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Exploring The State of Jefferson

Peter Laufer/The Elusive State of Jefferson

What is the State of Jefferson? Is it a historic secessionist movement? A state of mind? An imaginary, “mythical state”? An inevitable, soon-to-be 51st state?

The answer — depending on who you ask — is “yes.”

In his latest book, The Elusive State of Jefferson, historian Peter Laufer traces the struggle in Southern Oregon and Northern California that dates back to the late 1800s, to just after both California and Oregon became states in the first place. It didn’t take long for people in the Oregon south and in the California north to feel alienated from their leaders in Salem and Sacramento, and some began to organize for a new state, encompassing territory in both.

Though it hasn’t happened, the idea has by no means died out since it was first proposed. Just last week, Glenn County, California became the third in the state to pass a secessionist proposal. And looking beyond the Northwest, states as diverse as Colorado, Texas and Maryland have all recently seen similar movements.

Peter Laufer says one impulse toward the “The State of Jefferson” is rooted in a common desire for borders:

“Most of us want to surround ourselves with the familiar and with people who share our philosophies. It’s easy to feel as if those who are not familiar and who do not share our philosophies dismiss our needs and desires. It’s easy to fear them as the Other. Borders can provide us with both real and imagined sense of security — but always only temporarily. The Great Wall of China is a tourist attraction and the Berlin Wall is an eradicated vague memory.”

We’ll hear from Laufer, advocates for a new 51st state, as well as residents who identify with the State of Jefferson as a cultural touchstone. 

What does “The State of Jefferson” mean to you? What questions do you have about it?


  • Peter Laufer: Author of The Elusive State of Jefferson
  • Liz Bowen: State of Jefferson activist; writer; columnist for the Siskiyou Daily News
  • Mark Johnson: Grants Pass resident; State of Jefferson supporter
  • Marcia Armstrong: Vice-Chair of the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors
  • Geoffrey Riley: Jefferson Public Radio news director; host of The Jefferson Exchange on JPR
  • Robert Leo Heilman: Myrtle Creek resident; writer

Editor’s notes: We’ll be broadcasting live on Friday from the Jacksonville Inn in Jacksonville. If you’re in the area, please join us! Doors open at 11:30. If you can’t make it, you’re welcome to call in, toll-free: 1-888-665-5865.

This show will be simulcast live at 12:06 pm on Jefferson Public Radio and Oregon Public Broadcasting. 

In Jacksonville, Oregon and Yreka, California.

state of jefferson secession rural-urban divide politics culture

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In Jacksonville, Oregon and Yreka, California.