In 1959, Alaska and Hawaii became the two most recent U.S. territories to gain statehood. However, they may not be the last. Below, we reveal five places that could realistically become U.S. states in the near future.
The U.S. has had a presence in Puerto Rico since it claimed the island for its own during the Spanish–American War of 1898. Initially, the U.S. relied on military governance to police the island, but its main goal was to Americanize its new territory. Through the Jones-Shafroth Act, the U.S. was able to grant U.S. citizenship to Puerto Rican residents in 1917. The symbiotic relationship, which has only grown over the last century, makes it feasible that Puerto Rico could become a U.S. state.
In 1951, the residents of Puerto Rico voted for commonwealth status after President Truman signed the Puerto Rico Commonwealth Bill. This gave the island more autonomy to create its own constitution. Yet, Puerto Rico has faced decades-long financial struggles. Today, it continues to receive aid from the United States. Additionally, the relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico has remained a hot topic in Puerto Rican politics, which has led to a handful of referendums over the years.
In the most recent referendum in 2012, a majority of voters indicated they were not happy with Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. territory. When given the choice to become a U.S. state, an independent country, or a "sovereign free associated state," more than 60% of Puerto Rican voters voted for U.S. statehood.
This tiny island in the western Pacific also came under U.S. control in 1898 as a result of the Spanish–American War. Guam has long served as a strategic location for the United States. During the Second World War, both Guam and the Philippines served as important vantage points for U.S. military engagements in Asia.
Under War Plan Orange, the U.S. utilized Guam's advantageous geographic location to coordinate intelligence-gathering operations in Asia.
When the U.S. took control of Guam, it also made the island an official territory. However, the native residents of Guam (the Chamorros) were not U.S. citizens until the 1950 Organic Act of Guam was signed into law by President Truman. Over time, the people of Guam have moved toward self-government. However, they have not ceased petitioning the U.S. for a more mutually advantageous Commonwealth Act. Unfortunately, each successive U.S. administration has rejected amendments considered detrimental to American military advantage in the region.
Still, the most likely reason Guam could become a U.S. state is the military flexibility the island affords the U.S. in terms of its relations with Japan, North Korea, and China. If the U.S. allows Guam to become a commonwealth and move towards complete autonomy, it will likely lose its defense advantages. So, it's mutually beneficial to both Guam and the U.S. for the former to become a U.S. state.
New York City
Talk of New York City becoming its own state has been a hot topic on and off over the years. However, the idea has received scant support across the continental plain and in Congress, as well. The most recent mention of secession came from New York state senator Daphne Jordan in early 2019. She introduced legislation to examine the costs of allowing the Greater New York City area to become its own state.
Jordan proposes that the new state should include all five of New York City's boroughs plus the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and Rockland. This state would be separate from the 53 counties in upstate New York. This would divide the state of New York into two separate regions. One would encompass all of the New York City boroughs and four counties. Meanwhile, the other would comprise the 53 counties in upstate New York.
Proponents of the new state highlight the political and economic differences between New York City and upstate New York. Meanwhile, detractors argue that revenues generated in New York City also benefit the upstate economy. So, will New York City become a U.S. state? Doubtful, but it could happen if Jordan and the New York legislature have their way.
U.S. Virgin Islands
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the U.S. Virgin Islands were part of the Danish West Indies. For many years, the Danes oversaw the sugar plantations on the island and profited greatly from the sugar trade. When sugar prices fell, they found it a challenge to manage the financial fallout. In the 1860s, U.S. Secretary of State John Hay began to explore the possibility of a peaceful acquisition of the islands. Yet, acquiring the U.S. Virgin Islands didn't become a priority for the United States until World War I.
The U.S. was concerned that Germany was setting its sights on Denmark, which would give them control of the islands and easier access to the United States. This prompted the U.S. to pressure Denmark to sell. After a payment of $25,000,000 worth of gold coins, Denmark transferred its ownership of the Virgin Islands to the U.S. in 1917. The U.S. finally granted citizenship to U.S. Virgin Island residents in 1927 and 1932.
Today, the U.S. Virgin Islands have no formal constitution, even though they are self-governing in nature. Also, residents can't vote in U.S. elections. This state of affairs led the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization to urge legislators to help residents understand their options for self-determination. Past referendums on the issue were hampered by low voter turnout, however. Yet, as both Guam and Puerto Rico contemplate U.S. statehood, it's very likely that the Virgin Islands will follow suit.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia was created as a federal district. However, throughout the years, residents have pushed for statehood in order to receive the same right to legislative representation as other U.S. citizens. In 2016, almost 80 percent of voters in the District of Columbia approved petitioning Congress for statehood. The measure for statehood included stipulations about a state constitution and congressional representation. Also, District of Columbia residents want their new state to be called New Columbia.
So, what initiatives have been implemented so far? The most important is the New Columbia Statehood Commission, which was formed to coordinate the region's statehood initiatives. In September 2019, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser led rallies ahead of the House of Representatives hearing on statehood for the District of Columbia.
If the House approves the statehood initiative and the President signs the bill, the District of Columbia could become the 51st U.S. state.