How Many States Are in the United States?

50 Officially Recognized States

In order to divide its landmass of over 3.5 million square miles, the United States has 50 officially recognized states.

Why is the United States Split into States?

Since the United State’s birth as an independent nation in 1776, the territory that the country would eventually come to occupy needed a system of organization to keep governing the ever-growing number of citizens manageable.

The Original 13 States

After the first 13 states, which were the original 13 colonies, were introduced into the Union, the remaining 37 were admitted over time with the approval of Congress.

The First States

At the ratification of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, the 13 original colonies became independent states from the rule of the British Crown. While the federal government, including Congress and the Presidency, was not formed until 1789, these 13 states set the precedent for the organizational system which would later govern the way that new territories would be officially admitted to the Union.

The first 13 states were all located along the majority of the continental United States’ East coast. They are:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia

However, each colony did not automatically become a state upon the ratification of the Declaration of Independence.

In order to enter the Union, the colonies also had to then ratify the U.S. Constitution of 1787. After the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 where the Constitution was officially proposed to the delegates from each colony, it took anywhere from 10 months to nearly 3 years for the Constitution to be ratified by all 13 states.

How Were States Admitted?

After the admittance of the first 13 states, there had to be a system in place to determine how new territories would be added to the Union.

As the American people moved westward, occupying more land and resources, they began showing interest in creating new states.

The authors of the Constitution foresaw this development and included a clause that gave Congress the authority to form new independent states.

The Admissions Clause

This clause is known as the Admissions Clause and is found in Article Four, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution.

The Admissions Clause states that, while Congress has the power to admit new states into the Union, they could not be formed from states that already exist without the consent of said states.

Because of this, a state could not be divided into multiple states, and more than one state could not be combined to form a bigger state unless the states in question and Congress all consented to this development.

All States Being Equal

Fearing that the new states which would be formed out of the territory of the Midwest would overpower the authority of the states on the East coast, states were to be admitted to the Union on the premise that all states would be equal.

Admission as a State through the Enabling Act

Once territories reached a minimum population of 60,000 free males, as designated by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, they then had the ability to express their desire to be admitted as a state to Congress.

Congress would then approve this request by issuing an enabling act, which gave the territory the ability to draft and propose a state constitution. Once the state constitution was submitted and approved by Congress, the territory would be accepted as a new state.

A Different Process For Some States

However, some states were never part of a territory, and were instead formed either by breaking off from a larger state or by the annexation of territory that was previously controlled by another government body. These states skipped the traditional admission process and were admitted to the Union automatically due to various external circumstances.

The Majority of States

From the early 1790s to the mid-1910s, 35 more states were admitted to the Union. They are as follows, listed in order of admission::

1791 – Vermont

1792 – Kentucky

1796 – Tennessee

1803 – Ohio

1812 – Louisiana

1816 – Indiana

1817 – Mississippi

1818 – Illinois

1819 – Alabama

1820 – Maine

1821 – Missouri

1836 – Arkansas

1837 – Michigan

1845 – Florida, Texas

1846 – Iowa

1848 – Wisconsin

1850 – California

1858 – Minnesota

1859 – Oregon

1861 – Kansas

1863 – West Virginia

1864 – Nevada

1867 – Nebraska

1876 – Colorado

1889 – North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington

1890 – Idaho, Wyoming

1896 – Utah

1907 – Oklahoma

1912 – New Mexico, Arizona

The Last Two States

The last two states, Alaska and Hawaii, were not admitted to the Union until 1959. Due to Alaska’s massive size, dispersed population, and difficult environment to live in, it took a significantly longer time for this territory to reach the minimum number of occupants in order to become a state. However, Hawaii was only admitted due to its Republican tendencies as a reaction to the admittance of the far more Democratic Alaska.

With the admission of Hawaii and Alaska, the United States flag finally reached the 50 stars that we are familiar with today.

States vs. Territories

Even in the modern-day, the United States occupies various areas which are not considered to be states. These territories, while they are allowed to send non-voting delegates to the House of Representatives, do not have the same authority that states have.

Citizens of Territories’ Rights

Citizens of these territories can vote in the primary election for presidential candidates, but cannot vote in general elections. Furthermore, these territories do not have sovereign rule over themselves, as determined by Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle in 2016.

Because of this, these territories exist in a strange limbo where despite the fact that the citizens of four out of the five major U.S. territories are technically American citizens, they do not hold the same authority as citizens from one of the 50 states.

American Samoa

American Samoa became a territory of the United States via a deed of cession in 1900.

Guam

Guam became a territory of the United States via the Guam Organic Act of 1950.

Northern Mariana Islands

Northern Mariana Islands became a territory of the United States via Security Council Resolution 21, after the surrender of Japan during World War II.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States via the Organic Act of 1900, also known as the Foraker Act.

U.S. Virgin Islands

U.S. Virgin Islands became a territory of the United States Organic Act of the Virgin Islands of the United States of 1936.

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