32 territories have already become states, and every one had anti-statehood factions, both in the territory and in the existing states. Sometimes the arguments against those territories sound very familiar to anyone who keeps track of arguments against statehood for Puerto Rico. Colorado was no exception.
Puerto Rico has over 3,000,000 U.S. citizens as residents; this is a larger population than in almost half the states. Colorado was in a very different situation.
Some claimed that there were 100,000 residents, but more reliable estimates put the population at about 30,000, which was half the number normally considered necessary for a state. Fewer than 8,000 voters turned out for the vote on the state constitution.
However, some of the population-related arguments against statehood for Colorado focused on stereotypes and judgements about the people, rather than just the numbers.
Language was an issue in Colorado just as it has been in many other territories, including Puerto Rico. The Colorado Constitution was written not only in English, but also in Spanish and in German. This was thanks to Casimiro Barela, a Colorado senator and champion of statehood who fought throughout his tenure to have laws published in the languages actually spoken by the people of his state. The 10th Amendment ensures that each state has control over its own language use.
Colorado did not allow Black citizens to vote, and Congress would not admit the territory without equal voting rights for all male citizens. President Andrew Johnson didn’t agree. Under the 10th amendment, he believed, states had the power to determine their own voting laws. However, Congress believed that the requirement to have a republican form of government, a normal requirement for states, meant equality, at least for men, was a reasonable requirement.
Johnson also objected to admitting a state with such a small population, especially since the census giving the total of almost 30,000 residents was taken in the summer, when miners worked in Colorado. They would leave in the fall, Johnson pointed out, so the year round population of the territory was even smaller than the census suggested.
Congress feared that Colorado would be a democratic state. Republicans in Congress fear that Puerto Rico will be a Democratic state. In both cases, there were some in Congress who opposed statehood simply because they didn’t want to strengthen their political rivals.
In fact, Colorado was admitted so close to the presidential elections of 1876 that there was not enough time to arrange for the new states voters to take part in the vote. The small new state nonetheless appointed representatives to the Electoral College. Thanks to Colorado, the Republican candidate won by just one vote, providing yet another example of why Congress can’t reasonably predict the outcome of a new state’s elections.
Colorado has been a swing state throughout its history, showing alternating small majorities for Republican and Democratic parties.
How did it turn out?
Colorado was part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and became a separate territory in 1861. Johnson vetoed the admission of Colorado the first time Congress voted to admit the territory. President Grant signed the admission bill for the new state of Colorado in 1876.
Like all the other territories which have become states, Colorado had controversy over its political status which has now largely been forgotten.