Breaking Up California: A History of Many Attempts

There have been more attempts to divide California than anniversaries of its statehood in 1850. Some of the at least 220 attempts to break up California are chronicled here with a timeline, historic maps and documents, books and articles on the topic as well as videos on more recent efforts. There’s also a brief history of Spain and Mexico’s struggles to divide the vastness of the territory that would become California into manageable parts.

Under Article IV, Section III of the United States Constitution, “no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.” The last state to successfully go through this process was West Virginia in 1863, which broke off from Virginia.

See the Timeline that shows some of the facts about attempts to split California during the history of the state.

newspapers
Magazines
California flag
Judge hammer

News Videos on Proposals to Divide California

People of Interest

There were (and still are) many people of interest involved in the 220 plus attempts to divide the state. Those listed below are just a handful.

Andres Pico

Born in San Diego in 1810 under Spanish colonial rule, Pico would later see his old brother Pio Pico become the last governor of Mexican-ruled California. During the Mexican-American War, Andres Pico led a successful attack on U.S. forces at the Battle of San Pasqual. Pico signed the Treaty of Cahuenga on January 13, 1847, ending the Mexican-American War battles in California that led to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 which gave all of Mexico's territory to the United States. Pico became an American citizen and in 1851 was elected to the Assembly from Los Angeles. In 1859, he authored a bill to split California into two territories. Although the bill, which came to be known as the Pico Act, was approved by the Legislature, signed by the governor and passed by California voters, the U.S. Congress never acted on Pico Act due to the Civil War.

Milton Latham

California’s sixth governor officially served just five days before abandoning the governorship after the Legislature selected him to fill the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of David Broderick of San Francisco in a duel with state Supreme Court Justice David Terry. During his brief tenure as governor, Jan. 9, 1860, to Jan. 14, 1860, Lathan sent President Buchanan a letter supporting the desire of six southern counties to split from California and form a new, more slavery-friendly territory.

Robert Bulla

In 1907, state Senator Bulla gave a speech at the Los Angeles Sunset Club in which he argued that the Pico Act of 1859 was still in force and that only the consent of Congress was needed to accomplish splitting California. He also asserted that two smaller states would make state government more accessible to its citizens, reduce the influence of the railroads, and increase the Pacific Coast representation in Congress by the addition of two U.S. senators. His speech would inspire repeated efforts to get Congress to pass the Pico Act.

Richard Dolwig

He served in the state senate from 1957 to 1970. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1964 that California’s 1926 reapportionment amendment was unconstitutional and that state Senate districts had to be reapportioned by population, Senator Dolwig of San Mateo proposed legislation to split the state in two. Dolwig’s bill and constitutional amendment were approved by the state Senate but the Assembly took no action. Dolwig would re-introduce bills to split the state in two in 1967, 1968 and 1970, but there was no action on his measures.

Barry Keene

He served in the Assembly from 1973 to 1979, and then in the state Senate from 1979 to 1993, including as Senate Majority Leader. In 1978, the Democratic Assembly member introduced a bill to split California and a joint resolution to ask Congress to approve the split. Sr. Jose Carrillo.

John McDougal

He served as the second governor of California from 1851 to 1852. In his State of the State speech, he discusses the unfair tax burden on the southern portion as compared to the northern portion of the state. As it seemed the current California Constitution did not provide for a remedy, McDougal suggests the remedy is to call a “Convention of Delegates from the People, for the revision of the Constitution...”

Stan Statham

A former TV anchorman in Chico, Statham represented Chico in the Assembly as a member of the Republican Party from 1976 to 1994. In 1993, Statham introduced Assembly Bill 3, which would have required the Secretary of State to submit an advisory question to the voters at the Nov. 8, 1994, statewide general election that would ask whether the Legislature should draft a plan to divide California into three states. The bill left the Assembly on a 68-0 vote, but was killed by the Senate Rules Committee.

“California will continue to lose political power in Washington, D.C., every day until it has the courage to divide and start over. The math is ridiculously simple. The states of New York and Florida combined barely have California’s population, yet they have twice the number of United States senators. Even though California has 38 million citizens, why must we continue to be satisfied with just two U.S. senators? This is flawed democracy.” – Stan Statham in his 2017 book Reclaim California

Bill Maze

A Republican from Visalia, Maze served in the Assembly from 2002 to 2008. After being termed out of office, he founded Citizens for Saving California Farming Industries, a nonprofit that advocated splitting off 13 mostly Democratic-leaning counties on the state’s coast, leaving the remaining 45, mostly inland, counties to form what the group called “the real California.” “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is there a better way to govern this state?’ ” Maze told the New York Times in 2009.

Tim Draper

The Silicon Valley venture capitalist spent more than $5.2 million of his own money in a failed attempt to quality an initiative for the 2014 ballot that sought to slice California into six states. But on June 12, 2018, the Secretary of State announced that Draper had submitted enough signatures to qualify an initiative for the Nov. 6, 2018, general election ballot that if passed by voters would put the state on record as seeking Congress’ permission to replace California with three states.

“There's a monopoly government in California, and I’m a start-up guy,” Draper, who made a name for himself funding Hotmail, Skype and Tesla, told USA Today in June 2018. “When there’s a monopoly industry or an oligopoly industry where the service is bad and the price is high, I look at that as an opportunity for an entrepreneur or somebody to come in and create a better service at a lower cost.”