Conversations about statehood for Puerto Rico can reveal some surprising misconceptions. For example, Rick Santorum demonstrated that he thought states had to have English as their official language (the U.S. doesn’t have an official language, and there is no such requirement). There have been discussions on our Facebook page about whether the current states would have to ratify Puerto Rico’s admission (nope). Another common belief is that the U.S. can only admit states in pairs.
In December of 1787, three new states were admitted: Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Georgia and Connecticut were admitted within a week of each other the following month, and three more states were admitted in February, April, and May, with two more in June and one in July. Clearly, early states weren’t admitted in pairs back in the early days of our nation.
So where did we get the idea that states could only come into the Union two by two, like animals on Noah’s Ark?
It started in 1812, when the states were evenly divided between those that had given up or were planning to give up slavery, and those that were committed to keeping slavery. States admitted over the next few years ended up maintaining that balance, and when Missouri’s admission was discussed in 1820, Maine was brought in ahead of Missouri to keep things even.
This is a strange idea for us nowadays. Americans have agreed that slavery is a terrible thing. We still have issues on which we’re divided — gun control, abortion, climate change, and more — but we don’t try to solve those differences by keeping an equal number of our legislators on each side. That’s how it was done in the 1800s, though.
States weren’t admitted together, but people were keeping track and made an effort to keep things fairly even. When California joined in 1850, at which point states with and without slavery were even, it was agreed that California would send one Senator who favored slavery and one who did not.
After the Civil War, slavery became a moot point. Still, it had become a habit. President Benjamin Harrison brought in six new states, in three neatly matched pairs of Republican and Democratic states. Taft brought in New Mexico and Arizona in 1912 and Eisenhower welcomed Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. In between, there were single state admissions, but the relatively large number of paired states stayed in the public imagination.
Many Americans now believe that there is a law requiring a Republican state and a Democratic state to join together to maintain the balance — apparently, we’ve forgotten that the required balance was originally between slave and free states.
This is not true, any more than a state is required to have English as an official language. There have been several sister states suggested for Puerto Rico, including the District of Columbia, but there is no such requirement. Puerto Rico can join on her own.
This post was originally written in English and may be being auto-translated by Google.