Territories of the United States
Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative divisions directly overseen by the United States (U.S.) federal government. Unlike U.S. states and Indian tribes that have sovereignty alongside the federal government, only one territory has sovereignty. The territories are classified by whether they are "incorporated" (i.e., part of the U.S. proper) and whether they have an "organized" government through an Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
Territories of the United States
The 50 states and the Federal District
Commonwealth (see footnote)
Incorporated unorganized territory
Unincorporated organized territory
Unincorporated unorganized territory
|Largest settlement||San Juan, Puerto Rico, United States|
|Languages||English, Spanish, Hawaiian, Chamorro, Carolinian, Samoan|
|List of current territorial governors|
|22,294.19 km2 (8,607.83 sq mi)|
|Currency||United States Dollar|
|Date format||mm/dd/yyyy (AD)|
The U.S. has sixteen territories in the Caribbean Sea, the south Pacific Ocean, and the western portion of the north Pacific Ocean. Five of them are permanently inhabited and are classified as unincorporated territories. The other eleven are small islands, atolls, and reefs with no native or permanent population. Of those eleven, only one is classified as an incorporated territory.
Existing territories and their legal statusEdit
Territories have always been a part of the U.S. According to federal law, the term "United States", when used in a geographical sense, means "the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the United States Virgin Islands". Since political union with the Northern Mariana Islands in 1986, they too are treated as a part of the U.S. An executive order adopted in 2007 includes American Samoa in the U.S. "geographical extent" as reflected in U.S. Department of State documents.
Permanently inhabited territoriesEdit
The U.S. has five territories that are permanently inhabited: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean Sea; Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands in the Marianas archipelago in the western North Pacific Ocean; and American Samoa in the South Pacific Ocean.
Approximately 4 million people in these territories are U.S. citizens. American Samoa has about 32,000 non-citizen U.S. nationals. Under U.S. law, among the territories, "only persons born in American Samoa and Swains Island are non-citizen U.S. nationals." American Samoans are under the protection of the U.S., with the ability to travel to the U.S. without a visa.
Each of these territories is an organized, self-governing territory with three branches of government, a locally elected governor, and a territorial legislature.
Each also elects a non-voting member or, in the case of Puerto Rico a non-voting resident commissioner, to the U.S. House of Representatives. They "possess the same powers as other members of the House, except that they may not vote when the House is meeting as the House of Representatives." They participate in debate, are assigned offices and money for staff, and appoint constituents from their territories to the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, Air Force, and Merchant Marine service academies. They can vote in committee on all legislation presented to the House of Representatives. They are included in their party count for each committee, and they are equal to senators on conference committees. Depending on the congress, they may also vote on the floor in the House Committee of the Whole. As of January 2017, the members of Congress from these territories were: Gregorio Sablan for the Northern Mariana Islands, Madeleine Bordallo for Guam, Amata Coleman Radewagen for American Samoa, Jenniffer González for Puerto Rico, and Stacey Plaskett for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Every four years, U.S. political parties nominate their presidential candidates at conventions, which include delegates from these territories. The U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, however, cannot vote in the general election for president of the U.S.
These territories pay some U.S. taxes and are under the protection of U.S. courts.
The capitals of these territories are Pago Pago in American Samoa; Hagåtña in Guam; Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands; San Juan in Puerto Rico; and, Charlotte Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. has eleven territories with no native or permanent population. They are small islands, atolls, and reefs spread across the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean: Palmyra Atoll, Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, the Midway Islands, Bajo Nuevo Bank, Navassa Island, Serranilla Bank, and Wake Island. Palmyra Atoll (formally, the United States Territory of Palmyra Island) is the only incorporated U.S. territory, a status it has maintained since the Territory of Hawaii became a state in 1959.
Incorporated and unincorporated territoriesEdit
The U.S. Congress decides whether a territory is incorporated or unincorporated. The entire U.S. constitution applies to each incorporated territory, including its local government and all of its inhabitants, in the same manner as it applies to the local governments and residents of a state. Incorporated territories are considered an integral part of the U.S., not mere possessions.
From 1901 to 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of cases known as the Insular Cases held that the constitution extended by its own force to U.S. territories. The Court in these cases, however, also established the doctrine of territorial incorporation, under which the constitution applies fully to incorporated territories, such as the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and applies partially in the unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.
