On this day in 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs a bill making Hawaii the 50th state.
Ike, as Eisenhower was known, entered the White House in 1953 in charge of 48 states; two more had been added by the time he left office in 1961. During his 1952 presidential campaign, Eisenhower had advocated for the admission of Alaska and Hawaii to the Union but recommended adding Hawaii first. Congress, on the other hand, favored admitting Alaska first, as Alaskan oil would be beneficial to the nation’s economy.
Although he realized the value of Alaska’s natural resources, Eisenhower feared that statehood would interfere with his administration’s ability to establish and control defense installations in the territory closest to Soviet Russia. Hawaii, which had been annexed by the U.S. in 1898, possessed defense installations that were equally important to national security, but a strong congressional contingent of Democrats from southern states expressed concern over incorporating Hawaii’s predominantly non-white population into the Union.
Amidst continuing opposition from members of Congress to the idea of admitting Hawaii to the Union first, Eisenhower eventually relented, after receiving assurances that an Alaskan state government would not interfere in the federal operation of military installations in the region, or the president’s right to reserve territory for future bases. Alaska became a state in January 1959. Eight months later, southern opposition was finally overcome and Hawaii joined the Union.