Statehood: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:02 Definition of Statehood
  • 1:14 Conditions and Process
  • 2:30 Duties of a State
  • 3:06 Examples of States
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the concept of statehood. Concerning the status of a U.S. territory or dependency, the process of statehood has changed over time, and its granting confers many rights and privileges upon each new state.

Definition of Statehood

Titles mean something to people. In the minutes before his medical school graduation ceremony, your family physician likely knew the same things about human joints, bones, and muscles that he did after the ceremony was complete, but for him/her there was likely a tangible difference between no longer being 'medical student Smith' and now being 'Dr. Smith.' It creates a sense of accomplishment and pride in oneself.

When it comes to territories and states within the United States of America, the same principals apply. Sure, there were the same trees, birds, and lakes in Michigan when it was still Michigan territory, but in 1837, Michigan gained statehood and became a whole participant in the United States; certainly, for its citizens, this was a point of pride.

Statehood, in its strictest sense, means an area of land controlled by the United States government having the status of being a state. This is in contrast to other designations U.S. territories can have, such as being a territory or dependency, like American Samoa or Guam, or a federal district, such as Washington D.C. States are conferred certain rights that other territories are not, principally the duty to send voting members to the U.S. Congress.

Conditions and Process

Perhaps surprisingly, the U.S. Constitution leaves the process by which a territory or dependency of the United States can become a proper state rather vague, saying only that new states may be granted statehood by the U.S. Congress. As a result, the process of statehood has changed over time, often according to the temporal circumstances facing the United States and conditions within each state. The following is a rough guide to the process:

  • Generally, the U.S. Congress requires a certain minimum population. For example, when Michigan was applying for statehood in the 1830s, Congress required a minimum of 60,000 people to inhabit the territory applying for statehood.

  • Congress also usually requires those within the territory to provide evidence that a majority of people within the territory desire statehood. This is often done through either a popular referendum (petition), or a letter from the territorial governing body (if it has one) expressing a majority of the governing body's delegates desire statehood.

  • Then, U.S. Congress debates the relative merits of the information provided to them by the territory, and if they consider the evidence satisfactory and statehood advantageous to the U.S. and the people of the territory, they pass a bill granting statehood.

  • Said bill is then either signed or vetoed by the president.

Duties of a State

Once a state, the territory now has all of the rights and prerogatives granted to the other states by the U.S. Constitution.

  • The new state is required to elect and send delegates to the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • It may also draft a state constitution if it so chooses.
  • The state is now required to manage all of its own affairs that are explicitly not managed by the federal government, according to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Duties include framing legislative and executive branches of government to effectively govern the state, designing a judiciary, providing public education, etc.

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