In 1866, Congress accepted Colorado as a state — but the president vetoed the bill. The Civil War had recently ended, President Lincoln had been assassinated, and Andrew Johnson was president. He was not on good terms with the Congress, and he vetoed their bills to admit both Colorado and Nebraska. Nebraska became a state anyway when Congress voted to override the president’s veto, but Colorado took another ten years to become a state.
What delayed Colorado?
Colorado was made from parts of a number of different territories. In 1859, leaders in the region agreed on boundaries and decided to become a state. They planned to name their state Jefferson. However, a vote among the people living in the area got just 45% in favor of statehood. In 1861, instead of creating the state of Jefferson, President James Buchanan organized the Territory of Colorado.
Several years later, with the Civil War raging, Colorado was one of a group of states that Congress thought would vote Republican. The Republican Congress wanted more Republicans in the Electoral College as Lincoln ran for reelection, so they encouraged all the territories that might vote Republican to work for statehood.
There was another status vote, and statehood lost again. In the next status vote, statehood won, but the state constitution lost. In 1865, Colorado finally passed both statehood and the constitution. Congress passed a bill admitting Colorado to the Union — but President Johnson vetoed that bill, along with admission for Nebraska. Congress overrode the veto for Nebraska.
Congress voted on Colorado, too, but didn’t get enough votes to override the veto.
Some weren’t sure that Colorado was really in favor of statehood. Others thought that perhaps Colorado’s population was still too small. There were still some questions about civil rights dividing the nation, and Colorado had some strong leaders who didn’t see eye to eye. Whatever the reason, Colorado didn’t get statehood.
Colorado held more status votes and made more tries to become a state, but couldn’t get enough votes to be admitted until 1875.
Lessons for Puerto Rico
Perhaps the biggest lesson Puerto Rico can take away from Colorado’s history is that a delay in admission doesn’t mean that admission is unlikely. Territories become states. As an unincorporated territory, Puerto Rico has a harder time. But Colorado’s contradictory status votes, constitutional quarrels, and political infighting didn’t prevent Colorado’s statehood.
Be on the right side of history. Puerto Rico’s time for statehood is now.