The good old U.S. of A. wasn't always made up of the 50 states that we know today. It took a lot of battles, bloodshed and negotiations to get to this point. Some states took their own sweet time hopping on board the Union train, setting up first as independent "countries," with varying degrees of autonomy.
"The question of whether a state was a separate country largely depends on how one defines a country — does it require a formal government, international recognition by other countries, or just a group of people saying they are a country?" says Jeremy C. Young, communications and marketing manager with the American Historical Association, by email. "I also exclude rebellions that did not lead to a permanent change in government, such as the Confederate States of America." He adds that it's important to note "the United States was created on land that was forcibly taken through various modes of violence from Indigenous nations, communities, and people whose own understanding of that land crossed boundaries that cannot be neatly drawn on maps."
With those caveats in mind here are six states that at one time were considered independent nations. We'll start with two that were formally recognized as such by other countries:
Texans have always liked to do things their own way, and the beginnings of this state certainly set the stage. The problems all began with the Texas Revolution (1835-1836), which saw the Mexican dictatorship government overthrown by rich U.S. citizens that had been invited into the area. Once dubbed the Republic of Texas, the colonists approached the U.S. for annexation (i.e., to be added to the U.S.A.).
"But the government initially refused to do this, because adding Texas as a slave state, south of the Mason-Dixon Line, would dramatically increase the amount of U.S. territory open to slavery and would likely lead to civil war," Young says. However, in 1846 President James K. Polk did an about-face because he actually wanted more slaveholding states, so Texas officially achieved statehood that year. In fact, expanding the U.S. via this route was a major part of his election campaign.
The Aloha State was known as the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1795 to 1895, after King Kamehameha united all the islands into one kingdom from small independent communities. That all changed radically in the 1890s when the monarchy was overthrown by wealthy white American colonialists who controlled the sugar plantations. They hoped the United States would annex Hawaii as a territory. "Initially, the U.S. government refused to do this, so the colonizers who had overthrown the Hawaiian government became leaders of the short-lived Republic of Hawaii (1894-1898)," says Young.
The first president of the republic was Sanford Dole (a relative of the family behind the pineapple company that is now Dole Food Company). President Grover Cleveland thought the Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani should be restored to the throne. But Dole continued to seek annexation and in 1900, Congress created the Territory of Hawaii. The area formally became the 50th state in 1959, not far behind Alaska.
Now, we move into less well-defined territory, as there are states that saw themselves as independent nations, even if they technically were not recognized as such by other countries:
The area now known as Vermont was part of the colony of New York, but didn't want to take sides in the war between New York and Britain. So, in 1777 American colonists assembled to declare independence from both. They formed the Vermont Republic. Its 1777 convention saw an exceptionally forward-thinking constitution adopted. In addition to being the first North American constitution, it also banned slavery and gave adult males the right to vote. Even those who didn't own property!
However, not everyone was on board with this maneuver. "For reasons relating to state-based land claims, the U.S. government did not recognize Vermont's independence from New York until 1791, when Vermont was admitted to the Union as the 14th state," Young says. Congress took so long to recognize Vermont that at one point, Vermonters asked Britain if they could be readmitted to their empire. However, in the end, as a counter-balance to the admittance of the slave-owning state of Kentucky, Vermont was admitted to the Union.
4. Rhode Island
Rhode Island might be tiny, but it always was a trend-setter. Much like Vermont, Rhode Islanders were also not interested in ongoing issues with the Crown. "In response to a British occupation, the colony of Rhode Island declared its independence from Great Britain on May 4, 1776, two months before the rest of the American colonies did," Young says. "Technically, then, it was a sovereign country for two months."
Lots of people were moving to Oregon Country in the 1800s, which meant that some sort of law and order had to be achieved. In 1843, settlers created the Provisional Government of Oregon to get the job done. Some settlers felt they should become an independent nation while others felt they should wait to get annexed to the U.S.A. In 1846, Britain finally gave up its claim to the vast territory, and in 1849 the U.S. formally annexed the land, which for the record, was made up of modern-day Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
6. The Republic of West Florida
This only existed for two months in 1810. "A group of U.S. citizens living in Spanish Florida captured an area around Baton Rouge from the Spanish military. Later in 1810, the U.S. government annexed the territory, and it became part of the state of Louisiana in 1812," says Young.