Remembering the great state of Jefferson
Secession talk is all the rage of late, with disaffected Americans from Alabama to Alaska saying it’s time to break away and form their own independent enclaves.
Most Americans remember what happened the last time secession was attempted on a major scale. While some argue the matter has never been satisfactorily resolved judicially, others point out that it was pretty clearly settled by the events of 1861-65.
Yet, despite the defeat of the Confederacy nearly 150 years ago and the ensuing belief in the inviolability of the Union, periodic secession movements have continued to crop up over the past century and a half.
Most, however, have focused on taking a piece of an existing state and breaking away to form a new state, such as West Virginia did in 1863.
Massachusetts, New York, Arizona and California are among states in recent years with small but vocal separatist elements, factions interested in snapping off parts of their respective states to form new independent entities.
In fact, California has had more than 200 such proposals since it became a state in 1851, with the first coming only a year after it was admitted to the Union, when northern Californians presented a bill to California’s State Legislature with the goal of creating the State of Shasta by combining areas of northern California and southern Oregon, according to the Mt. Shasta (Calif.) Herald.
One of the more interesting concepts for a new state involved the same region, just before World War II.
The “State of Jefferson” was actually informally established from several counties in Southern Oregon and Northern California after area inhabitants tired of being snubbed by the two states’ more populous regions.
The final straw for long-stewing residents was the refusal by either state to build roads to copper deposits along an established highway in the region.
“Locals were frustrated because they were ignored when they complained to lawmakers that they couldn’t easily ship copper and timber south to ports and markets on the axle-cracking roads,” the San Francisco Chronicle recounted.
Anger quickly boiled over, and in a matter of weeks the leaders of the movement proclaimed the creation of the nation’s 49th state (Alaska and Hawaii were still US territories in 1941).
“They promised to do something, but they lied. We had to act!” read a quote in a 1941 article in the Oakland Tribune, attributed to an individual who lived outside the Northern California town of Yreka.
The Siskiyou Daily’s headline on Nov. 3, 1941, read, “Siskiyou Has Been Doublecrossed Again!”
That term became the rallying call for Jeffersonians, as the state seal consisted of two X’s, known as the “Double Cross,” painted on the bottom of a gold pan to symbolize the feeling of being betrayed and abandoned by their state capitals, Salem and Sacramento, according to the Redding (Calif.) Record Searchlight.
“Judge John L. Childs, a leader in the Jefferson movement, was appointed the first governor of the 49th state,” according to the Mt. Shasta Herald. “Yreka’s Chamber of Commerce dubbed the new state Mittelwestcoastia; disgusted by the name, Siskiyou Daily held a contest.”
Fortunately, Jefferson would prove a more popular choice than Mittelwestcoastia.
Yreka even went so far as to host inaugural ceremonies on Dec. 4, 1941.
What kind of media attention did the creation of the new “state” generate? Plenty. Hundreds of reporters from around the country covered the event, including crews from Time and Life magazines, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
The reporter for the latter, Stanton Delaplane, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of events in “Jefferson.”
Hollywood newsreels recorded Childs’ “acceptance speech,” and the ensuing parade. The film was scheduled to be shown in theaters four days later. Everything was set for Jefferson’s rollout on the national stage.
But then the Japanese decided, in a very roundabout way, to meddle in the political affairs of Jefferson by bombing Pearl Harbor just a day before the newsreel was to play in theaters across the country.
The attack effectively ended the Jefferson statehood movement, as the nation came together to fight the external threat.
The name Jefferson still lives on in the Northern California-Southern Oregon region, however. Jefferson flags, featuring a green double-X, can be seen in the area, and a number of radio stations broadcast under the banner of Jefferson Public Radio.
And there’s still talk among locals of breaking away and forming what would today be the nation’s 51st state.
It may never come to pass, as state governments are loath to cede territory – and the revenue that comes with it – these days.
But if one has spent any time in the area that Jefferson is said to encompass, it becomes easy to understand why folks there believe they’d probably do a whole lot better if they were in charge of their own affairs.
And let’s face it, one has to wonder how much worse things could be were Jeffersonians running things than the bunch that oversees Northern California and Southern Oregon from Sacrament and Salem, respectively?