Ohio was the second territory admitted to the Union — or was it?

After the first thirteen original states ratified the U.S. Constitution, Vermont, an area claimed by the State of New York, was admitted to the Union in 1791 with that state’s permission. Similarly, in 1792 an admission act adopted by Congress enabled Kentucky to separate from Virginia with permission of that state. This means that Vermont and Kentucky were converted from being a populated area within another state into a separate state without being organized and governed under federal territorial law.

Tennessee was the first new state that was not carved out of one of the original thirteen states. Rather, Tennessee was governed by Congress under the Territorial Clause in Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 of the newly ratified U.S. Constitution. Territorial government under federal law for Tennessee was modeled on the Northwest Ordinance for governance of the Ohio Valley region, passed by the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation in 1787, during the Revolutionary War.

Once the war was over, the new U.S. Constitution was ratified by nine states and took effect in 1788. Congress in 1789 re-enacted the Northwest Ordinance for the Ohio region, and also governed Tennessee as the Southwest Territory under similar rules.

Tennessee did not wait for Congress to get around to admitting it as a state, and instead declared itself a state and elected a Congressional delegation. That so-called “Tennessee Plan” accelerated Congressional action to admit Tennessee into the Union in 1796.

This left Ohio, the original territorial possession of both the former confederation and the new republic, to be governed under the territorial powers of Congress. The U.S. citizens in the greater Ohio region were not as numerous or politically organized as Tennessee, but the population was growing fast and the desire to adopt a statehood constitution and seek admission to the Union grew fast along with it.

For  a decade would pass before Congress would allow reform of the territorial government headed by an unelected federally appointed Governor and establish a representative Territorial Assembly, as well as an elected non-voting Delegate in Congress. The territorial Governor and the Territorial Assembly enjoyed vast powers, and supported a more gradual transition to statehood during which Congress could micromanage the formation of multiple states.

This scheme —  the federal territorial regime getting to keep power and promote interests served by the territorial status quo — failed. That was because the pro-statehood movement found allies in Congress who orchestrated separation of Ohio from the greater Northwest Territory, and that outlying area then became the Indiana Territory. As a result, the Ohio statehood movement was able to out-maneuver the territorial government in Congress. In 1802 Congress adopted an enabling act for Ohio to adopt a statehood constitution, organize a state government, and be admitted to the union.

In 1803, after the conditions of the enabling act were satisfied and the new state was ready for admission, Congress passed a law allowing federal law and state law to replace federal and territorial law instituted under the Territorial Clause. From that point on, Ohio existed as the 17th state.

However, in 1953 it became recognized that Congress had failed in 1803 to actually adopt an act admitting Ohio into the Union. Instead, they had just said that the laws would apply. As a result, in 1953 Congress acted to formally admit Ohio to the Union, retroactive to 1803.

For 150 years, until the oversight was repaired, Ohio was not exactly a properly admitted state. Fortunately, when the oversight was recognized, Congress moved to address the problem and made the solution retroactive.

It has been nearly a century since Puerto Rico was granted U.S. citizenship without statehood and the full rights that go with U.S. citizenship. Perhaps it is time to recognize and correct this oversight. It has been two years since the majority of Puerto Rico’s voters rejected the territorial status and chose statehood, without being given statehood. Perhaps that oversight should now also be corrected.

Earlier posts in this series:

This post was originally written in English and may be being auto-translated by Google.


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