- This article is about a hypothetical U.S. state. For the song, see 51st State. For the film, see The 51st State.
51st state, in American political discourse, is a phrase that refers to territories considered candidates for addition to the fifty states already part of the "Union". While sometimes used in a serious political context, it is often used colloquially or humorously to refer to associates which act based on American influences, such as Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom.
The term is also used in Canada and other countries as a term signifying negative American influence viewed as excessive. In Sweden, there is a similar expression stating that it is the most Americanized country in the world.
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Had World War II not intervened, it is possible that the counties of southern Oregon and northern California might have seceded from their respective states to form a new "State of Jefferson". Although often referred to as a possible 51st state, it would in fact have been the 49th, given that Alaska and Hawaii did not become states until 1959.
Since the admission of Alaska and Hawaii, there have been questions as to whether there will ever be a 51st state. The most likely candidates seem to be Puerto Rico, an unincorporated organized territory of the U.S., and the District of Columbia. (See D.C. Statehood). Another proposal has been for New York City to secede from New York State (See New York City secession). Puerto Ricans for their part have repeatedly voted against statehood for themselves, believing they benefit more from the status quo, yet support for statehood has risen in each successive popular referendum over the past several decades. Citizens of the District of Columbia, on the other hand tend to be more supportive of statehood, yet this would likely require amendment of the United States Constitution. The phrase "Taxation without representation" is used by supporters of this movement, and is found on recent D.C. license plates.
Because of their cultural similarities and close alliances with the United States, it is humorously said by some Americans that Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom are already the 51st state. Some British commentators have semi-seriously suggested that the UK should join the U.S., as it would thus become by far the wealthiest and most populous – and therefore the most politically influential state in the Union. The UK is the proposed 51st state in the movie of the same name – see The 51st State. It has also recently mentioned as a satire due to Tony Blair's strong support with President Bush in the involvement of the 2003 Iraq War.
Arguments for Canada joining the U.S. have rather more geographic and economic logic. Many Americans appear to be positive towards the idea and a surprising number of Canadians appear to be in favor as well. Polls conducted by The Canadian Press in 2001 and 2002 found that 38 per cent of American respondents said they would be "in favour of Canada being annexed to the United States", while 49 per cent disagreed. 19.9 per cent of Canadian respondents agreed with the proposition of annexation, but 76.5 per cent rejected the idea. 
Use of "51st State" in Canada
In Canada, "the 51st state" is an emotional trigger phrase sometimes used in political debates to link an issue in Canadians' minds to the threat of Canadian annexation by the United States. It is generally used in such a way as to imply that if a certain political course is taken, Canada's destiny will be to become the 51st state. As the poll cited above shows, the majority of Canadians view this as a fate to be avoided.
Becoming "the 51st state" is usually raised either as a potential consequence of adopting policies that propose greater integration or cooperation with the United States (such as Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in 1988, or the current debate over the creation of a common defense perimeter), or as a potential consequence of not adopting proposals intended to resolve the issue of Quebec sovereignty (such as the Charlottetown Accord in 1992, or the Clarity Act in 1999.)
In the latter cases, the reasoning is usually either that parts of English Canada would be so economically damaged by Quebec's separation that joining the United States would be the only option left, or that without Quebec's French language and culture acting as a bulwark, English Canada simply wouldn't be able to withstand the cultural pressure toward American statehood.
The phrase is usually used in local political debates, in polemic writing or in private conversations. It is rarely used by politicians themselves in a public context, although at certain times in Canadian history political parties have used other similarly loaded imagery to appeal to Canadians' gut instincts. For example, in the 1988 federal election, the anti-Free Trade Liberals ran an ad in which Tory strategists, upon the adoption of the agreement, slowly erased the Canada-US border from a desktop map of North America.
The phrase is also designed to appeal to Canadians' fears of losing power in such a union, implying that all of Canada would have the power of just one state.
It should also be noted that the 1988 Free Trade Agreement was implemented, followed by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1993, and that the Charlottetown Accord failed. In each case, Canadians chose to follow the course which would supposedly lead to their "becoming the 51st state"; as of 2005, however, Canada is still an independent country.
A few fringe groups in Canada have actively campaigned in favour of Canadian annexation by the United States, although they have not attracted much mainstream attention. See Annexationist movements of Canada.
The term has also been used whimsically to refer to individual Canadian provinces. A claim like "Alberta is the 51st state" implicitly suggests that culturally or politically, an individual region has more in common with one or more U.S. states than with another region within Canada. This often means a position further to the political right on economic issues; positions on other domestic issues ranging from official bilingualism to gun control to same-sex marriage are frequently also taken into account in making such comparisons as are economic, geographic and cultural ties to the United States or to an individual U.S. state.