Today in Brand History: The Conch Republic
(photo used with implied rights granted by the Conch Republic...and www.theconchrepublic.com)
In 1982, the Florida Keys seceded from the United States of America and declared themselves the independent Conch Republic. The tongue-in-cheek move was made in response to a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint that had caused major traffic congestion in the Keys. (Yes, I have been busy with college tours so I have not kept up as much with Today in Brand History...this seemed like a pretty fun way to reengage!)
The story of the Conch Republic began in 1982, when the U.S. Border Patrol established a checkpoint on US 1 in the Florida Keys. The checkpoint was meant to help curb drug trafficking, but it caused major traffic backups and frustrated residents and business owners in the Keys. In response, Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow and a group of locals declared the secession of the Keys from the U.S. and the establishment of the Conch Republic.
While the move was made in jest, it quickly gained attention and became a tourist attraction. The Conch Republic has since become a symbol of the Keys' independent spirit and laid-back lifestyle. The Conch Republic's motto is "We seceded where others failed," and the republic has its own flag, anthem, and passport. In the early years after its establishment, the Conch Republic issued its own currency and even declared war on the U.S. (in a playful way, of course).
While the Conch Republic might be one of the more well known and fun examples of an area attempting to secede from the Union, there have been a few more humorous examples of areas of the US that have declared their "independence." For instance, in 1970, a group of college students in Port Angeles, Washington declared the city of Port Angeles to be the "Free State of Clallam Bay" as a prank. The group drafted a constitution and even printed their own currency, but the stunt was short-lived and did not lead to any serious attempts at secession. In 2003, the town of Superior, Arizona declared itself to be the "Republic of Superior" as a publicity stunt to promote tourism in the area. The town briefly flew its own flag and printed its own currency, but the stunt was intended to be purely symbolic and the town remains a part of the United States to this day.
Not all examples of secession have been tongue in cheek however. There have been instances of secessionist movements, such as the State of Franklin in what is now Tennessee in the late 18th century and the Republic of Vermont in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1859, the town of West Columbia, Texas declared independence from the US and established the Republic of Fredonia in response to a border dispute with neighboring Mexico. The Fredonia Republic lasted only a few days before the Texas Rangers and US troops arrived to restore order. Similarly, in 1949, the town of Mosquito, California declared independence from the US in response to a dispute over property rights. This movement was known as the Mosquito Declaration of Independence, and although it gained some support from residents of the area, it ultimately did not succeed in gaining independence.
(And having lived in Texas for ten years, I can attest to the fact that many still regret ever agreeing to join the United States and still speak fondly of reestablishing the Republic of Texas.) As for the Conch Republic, it is still going strong as a tourist destination, with visitors coming from all over the world to experience the laid-back island lifestyle and unique culture of the Keys. The republic's quirky charm and independent spirit have made it a beloved symbol of the Florida Keys, and it continues to inspire locals and visitors alike. Long live the Conch Republic!