three from California. The judge approved and appointed a commission to consider the proposal. The commissioners traveled to Yreka and met with representatives of Siskiyou and Del Norte counties. The agenda focused on developing mineral and timber resources and obtaining state and federal monies for road and bridge improvements.

On November 27, 1941, the State of Jefferson Citizens Committee issued a “Proclamation of Independence.” Gable was named interim governor and promptly outlawed income, liquor and state sales taxes. Instead, they would levy a one-percent sales tax of their own, dedicated to road improvements.

The next day, a “citizens committee,” armed with rifles, began stopping motorists on Highway 99, passing out State of Jefferson jeffersonhandbills and window stickers.

Gilbert Gable died on December 2, two days before the scheduled Jefferson gubernatorial election. The election went ahead. John Childs, a Del Norte County judge was voted governor. He addressed a cheering crowd at the courthouse in Yreka. A torchlight parade followed, featuring placards declaring “Our Roads Are Not Passable, Hardly Jackassable” and “The Promised Land – Our Roads Are Paved With Promises.”

December 7 saw the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entered into World War II. The State of Jefferson was no longer the most urgent issue on the minds of citizens.

The State of Jefferson has recently been revived. In September 2013, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to withdraw from California and form a new state: Jefferson. Modoc County quickly followed.

Siskiyou and Modoc Counties delivered their declaration for independence to the California Secretary of State’s office. Glenn, Tehama and Yuba counties submitted theirs the following January. To date, a total of twenty-one counties have declared their intent to join in the formation of a new state. None of the southern Oregon counties have expressed any formal interest in this latest campaign to establish the 51st state.

The State of Jefferson movements have all been primarily about airing grievances. An unasked question is whether any consideration has been given to myriad and mundane things such as weights and measure for the highways and gasoline pumps, restaurant sanitation or insurance regulation.

The Jefferson flag is a green banner. In the center is a mining pan etched with two Xs , representing the long-time injustice suffered by the region at the hands of Salem and Sacramento. The seal illustrates that the area has been double-crossed too often.

The New York Daily News recently published a report on the State of Jefferson.

A expansive history of the State of Jefferson can be found here.

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