If the District of Columbia becomes the 51st state, Tennessee will have helped pave the way, reports Michael Collins. But don’t expect Tennessee’s Republican congressmen to help the effort.
Now, D.C. leaders are making another push for statehood. And they’re looking to take the same route that Tennessee followed when it became the 16th state in 1796.
In November, D.C. residents will vote on a statehood referendum that would split the city in two. One part would be a new state called New Columbia. The other part would remain a small federal district that would house government buildings and monuments.
If the referendum is approved, D.C. would petition Congress for statehood. That’s where Tennessee comes into play.
Because Tennessee was already a federal territory in the 1790s, Congress allowed it an abbreviated entry into the union. Tennessee residents voted to ratify a constitution and pledged to begin a republic form of government. Congress then admitted the new state into the union without requiring a ratification vote by existing states.
If “the Tennessee model” worked for Tennessee, the thinking goes, it might work for D.C.
Not everyone, though, is on board. Opponents to granting D.C. statehood include Tennesseans in Congress.
“I’m very much opposed to D.C. statehood,” said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Knoxville. “The District of Columbia was set up to belong to all Americans, and it has a special place, not only in the life of our country, but I think to all of the individuals who come here from all of the states.”
In reality, Duncan said, D.C. is nothing but a city.
“It’s a very important city,” he said, “but it is a city. All other states are combinations of urban, suburban and rural areas, and they have all of these different aspects to them, all of these competing interests, all of these combinations that D.C. doesn’t have.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville, makes essentially the same argument.
“Our nation was formed by states, and the district is a unique city — not a state,” Alexander said. “The Constitution itself makes that distinction.”
Note: As a state senator, now U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, sponsored a resolution giving Tennessee’s endorsement of statehood for the District of Columbia. It failed.