Thirty-two territories have become States. All of them had to struggle to be admitted. And all of them had anti-statehood voices speaking against their admission.
Alaska is one of the most recent examples. The transcripts of a 1950 hearing on Alaska statehood before the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs include several letters expressing opposition to statehood.
Why? Statehood won a 1946 referendum in Alaska and the majority of Alaskan voters wanted statehood in 1950. The population, according to the 1950 census, was well over the 60,000 required for statehood. People in the States had become more aware of Alaska during World War II, and it was considered a strategically important location for the military. However, there were holdouts.
These were the arguments covered in the letters included in the 1950 hearing:
Statehood would be too expensive
The anti-statehood brigade often claimed that becoming a State would be too expensive for Alaska. Costs covered in the territory by the federal government, they believed, would have to be paid for by Alaska as a State.
The statehood supporters claimed that Alaska was rich in natural resources. If Alaska were able to profit from these resources instead of sending the revenue to absentee corporations in the States, they claimed, Alaska would have plenty of funds to cover the costs of a State government. This turned out to be true.
The referendum was close
The referendum held in 1946 resulted in a 58% to 42% majority for statehood. Detractors said that wasn’t enough of a majority.
Alaska had a multicultural population
One person wrote that Alaska had “a population of diverse races and colors.” It quickly becomes clear that he was identifying this as a problem. He complained that the population did not have “a common understanding.”
Puerto Rico has a diverse population, as does the United States as a whole, and in the 21st century, we do not hear people expressing concern over this diversity. Yet the claims that Puerto Rico is culturally distinct from the States and therefore not suited to statehood echoes the racist rhetoric of the letter writer.
Alaska was too far away from the contiguous States
This argument suggested that Alaska was too distant from the States. There was quite a bit of debate about whether airplanes made it possible to communicate easily with Alaska at that time. It was feared that Alaska might be too far away. “They cannot possibly enter into our national life,” one writer claimed. “No radio, no telegraph, no fast-running steamers, no television, no airmail can ever make people a thousand or two thousand miles away from the nearest State one with us.”
The participants in 1950 could not have imagined the internet and how much it would change communication. The people of Puerto Rico already enter into the national life of the United States and are more integrated into the nation than any previous territory ever could have been.
As we all now know, Alaska became a State. The arguments for statehood at that hearing were more compelling than the arguments against it.
Statehood, the Secretary of the Interior said, “would permit the people of Alaska to foster and protect the development of its rich resources, and finally it would give Alaska’s people their rightful voice in the local and federal government.”