Gaining Statehood in the United States: Overview & Requirements

Steve Wiener, Christopher Sailus
  • Author
    Steve Wiener

    Steve Wiener holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He has taught undergraduate classes in ancient and modern political theory, philosophy of history, American political thought, American government, the history the American Civil War, the philosophy of consciousness and rural populist movements in the American Midwest. He has over 20 years experience teaching college students in the classroom, as well as high school students and lifelong learners in a variety non-traditional settings.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Sailus

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

Explore statehood in the United States, including a definition of the term, eligibility requirements, and the process for a territory to become a state. Updated: 11/02/2021

Table of Contents


What is Statehood in the U.S.?

The original thirteen colonies gained statehood upon ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Delaware was the first to do so. Thirty-seven more states were admitted to the Union under Article IV, Sections 3 and 4 of the United States Constitution. In 1791, Vermont was the first state admitted under Article IV and in 1959 Hawaii was the last.

Article IV, Section 3 of the Constitution reads:

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

Article IV, Section 4 states:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

U.S. territories are represented in Congress by a non-voting delegate. The United States currently has fourteen territories, including Guam, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico. Territorial delegates may vote in committee, but not on measures that come to the floor of the House of Representatives. Territories do not have any representation in the U.S. Senate. Statehood confers a substantial political benefit to a territory.

A third party Presidential candidate urges support for statehood

Statehood campaign poster Statehood Overview & Requirements

Statehood Definition

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines statehood as:

  • the condition of being a state
  • especially : the status of being one of the states of the U.S.

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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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Requirements of Statehood

Other than Section 4 of Article IV of the Constitution, which stipulates that any new state must be constituted as a republic, the Constitution leaves the process of how new states enter the Union solely to the Congress. A process for a territory to become a state was outlined by Congress in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

The Northwest Ordinance called for freedom of religion and a system of education as requirements for statehood beyond the required census of 60,000 free male residents of a territory. This minimum population requirement was often manipulated. Colorado, for example, conducted its territorial census during the summer months when the territory was full of transient miners in order to reach 60,000 population, more than double its actual year-round population.

Congress has generally followed the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 with respect to admitting new states, although there have been significant and historically important deviations.

  • One of the Articles of the Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the territory. When Missouri wanted entrance into the United States as a slave state, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 brought Maine into the Union as a free state at the same time to equalize the imbalance that would have been created between free states and slave states,
  • Utah petitioned Congress for statehood eight times over a period of fifty years. The practice of polygamy postponed entrance into the Union.
  • Louisiana had to agree to use the English language, rather than French, in its court proceedings.
  • The state of Hawaii had to agree to administer loyalty oaths to the United States to its state public officials.
  • New Mexico was required to teach English, not Spanish, in its schools, and make guarantees of religious freedom.

Once admitted into the United States, a new state must:

  • Establish a republican form of government, the specifics of which should include legislative, executive and judicial branches and a system of public education.
  • Elect Representatives and Senators to the national government.
  • The state must follow the prohibitions of Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution which outlines national government functions which must not be performed by a state.
  • Establish a method of producing revenue for the operation of the state.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of statehood?

Territories of the United States have a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. The delegate may participate in discussions of issues but doesn't have any say in whether a bill passes or not. Territories are not represented in the U.S. Senate. The benefit of statehood is political representation in Congress, as well as being placed on an equal footing with all other states, something that territories do not share.

What do we mean by statehood?

Statehood is the condition of being a state of the United States. Statehood means representation in Congress and the Senate. and the protection of the federal government.

What is required for statehood?

Generally speaking, the requirements for statehood are:

1. Creation of a constitution with a republican form of government. No monarchist states.

2. Population of sufficient size to be able to financially support the operations of a state government and to provide support for the operation of the federal government.

What is the population requirement for statehood?

The Constitution does not specify any population requirements for statehood. The Constitution gives the authority to create states to Congress and leaves the how-to to that body. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set a population requirement of 60,000 free adult males before a territory could become a state. This has been a general number followed by Congress.

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