Here we go again. Another county—this time San Bernardino—is threatening to break away from California to form its own state. Petitions and plots of this sort pop up almost annually but then invariably fizzle. Yet however quixotic state division may seem, it has a much deeper, grimmer history than most Californians recognize.

A real estate developer and two mayors in the Inland Empire are the latest would-be secessionists. San Bernardino County, they argue, should be a state unto itself. With 2.2 million residents, it would be more populous than 15 other states. They’ve dubbed the unborn state “Empire.” (Take that, New York, long the Empire State.)

Kevin Waite, a Pasadena native, is an associate professor of history at Durham University in Britain and the author of “West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire.”

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