Can We Add States to the Union Without Starting a Civil War?

Campaign signs herald an early voting place in Washington,D.C., on Nov. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

On Monday, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the prospect of Washington, D.C., becoming a separate state. During the hearing, members of Congress suggested that Puerto Rico could also gain full statehood. I would urge caution regarding this process.


Washington, D.C., is tiny and its status as the nation’s capital city raises significant problems with potential statehood, but perhaps the biggest reason to hold off adding states to the Union just yet involves the nasty partisanship in American politics.

So many observers have noted that America has not been this polarized since the Civil War that the statement has become something of a mantra. In some ways, America may be even more divided now than it was then.

In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln reflected that both sides in the Civil War “read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Yet modern partisanship breaks down along ideological and religious lines.

It is easy for modern Americans to flatly state that slavery was evil — it absolutely was — and that it was the issue of the Civil War. While there is a great deal of truth to that claim, the states that seceded from the union also pointed to other issues adjacent to slavery. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, southern leaders like John C. Calhoun started defending slavery itself as a positive good — as opposed to the “necessary evil” the Founders lamented. The Founders had hoped slavery would die off as it became unprofitable, but in the decades leading up to the war, the South developed a new ideology to praise race-based slavery.

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Abraham Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He saw slavery as evil, but he wanted to restrain that evil according to the limits set by grand compromises like the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Ultimately, the South sparked the Civil War by refusing to abide by the terms of the deal established by the Constitution and worked out in compromises intended to keep the Union together despite harsh partisan divisions.


In 1819, southerners wanted to admit Missouri as a slave state. This would upend the balance of power in Congress, since there were 11 free states and 11 slave states. Ultimately, Congress worked out a compromise, admitting Missouri as a slave state but drawing a line at the 36°30′ parallel, allowing slavery below that line but banning it above that line (except in Missouri). At the same time, the Union admitted Maine as a free state, to maintain the balance of power.

Compromises like this maintained the balance of power amid increasingly bitter partisanship. After Texas joined the Union as a slave state (but with territories not committed to slavery) in 1845, Congress admitted California as a free state to balance the Lone Star State in the Compromise of 1850.

The compromises did not make everyone happy. The 1850 compromise also involved a more stringent Fugitive Slave Law that propped up the evil of slavery, just as it kept the union intact by balancing Texas with California.

Yet historians agree that the compromises postponed the Civil War. Lincoln won in 1860 on a platform of upholding these compromises, leading the southern states to secede in protest.

Unlike in the antebellum era, American partisanship today does not trace back to one central issue. Conservatives and Republicans tend to be more religious, but not universally so. Liberals and Democrats tend to be more secular, but not exclusively so.

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Like in the antebellum era, the divisions are ideological as well as political. Americans are divided on abortion and the sanctity of life in the womb; on identity and the conflict between biological sex and transgender claims; on the balance between welcoming immigrants and maintaining America’s laws and heritage; on the size and scope of the federal government; on whether or not America is institutionally racist; on the alleged crisis of climate change; and so much more.


Both sides often claim to be upholding the Constitution and America’s heritage, although Democrats more frequently claim to represent the majority will in a “progressive” rejection of the grand compromise that allowed the United States to include a diversity of views from the outset.

In this context, Democrats argue for adding states to the Union in large part as a gambit for more power. Democrats may have focused on Washington, D.C., before Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico appears more likely to be a political battleground while Washington, D.C., is deep blue (76.4 percent Democrat, 5.7 percent Republican in voter registration).

I would propose that any move to add more states to the Union should proceed in a similar way as the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. If Washington, D.C., would become a deep-blue state, then Congress must find a deep-red state to balance it out. Personally, I think Washington, D.C., is both too small and too important to the federal government to become a separate state. If parts of Washington, D.C., wish for more federal representation, perhaps a chunk should join Maryland or Virginia.

While Democrats may hope that Puerto Rico’s Spanish-speaking population would favor the party of Joe Biden, Puerto Rico’s conservative values and Latin traditions are akin to the values of the Republican Party. Currently, two parties dominate Puerto Rican politics — the Popular Democratic Party that supports maintaining the territory’s status as a U.S. territory and not as a state, and the New Progressive Party that supports full statehood. Both parties hold about 47 percent of the popular vote.


Puerto Rico may not swing the balance of power toward the Democrats or the Republicans, so it would make more sense to add this territory as a state. The problem is, Puerto Rico itself is divided on the issue.

Tragically, it seems Democrats are bent on acquiring more power at almost any price. President Joe Biden has established a commission to consider packing the Supreme Court. Democrats rail against the filibuster — which protects the minority party in the Senate in order to ensure legislation represents more of a compromise — as “racist,” just as they excluded the Hyde Amendment — which protects the consciences of pro-life taxpayers from funding abortion — from the recent COVID-19 “relief” bill. Through H.R. 1, Democrats are trying to shift the playing field decisively in their favor in the name of voting reforms.

Adding states to the Union represents a desperate gambit for more power, to prevent a political backlash from Biden’s radical policies.

Just like the states that seceded from the Union in protest after Lincoln pledged to uphold the great compromises, Democrats are trying to alter the terms of the Constitution’s grand bargain. The American people cannot let them get away with it.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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