Alaska + Hawaii = Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

After four decades of statehood for Alaska and Hawaii, what do we have to show for it? The Iditarod, countless bad puns about getting lei'd, and a sweatshop Betsy Ross stitching a fifty-first star for Puerto Rico.

We can't say we weren't warned.

A chorus of reactionaries and wise liberals, from Senator William Fulbright to Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler, cautioned that admitting non-contiguous states--abandoning the "united" part of the United States--would be venturing down "the road of empire," as Senator James Eastland (D-Miss.) said. "If we go down this road...there will be no turning back." To Butler, bringing in Alaska or Hawaii "would be the beginning of the end of our historic United States of America .... We now have a solid and compact territorial Nation bounded by the two great oceans, by Canada, and by Mexico. This should remain so for all time."

Appeals were made to the shade of Daniel Webster, who in 1845 argued, "There must be some limit to the extent of our territory, if we are to make our institutions permanent. The Government is very likely to be endangered...by a further enlargement of its already vast territorial surface."

For it was "folly," said Representative Jones (D-N.C.) of the Hawaiians, "to believe that these people some 5,000 miles from Washington" can possibly "be imbued with the national spirit."

Hawaii was no stranger to this charge. Years earlier the anti-imperialist Missouri Senator Champ Clark asked, "How can we endure our shame when a Chinese senator from Hawaii, with his pigtail hanging down his back, with his pagan joss in his hand, shall rise from his curule chair and in pidgin English proceed to chop logic with George Frisbie Hoar or Henry Cabot Lodge?" Poor Champ didn't know the half of it: Instead of an exotic Chinese logician we ended up with Senator Dan Inouye pawing beauticians.

While the hacks of both parties sorted out the partisan implications of statehood--Hawaii was to be Republican and Alaska Democrat, a perfect flip-flop of how things came to be--the ralliers around the Old 48 achieved a desperate, plaintive eloquence. Congressman James Donovan of Manhattan's East Side begged his colleagues to "consider what happened to the pristine virtues of the Roman Republic when it started to take in the Senator from Scythia, the Senator from Mesopotamia, the Senator from Egypt, the Senator from Spain, the Senators from Gaul; yes, even the Senators from England. …