States and Their Admission to the Union

States and Their Admission to the Union

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The thirteen original colonies in North America could officially be admitted to the United States after the U.S. Constitution was written and signed by the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, on Sep. 17, 1787. Article IV, Section 3 of that document reads:

"New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States 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 main part of this article grants the U.S. Congress the right to admit new states. The process usually involves Congress passing an enabling act that authorizes a territory to convene a constitutional convention, draft a constitution, and formally apply for admission. Then, assuming they meet any conditions set forward in the enabling act, Congress accepts or denies their new status.

Between Dec. 7, 1787, and May 29, 1790, each of the colonies became states. Since that time, 37 additional states have been added. Not all states were territories before they became states, however. Three of the new states were independent sovereign states at the time they were admitted (Vermont, Texas, and California), and three were carved out of existing states (Kentucky, part of Virginia; Maine part of Massachusetts; West Virginia out of Virginia). Hawaii was a sovereign state between 1894 and 1898 before it became a territory.

Five states were added during the 20th century. The last states to be added to the US were Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. The following table lists each state with the date it entered the union, and its status before they were states.

States and Their Dates of Admission to the Union

StateStatus Before StatehoodDate Admitted to the Union
1DelawareColonyDec. 7, 1787
2PennsylvaniaColonyDec. 12, 1787
3New JerseyColonyDec. 18, 1787
4GeorgiaColonyJan. 2, 1788
5ConnecticutColonyJan. 9, 1788
6MassachusettsColonyFeb. 6, 1788
7MarylandColonyApril 28, 1788
8South CarolinaColonyMay 23, 1788
9New HampshireColonyJune 21, 1788
10VirginiaColonyJune 25, 1788
11New YorkColonyJuly 26, 1788
12North CarolinaColonyNov. 21, 1789
13Rhode IslandColonyMay 29, 1790
14VermontIndependent republic, established January 1777March 4, 1791
15KentuckyPart of Virginia stateJune 1,1792
16TennesseeTerritory established May 26, 1790June 1, 1796
17OhioTerritory established July 13, 1787March 1, 1803
18LouisianaTerritory, established July 4, 805April 30, 1812
19IndianaTerritory established July 4, 1800Dec.11, 1816
20MississippiTerritory established April 7, 1798Dec.10, 1817
21IllinoisTerritory established March 1, 1809Dec.3, 1818
22AlabamaTerritory established March 3, 1817Dec.14, 1819
23MainePart of MassachusettsMarch 15, 1820
24MissouriTerritory established June 4, 1812Aug. 10, 1821
25ArkansasTerritory established March 2, 1819June 15, 1836
26MichiganTerritory established June 30, 1805Jan. 26, 1837
27FloridaTerritory established March 30, 1822March 3, 1845
28TexasIndependent republic, March 2, 1836Dec.29, 1845
29IowaTerritory established July 4, 1838Dec.28, 1846
30WisconsinTerritory established July 3, 1836May 26, 1848
31CaliforniaIndependent republic, June 14, 1846Sept. 9, 1850
32MinnesotaTerritory established March 3, 1849May 11, 1858
33OregonTerritory established Aug. 14, 1848Feb. 14, 1859
34KansasTerritory established May 30, 1854Jan. 29, 1861
35West VirginiaPart of VirginiaJune 20, 1863
36NevadaTerritory established March 2, 1861October 31, 1864
37NebraskaTerritory established May 30, 1854March 1, 1867
38ColoradoTerritory established Feb. 28, 1861Aug. 1, 1876
39North DakotaTTTerritory established March 2, 1861Nov. 2, 1889
40South DakotaTerritory established March 2, 1861Nov. 2, 1889
41MontanaTerritory established May 26, 1864Nov. 8, 1889
42WashingtonTerritory established March 2, 1853Nov. 11, 1889
43IdahoTerritory established March 3, 1863July 3, 1890
44WyomingTerritory established July 25, 1868July 10, 1890
45UtahTerritory established Sep. 9, 1850Jan. 4, 1896
46OklahomaTerritory established May 2, 1890Nov. 16, 1907
47New MexicoTerritory established Sep. 9, 1950Jan. 6, 1912
48ArizonaTerritory established Feb. 24, 1863Feb. 14, 1912
49AlaskaTerritory established Aug. 24, 1912Jan. 3, 1959
50HawaiiTerritory established Aug. 12, 1898Aug. 21, 1959

U.S. Territories

There are currently 16 territories owned by the United States, mostly islands in the Pacific ocean or Caribbean Sea, most of which are uninhabited and administered as wildlife refuges by the US Fish and Wildlife Services or as military outposts. United States territories with inhabitants include American Samoa (established 1900), Guam (1898), the 24 Northern Marianas islands (today a commonwealth, established 1944), Puerto Rico (a commonwealth, 1917), U.S. Virgin Islands (1917), and Wake Island (1899).

Sources and Further Reading

  • Biber, Eric, and Thomas B. Colby. "The Admissions Clause." National Constitution Center.
  • Immerwahr, Daniel. "How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States." New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019.
  • Lawson, Gary, and Guy Seidman. "The Constitution of Empire: Territorial Expansion and American Legal History." New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
  • Mack, Doug. "The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA." W. W. Norton, 2017.
  • "The last time Congress created a new state." Constitution Daily. The National Constitution Center, March 12, 2019.

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