Thursday, July 30, 2009

Georgia and the membership gap

Suppose you had been born in the year that the English colony of South Carolina was founded. That was the twelfth of the thirteen colonies that later declared independence from Great Britain. Now here's the question: how old would you have been the year Georgia, the last of the thirteen colonies, was founded?

You might be surprised to learn that you would have been sixty-three. South Carolina came to be in 1870, but the colonists didn't land in Savannah to start Georgia until 1733 (Churchill, The Great Republic: A History of America, 1999, pp. 35, 41). That's a big gap. In fact, it's equal to the length of time between when Virginia, the first colony was founded (1607) and the start up of South Carolina. In other words, in sixty-three years between 1607 and 1670 twelve of the original colonies were begun, and it took another sixty-three years before Georgia finally made it thirteen.

Of course, regardless of the seniority of South Carolina over Georgia as a colony, both became states under the Constitution when they ratified that document in 1788.

We're used to seeing charts like this one in which Delaware is listed as the first state because they were the first to ratify the Constitution, Pennsylvania is second, New Jersey third, etc.
Of course, the states did not ratify the Constitution in the same order that they opened up for business as colonies; if they did Georgia would be the thirteenth state, not the fourth.

But let's for a moment consider the growth of the United States a little differently. We'll take as the year a state came into the Union the year it was admitted or, if it was one of the original thirteen, the year the English colony that later became a state was founded. We're considering the addition of members to a North American Union, either the United States of America OR what would later become the USA. Was the gap between the South Carolina colony and the Georgia colony the longest stretch between admission of new members?

It may seem like a long time since we last added a state, and in fact, next month marks the fiftieth anniversary of the admission of Hawaii. That's still well short of the gap between the founding of the colony of South Carolina and the colony of Georgia. To those of you who were around in 1959 when two stars were added to the flag, it may have seemed like forever since a state was added. But actually it was only forty-seven years; New Mexico and Arizona both joined the Union early in 1912.

With the help of the chart I've linked, you can see that in the nineteenth century the longest the United States went without admitting a new member was only fifteen years, between Missouri in 1821 and Arkansas in 1836.

So yes, the sixty-three year gap between the founding of the colony of South Carolina in 1870 and the founding of the colony of Georgia in 1733 was the longest stretch between additional members to the now or future American Union.

But there is a postscript. What was the second longest span between the creation of American entities?

That would be the years between Georgia coming into being as a colony and Vermont entering the Union as a state in 1791, fifty-eight years later. How about that; Georgia ended the longest drought of new members and began the second longest such drought. You probably won't find that in Peach Tree State guidebooks.

And anyway, I get the feeling in another fifteen years that's going to change. Unless Washington DC or Puerto Rico makes it fifty-one or fifty-two states, come 2023 we will mark the longest period of no addition of members to the American family of colonies and later states since those brave folks landed at Jamestown over four hundred years ago.

No comments: