In 1867, John S.C. Abbott’s book “Lives of the Presidents of the United States of America, From Washington to the Present Time” included an engraving of the “Battle of Buena Vista.” iStock took the picture.

In the United States of America, there are 50 states, but that wasn’t always the case. In the early 1950s, elementary school students would have said there were only 48, and now, activists want the answer to be 52.

It seems like being or not being a state wouldn’t be that hard to understand. You might know about Manifest Destiny. There were 13 colonies at first. Then, people kept moving west to clear land that wasn’t yet settled.

As time goes on, more and more people understand that the “manifest destiny” story led to violence, displacement, and even genocide against Indigenous peoples, and more and more people are supporting the “Land Back” movement. Also, many of the states that are now part of the US used to be part of other sovereign nation states. They became part of the US through colonial and neocolonial practises. Here are some more stories that are controversial about how states joined the USA.


The Southwest changed because of the Mexican-American War.

Have you ever thought about why so many towns and places in the southwestern states have Spanish names? They used to be a part of Mexico, that’s why. In 1845, President James K. Polk asked the President of Mexico for a meeting. He planned to offer $30 million to buy Texas and a lot of other land, which together make up most of the southwestern U.S. today. The President of Mexico, José Joaqun Herrera, heard about the plan and refused to meet with Polk. President Herrera never planned to sell. President Polk’s answer was to send American soldiers to occupy all of the land he wanted to buy from Mexico at the time. In response, Mexican and American forces got into a small fight.

Because it happened on American soil, President Polk said that the deaths of American soldiers were an act of war. Congress agreed to start a war, but even American politicians had mixed feelings about it. Some people said that America was the aggressor because the battle took place on land that belonged to Mexico at the time. At the end of the day, no deal was ever made to buy the land.

The Mexican-American War, which lasted for four years, started with this chain of events. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the war came to an end. Relations between the U.S. and Mexico were, to say the least, tense after the war. Parts of Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, California, Utah, and California are now in the United States because of this. Parts of Arizona and New Mexico became states because of the Gadsen Purchase, which was another result of post-war diplomacy.

Getting rid of the Hawaiian King

In the 1800s, Hawaii was its own country, and it was ruled by a royal monarchy. For many years, the United States and Hawaii worked together on projects that helped both countries.

During Queen Liliuokalani’s rule, Congress passed a law to force Hawaii to join the United States. The law said that foreign sugar farmers from America and Europe would only be interested in Hawaii’s sugar if it was profitable for them to do so. If they didn’t, they’d stand to lose a lot of money.

This caused economic chaos, which made it possible for a group of American sugar planters to rise up against the monarchy and start their own republic. The U.S. military helped with this coup, which was done so that the U.S. could make money from it. Even though President Cleveland didn’t like what was going on in Hawaii, he didn’t do anything about it. Hawaii was taken over by the people who got rid of the monarchy. They called it the Republic of Hawaii. In 1959, Hawaii became a state.

The People Who Settled in Puerto Rico

The Treaty of Paris, which put an end to the Spanish-American War, gave the United States Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has a governor now, and the U.S. territory even has its own political parties that are very different from the major parties in the continental United States. Since Puerto Rico is a part of the United States as a Commonwealth, it has its own taxes and elections.

Puerto Rico is a very strange case from a political point of view. Even though Puerto Ricans are American citizens, they are not allowed to vote in American elections. The idea of Puerto Rico becoming a state is a hot topic in both the U.S. Congress and in Puerto Rico. Many liberal activists in the United States want Puerto Rico to become a state because it would always be a blue state. At the same time, many Puerto Ricans who were born there are fighting for full independence from the United States.

Guam’s Search for Freedom

Guam is another territory that the United States got from the Treaty of Paris. Guam and Puerto Rico are left over from a style of colonisation that many people today find offensive. Guam has a political movement to break away from the United States and become its own country.

Since Guam is a U.S. territory, its people have citizenship in both Guam and the U.S. The people of Guam pay taxes to the government of Guam, and Guam holds its own elections. But Guam still has to follow many laws made by the American Congress, even though it has no voting representatives there.

Statehood for D.C.

DC stands for the District of Columbia, which is where Washington is. Part of this District was in Virginia before the Constitution was signed, and the other part was in Maryland. The Constitution made Washington, DC, the capital of the United States. The idea of “no taxation without representation” was a big reason why America fought for independence from Britain, so it was important to the Founding Fathers that the seat of government be in a neutral non-state that didn’t have representatives in Congress.

Some people in Washington, DC, don’t like the fact that they don’t have a representative in Congress. This is similar to what Puerto Ricans and Guamanians say. Still, what Congress does affects people in the District just as much as it affects people in other states.

It wasn’t always as simple as moving west and clearing land to become a state. Indigenous people have always lived on this land, and the United States taking it over was a violent act (the violence of which continues to this day). Some of the states that are now part of the United States used to be part of other sovereign nations. For many places, the road to becoming a state was filled with bloodshed on battlefields and political deals that would be closely looked at today. Some places became states against the wishes of some of their residents, but there are also some places that are not states even though some of their residents want them to be. How many states do the United States have? That’s not a simple question.

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