The U.S. had no unincorporated territories (also called "overseas possessions" or "insular areas") until 1856. In that year, the U.S. Congress enacted the Guano Islands Act, which authorised the president to take possession of unclaimed islands to mine guano. Under this law, the U.S. has taken control of and claimed rights in many islands, atolls, etc., especially in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, most of which have since been abandoned. The U.S. also has acquired territories since 1856 under other circumstances, such as under the Treaty of Paris (1898) that ended the Spanish–American War. The U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutional position of these unincorporated territories in Balzac v. People of Porto Rico, where the Court said the following about a U.S. court in Puerto Rico::312
The United States District Court is not a true United States court established under article 3 of the Constitution to administer the judicial power of the United States.... It is created ... by the sovereign congressional faculty, granted under article 4, 3, of that instrument, of making all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory belonging to the United States. The resemblance of its jurisdiction to that of true United States courts, in offering an opportunity to nonresidents of resorting to a tribunal not subject to local influence, does not change its character as a mere territorial court.
In Glidden Company v. Zdanok, the U.S. Supreme Court cited the Balzac case and said with regard to courts in unincorporated territories, "Upon like considerations, Article III has been viewed as inapplicable to courts created in unincorporated territories outside the mainland ... and to the consular courts established by concessions from foreign countries....":547
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized two ways in which incorporation could be made: "incorporation is not to be assumed without express declaration, or an implication so strong as to exclude any other view."
Express or implied?Edit
In the Balzac case, the Court defined the meaning of "implied"::306
Had Congress intended to take the important step of changing the treaty status of Puerto Rico by incorporating it into the Union, it is reasonable to suppose that it would have done so by the plain declaration, and would not have left it to mere inference. Before the question became acute at the close of the Spanish War, the distinction between acquisition and incorporation was not regarded as important, or at least it was not fully understood and had not aroused great controversy. Before that, the purpose of Congress might well be a matter of mere inference from various legislative acts; but in these latter days, incorporation is not to be assumed without express declaration, or an implication so strong as to exclude any other view.
U.S. Supreme Court decisions about particular territoriesEdit
The U.S. Supreme Court in Rassmussen v. U.S. first quoted from Article III of the 1867 treaty for the purchase of Alaska and then said, "'The inhabitants of the ceded territory ... shall be admitted to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States....' This declaration, although somewhat changed in phraseology, is the equivalent ... of the formula, employed from the beginning to express the purpose to incorporate acquired territory into the United States, especially in the absence of other provisions showing an intention to the contrary.":522
The Rassmussen case arose out of a criminal conviction by a six-person jury in Alaska under a federal law allowing this procedure there. The Court held that Alaska had been incorporated into the U.S. because of the treaty of cession with Russia. In addition, the Congressional implication was so strong as to exclude any other view::523
That Congress, shortly following the adoption of the treaty with Russia, clearly contemplated the incorporation of Alaska into the United States as a part thereof, we think plainly results from the act of July 20, 1868, concerning internal revenue taxation ... and the act of July 27, 1868 ... extending the laws of the United States relating to customs, commerce, and navigation over Alaska, and establishing a collection district therein. ... And this is fortified by subsequent action of Congress, which it is unnecessary to refer to.
In his concurring opinion, Justice Brown expressed the same thought::533-4
Apparently, acceptance of the territory is insufficient in the opinion of the court in this case, since the result that Alaska is incorporated into the United States is reached, not through the treaty with Russia, or through the establishment of a civil government there, but from the act ... extending the laws of the United States relating to the customs, commerce, and navigation over Alaska, and establishing a collection district there. Certain other acts are cited, notably the judiciary act ... making it the duty of this court to assign ... the several territories of the United States to particular Circuits.
In Dorr v. U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court quoted Chief Justice Marshall from an earlier case as follows::141-2
"The 6th article of the treaty of cession contains the following provision: 'The inhabitants of the territories which His Catholic Majesty cedes the United States by this treaty shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States as soon as may be consistent with the principles of the Federal Constitution, and admitted to the enjoyment of the privileges, rights, and immunities of the citizens of the United States.' ... This treaty is the law of the land, and admits the inhabitants of Florida to the enjoyment of the privileges, rights, and immunities of the citizens of the United States. It is unnecessary to inquire whether this is not their condition, independent of stipulation. They do not, however, participate in political power; they do not share in the government till Florida shall become a state. In the meantime Florida continues to be a territory of the United States, governed by virtue of that clause in the Constitution which empowers Congress "to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.'"
In Downes v. Bidwell, the Court said, "The same construction was adhered to in the treaty with Spain for the purchase of Florida ... the 6th article of which provided that the inhabitants should 'be incorporated into the Union of the United States, as soon as may be consistent with the principles of the Federal Constitution.'":256
In the Downes case, the first mention of incorporation is made in the following paragraph by Justice Brown::321-2
In view of this it cannot, it seems to me, be doubted that the United States continued to be composed of states and territories, all forming an integral part thereof and incorporated therein, as was the case prior to the adoption of the Constitution. Subsequently, the territory now embraced in the state of Tennessee was ceded to the United States by the state of North Carolina. In order to insure the rights of the native inhabitants, it was expressly stipulated that the inhabitants of the ceded territory should enjoy all the rights, privileges, benefits, and advantages set forth in the ordinance 'of the late Congress for the government of the western territory of the United States.
