“The future inhabitants of the Atlantic and Missipi [sic] States will be our sons. We leave them in distinct but bordering establishments. We think we see their happiness in their union, & we wish it. Events may prove it otherwise; and if they see their interest in separation, why should we take side with our Atlantic rather than our Missipi descendants? It is the elder and the younger son differing. God bless them both, & keep them in union, if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better.” – Jefferson to John C. Breckenridge, April 12, 1803
A Silicon Valley billionaire has proposed that California split into six smaller states, one of which would be called Jefferson. Timothy Draper believes that the current state of California is unwieldy and ungovernable. The current population of California is 38.33 million.
Under Draper’s plan, which has found its way to the November 2014 state ballot, California would be split into six smaller states: West California, South California, Central California, North California, Silicon Valley, and Jefferson.
What would Thomas Jefferson think?
Jefferson was the more radical and the most optimistic of the Founding Fathers. Because he believed in the natural right of self-determination, he was cheerful about the prospect of western secession (see above), so long as the new western Republics were based on the same constitutional principles and Bill of Rights of the existing states.
Jefferson would almost certainly agree that California is too large. In his landmark Bill for the Government of the Western Territories (1784) Virginia Congressman Jefferson proposed 14 new states in trans-Appalachian West, all as rectangular as possible (alas for the irregularity of the Great Lakes), and identical in size. (To see a map of Jefferson’s western states, clickhere). Jefferson’s vision was for square states the size of Indiana and Ohio, perhaps Iowa, but not geopolitical giants like Texas or Arizona or California.
Jefferson was well aware of the French political theorist Montesquieu’s (1689-1755) insistence that a Republic had to be modest in size and homogenous to thrive. Jefferson and Madison wrestled with the problem of a “splayed republic” all of their adult lives. Given the sheer size of the United States, particularly after his Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jefferson eventually concluded that the US could be any size, however large, so long as it divided and subdivided itself into more manageable units.
Jefferson would almost certainly agree with Draper that California would be improved by being subdivided into six more manageable units. No person who has traveled California would deny that northern California and the Los Angeles-San Diego corridor have much in common.
The only problem Jefferson would have with the scheme is the uninspiring names Draper and others have given to at least four of the six new states. When he drafted his 1784 Plan, Jefferson gave potential new states in the West such imaginative names as “Polypotamia,” “Metropotamia,” “Sylvania,” and “Cherronesus,” derived from Greek and Latin roots, or based on Native American words.
Certainly the proposed “Jefferson” is one of the most beautiful, and in its own way, agrarian, parts of the United States. Northern California has always regarded itself as distinct in its pastoral geography and economy. Because of his essential modesty, Jefferson would probably urge northern Californians to name themselves something like “Redwood” or “Hemptopia.” In his own time, Jefferson suggested that one of the western states be named Washington. There was a move in his time to carve out a state of Franklin in what is now eastern Tennessee.
This is not the first time northern California has generated secessionist dreams. Long before Draper’s plan, the northern reaches of the state have flirted with becoming Jefferson or Jeffersonia.
Those who find such ideas intriguing might wish to read Ernest Callenbach’s novel Ecotopia (1975), which posits that the American northwest secedes to become an ecological utopia. It’s a very interesting novel, which anticipated the green movement by almost a generation.
Not much is likely to come of Draper’s proposal, though more than a million Californians have endorsed the statewide initiative. The point here is that Thomas Jefferson would not be likely to react to the idea in hostility.
To read the full text of Jefferson’s letter to John Breckenridge in 1803, click here.
» Jefferson and the Stony Mountains: Exploring the West from Monticello by Donald Jackson
» Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach
» A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America by John Kukla