The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

March 24, 2019

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The Regionalist: State of Dis Union—The Jefferson Story
Bill Kauffman - 03/05/08

(Governor Childs was my friend June Chamberlain’s great-great uncle’s brother by marriage—okay, it’s tenuous, but it fits under the six-degrees-of-separation rules. Judge Childs had proposed secession back in 1935, when Jefferson wasn’t yet a gleam in Gilbert Gable’s eye. Judge/Governor Childs grew up in my neck of the woods: Genesee County, New York, specifically Indian Falls. He studied at the Batavia high school and taught in nearby Basom. Pneumonia drove him westward, to Crescent City, where in rapid succession he bought a newspaper and was elected clerk, district attorney, and then superior court judge of Del Norte County. He was an associate of that scourge of the corporations Hiram Johnson, the antiwar Republican U.S. senator from California. Politics was in his bloodstream and there warn’t no cure: he would serve as district attorney until he was eighty-seven years old. Till the end of his long life he strolled the streets of Crescent City, hobbling about on a cane, smoking a big cigar, and walking his dog. Now there was a governor.)

Governor Childs explained in his inaugural address of December 4, 1941—which, unlike most inaugural addresses, the governor wrote on his own, without the purpling of hired inkslingers—”The State of Jefferson is a natural division geographically, topographically, and emotionally. In many ways, a world unto itself: self-sufficient with enough water, fish, wildlife, farm, orchard land, mineral resources, and gumption to exist on its own.”

Inauguration Day featured a torchlight parade through Yreka led by brother bears named Itchy and Scratchy. Marchers carried signs reading OUR ROADS ARE NOT YET PASSABLE, HARDLY JACKASSABLE; IF OUR ROADS YOU WOULD TRAVEL, BRING YOUR OWN GRAVEL; and THE PROMISED LAND—OUR ROADS ARE PAVED WITH PROMISES. Well, look—Mayor Gable had been a flack for the phone company, so don’t expect poetry on the order of “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” But what a pity that Gable the p.r. man had not lived to see this rally and the gaggle of newsreel photographers from Paramount, Pathe, News of the Week, and other genuine Hollywood articles. Time and Life were there, too. “Please wear western clothes if they are available,” the Siskiyou Daily News advised its readers. Local color sells.

Of course Jefferson had its collaborators, too, loyalists who modified an old Oregon war-cry to “Forty-eight States or Fight!” But the fight was called off.

Three days after Governor Childs’s inauguration, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The governor announced that “the acting officers of the provisional territory of Jefferson here and now discontinue any and all activities.” A grim and bland unity replaced hell-raising and knee-slapping and neighborly anarchy. The war came, and state identities (not to mention Thomas Jefferson) lost a relevance they have not since regained. Rallying to the national cause, the Jeffersonians put their movement in abeyance. The roads did get built, though—there was manganese up in them thar hills.

A California split, however, remained more than just the title of one of Robert Altman’s only good movies.

The State of Jefferson lives still, and in adopting a strategy of cultural awareness before lobbying it offers, perhaps, a more promising route to statehood than mere wearying political agitation. State of Jefferson signs adorn the region, most spectacularly in ten-foot-high letters painted by the late Jefferson advocate Brian Helsaple and his nephew atop a hay barn near Yreka.

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