In the Downes case, the Court said::252
Owing to a new war between England and France being upon the point of breaking out, there was need for haste in the negotiations, and Mr. Livingston took the responsibility of disobeying his (Mr. Jefferson's) instructions, and, probably owing to the insistence of Bonaparte, consented to the 3d article of the treaty (with France to acquire the territory of Louisiana), which provided that 'the inhabitants of the ceded territory shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States; and in the meantime they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they profess.' [8 Stat. at L. 202.] This evidently committed the government to the ultimate, but not to the immediate, admission of Louisiana as a state....
Lands under the sovereignty of the federal government (but not part of any state) that were given a measure of self-rule by the Congress through an Organic Act subject to the Congress' plenary powers under the territorial clause of Article IV, sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution.
Classification of current U.S. territoriesEdit
Incorporated organized territoriesEdit
No incorporated organized territory has existed since 1959, with the last two being the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, both of which achieved statehood in that year.
Incorporated unorganized territoriesEdit
Many incorporated unorganized territories became incorporated organized territories or states. For example, when the eastern part of the incorporated organized territory called Minnesota became the state of Minnesota in 1858, the western part became part of an unorganized territory. Later, that became a part of the Dakota Territory, out of which two states and some parts of other states were created. California was part of an unorganized territory when it became a state.
|Palmyra Atoll||Polynesia & North Pacific||12 km2 (5 sq mi)||20||As of 2007, partly privately owned by The Nature Conservancy with much of the rest owned by the federal government and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is an archipelago of about 50 small islands with about 1.56 sq mi (4.0 km2) of land area, lying about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) south of Oahu, Hawaii. The atoll was acquired by the U.S. through the annexation of the Republic of Hawaii in 1898. When the Territory of Hawaii was incorporated on April 30, 1900, Palmyra Atoll was incorporated as part of that territory. When the State of Hawaii was admitted to the Union in 1959, however, the Act of Congress explicitly separated Palmyra Atoll from the newly federated state. Palmyra remained an incorporated territory, but received no new organized government.|
There are also territories that have the status of being incorporated but that are not organized:
- U.S. coastal waters out to 12 nautical miles (14 mi; 22 km) offshore (except state waters extend a minimum of 3 nautical miles (3.5 mi; 5.6 km) offshore).
Unincorporated organized territoriesEdit
|Guam||Micronesia & North Pacific||543 km2 (210 sq mi)||159,358||Hagåtña||Territory since 1898, Guam is the home of Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base.|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Micronesia & North Pacific||463.63 km2 (179 sq mi)||53,467||Saipan||Commonwealth since 1978; formerly a United Nations Trust Territory under the administration of the U.S.|
|Puerto Rico||Caribbean & North Atlantic||9,104 km2 (3,515 sq mi)||3,667,084||San Juan||Unincorporated territory since 1898, a commonwealth since 1952. In November 2008, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a sequence of Congressional actions have had the cumulative effect of changing Puerto Rico's status from "unincorporated" to "incorporated." However, the issue has not finished making its way through the court system; and the U.S. government still refers to Puerto Rico as unincorporated. See the Puerto Rico section in the article, Organized incorporated territories of the United States, and also the article, Political status of Puerto Rico.|
|United States Virgin Islands||Caribbean & North Atlantic||346.36 km2 (134 sq mi)||106,405||Charlotte Amalie||Purchased by the U.S. from Denmark in 1917.|
Unincorporated unorganized territoriesEdit
|American Samoa||Polynesia & South Pacific||197.1 km2 (76.1 sq mi)||55,519||Pago Pago||Territory since 1898. Locally self-governing under a constitution last revised in 1967.|
|Baker Island[a]||North Pacific Ocean||2.1 km2 (0.81 sq mi)||0||Claimed under the Guano Islands Act on October 28, 1856. Formally annexed on May 13, 1936, and placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of the Interior.|
|Howland Island[a]||North Pacific Ocean||4.5 km2 (1.7 sq mi)||0||Claimed under the Guano Islands Act on December 3, 1858. Formally annexed on May 13, 1936, and placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior.|
|Jarvis Island[a]||Polynesia & south Pacific Ocean||4.75 km2 (1.83 sq mi)||0||Claimed under the Guano Islands Act on October 28, 1856. Formally annexed on May 13, 1936, and placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior.|
