August 21 – Welcome Hawaii!

On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state in the United States.

While the United States grew from only 13 states along a thin stretch of the Atlantic Coast into a continent-wide entity, only two of its expansions involved the absorption of an entire country. Texas was an independent and sovereign state from 1836  1845, and Hawaii was an independent kingdom from 1795 until its annexation as a territory by the United States in 1893.

While the boundaries of the U.S. are rather fixed these days, there is ongoing discussion about whether Puerto Rico should become a state, and movements in some places, including Hawaii, to restore sovereignty and separate. In fact, Puerto Rico will have a referendum on their November 3 ballot to decide whether it should become a US state or remain a territory. However, even if Puerto Ricans vote in favor of statehood, the US Congress and President must approve, and as of May 2020, President Donald Trump has stated the issue was “an absolute no.”

In the past, the addition (and subtraction) of states from the union has resulted in major political disruption, including the Civil War. In Europe, a similar debate is now going on regarding the separation of the U.K. from the European Union.


  1. Why does it matter if a state joins or leaves the union, assuming that a large majority of its people favor that course? What political balances does it upset?
  2. Why do you think Puerto Rico would want to become part of the United States?
  3. Can you imagine a state leaving the union today? What would motivate its people to want to do so? Why would the people of a territory (Puerto Rico or, say, British Columbia) want to join the union?