The Farewell State

It’s time to revisit Rhode Island

When Donald Dale Jackson died at age 70 on February 23, Smithsonian lost a remarkably gifted contributor who had written more than 100 pieces for the magazine since 1980. None of them evoked a greater response than this essay from 2000, which we reprint here in fond tribute to his wit and talent.

Rhode Island should be eliminated. I know it sounds harsh, but Rhode Island is too small to be a state, and it occupies space nature intended to be part of Connecticut. The millennium is the time for bold initiatives, and so, my friends, I say abolish Rhode Island now.

People from Rhode Island will no doubt fuss and whine about this, but we must ignore them. If God or George Washington really wanted a Rhode Island, He (or he) would have made it bigger and more important. Even its name is meaningless: Who was Rhode, and where is the island?

It will be necessary, of course, to clear out all the old Rhode Island artifacts: the state government, laws, buildings, officeholders, license plates, fax machines, stationery and the like. The official flatware, ashtrays and such will probably appeal to antiques dealers. If there is anything we want to save, we can just overprint Connecticut’s name on it. The case for the elimination of Rhode Island is based on geographic integrity. If you have any doubts, you need only look at the map. New England, as you can see, is a top-heavy protrusion squared off at the bottom that juts out from the nation’s northeast corner. Maine of course takes up all the uneven, misshapen space at the top right, which is fine for Maine, because nobody pays attention to Maine anyway.

New Hampshire and Vermont, by contrast, fit together in a perfectly tidy and orderly Yankee way, one bulging a bit in the north and the other doing the same in the south. They couldn’t be a better match. Beneath them, Massachusetts occupies a sensible, rectangular slab of territory with a somewhat untidy slop-over at Cape Cod. But everything about Cape Cod is so totally endemic to Massachusetts that there is no point quibbling about it. Rhode Island, I’m afraid, is something else. Rhode Island does not compute.

Look at the way it cringes there, occupying a sliver of land so inconsequential that the names of its cities and towns have to be entered vertically on the map. It is foolish for something so microscopic to go around posing as a state. Anyone who has ever been there knows what I mean. You drive into Rhode Island, nod off for 10 or 20 minutes or embark on an interesting conversation and—zap—you’re in Massachusetts. You’re out of the place before you can settle into it. Flying over Little Rhody is absurdity itself; you can traverse it in the middle of a sentence.

I bear no rancor toward Rhode Island, you understand, and I want to make it clear that this is my idea and mine alone, and I am attached to no organized political party. The credit or blame should rest with me, not Republicans or Democrats or whatever it is Ross Perot and Donald Trump are this year. The idea came to me as I studied a topographic map of New England one day while looking for excuses to avoid raking the leaves. I know some people will think it’s significant that I come from Connecticut, and they’ll see this as some sort of Nutmeg State power play, but it’s not. I’m not even sure Connecticut wants the extra territory. It’s just common sense.

I don’t know what the next step should be if this idea is going to go anywhere. We’ll probably need a committee, somebody to handle public relations, maybe a lawyer. I’m for minimizing public input, and doing our work as bloodlessly as possible. Rhode Islanders will just whimper and carry on if we let them in on this. Some will probably take it hard, but I think that in time they’ll adjust. They’ll need strength and maturity. If you want to join me in this campaign, I’ll be launching a mailing that will let you know where to send money. We’re going to need a bundle of cash to remove one star from every American flag in the country. It’s a big job, yes, but not an impossible one. And if anyone from Rhode Island wants to write and discuss this, I’ll be letting you know the address just as soon as I set up an unlisted, untraceable mail drop.

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