Statehood: Definition & Overview

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: System of Checks & Balances: Purpose, Importance & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 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
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
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.

Examples of States

The fifty states of the U.S. entered the union at different times. For example, Delaware was the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution in December 1787, becoming the first state. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alaska and Hawaii have barely been states for fifty years, ratifying the U.S. Constitution and being accepted into statehood as recently as January and August 1959, respectively. Still more states may join in the future, such as the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) or Puerto Rico. To show how varied and changeable the process of statehood has been in U.S. history, let's examine a couple examples of the statehood process.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher
What is your educational goal?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account