|Johnston Atoll[a]||North Pacific Ocean||2.67 km2 (1.03 sq mi)||40||Last used by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004|
|Kingman Reef[a]||Polynesia & north Pacific Ocean||18 km2 (6.9 sq mi)||0||Claimed under the Guano Islands Act on February 8, 1860. Formally annexed on May 10, 1922, and placed under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Navy on December 29, 1934.|
|Wake Island[a]||Micronesia & north Pacific Ocean||7.4 km2 (2.9 sq mi)||188||Territory since 1898; host to the Wake Island Airfield administered by the U.S. Air Force; claimed by the Marshall Islands.|
|Midway Atoll||North Pacific Ocean||6.2 km2 (2.4 sq mi)||4||Territory since 1859; primarily a wildlife refuge inhabited only by civilian contractors; previously under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Navy.|
|Navassa Island||Caribbean Sea & north Atlantic Ocean||5.4 km2 (2.1 sq mi)||0||Territory since 1857. Claimed by Haiti.|
|Serranilla Bank||Caribbean Sea & north Atlantic Ocean||350 km2 (140 sq mi)||0||Administered by Colombia; site of a naval garrison. Claimed by the U.S (since 1879 under the Guano Islands Act), Honduras, and Jamaica. A claim by Nicaragua was resolved in 2012 in favor of Colombia by the International Court of Justice, although the U.S. was not a party to that case and does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICJ.|
|Bajo Nuevo Bank||Caribbean Sea & north Atlantic Ocean||110 km2 (42 sq mi)||0||Administered by Colombia. Claimed by the U.S. (under the Guano Islands Act) and Jamaica. A claim by Nicaragua was resolved in 2012 in favor of Colombia by the International Court of Justice, although the U.S. was not a party to that case and does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICJ.|
The U.S. exercises some degree of extraterritorial jurisdiction in overseas areas, such as:
- Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (since 1903): A 45 square miles (120 km2) land area along Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to which the U.S. claims to hold a perpetual lease. The Cuban government does not recognize this claim and has refused to accept any payment since 1959. The lease amount is US$2,000 in gold per year.
- American research stations in Antarctica: Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, McMurdo Station, and Palmer Station are under U.S. jurisdiction but are held without sovereignty per the Antarctic Treaty.
- Certain other parcels in foreign countries held by lease, such as military bases, depending on the terms of a lease, treaty, or status of forces agreement with the host country.
The United States exercises a high degree of control in defense, funding, and government services in:
Classification of former U.S. territories and administered areasEdit
Former incorporated organized territories of the United StatesEdit
See Organized incorporated territories of the United States for a complete list.
Former unincorporated territories of the United States (incomplete)Edit
- The Corn Islands (1914–1971): leased for 99 years under the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty. However, returned to Nicaragua upon the abrogation of the treaty in 1970.
- The Line Islands (?–1979): disputed claim with the United Kingdom. U.S. claim to most of the islands was ceded to Kiribati upon its independence in 1979. The U.S. retained Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, and Jarvis Island.
- Panama Canal Zone (1903–1979): sovereignty returned to Panama under the Torrijos-Carter Treaties of 1978. U.S. retained a military base there and control of the canal until December 31, 1999.
- The Philippine Islands (1898–1935), the Commonwealth of the Philippines (1935–46): granted full independence on July 4, 1946.
- Phoenix Islands (?–1979): disputed claim with the United Kingdom. U.S. claim ceded to Kiribati upon its independence in 1979. Baker Island and Howland Island, which could be considered part of this group, are retained by the U.S.
- Quita Sueño Bank (1869–1981): claimed under Guano Islands Act. Claim abandoned on September 7, 1981, by treaty.
- Roncador Bank (1856–1981): claimed under Guano Islands Act. Ceded to Colombia on September 7, 1981, by treaty.
- Serrana Bank (1874?–1981): claimed under Guano Islands Act. Ceded to Colombia on September 7, 1981, by treaty.
- Swan Islands (1863–1972): claimed under Guano Islands Act. Ceded to Honduras in 1972, by treaty.
Former unincorporated territories of the United States under military governmentEdit
- Puerto Rico (April 11, 1899 – May 1, 1900): civil government operations began
- Philippines (August 14, 1898 – July 4, 1901): civil government operations began
- Guam (April 11, 1899 – July 1, 1950): civil government operations began
Areas formerly administered by the United StatesEdit
- Cuba (April 11, 1899 – May 20, 1902): sovereignty recognized as the independent Republic of Cuba.
- Philippines (August 14, 1898 – July 4, 1946): sovereignty recognized as the Republic of the Philippines.
- Veracruz: occupied by the United States from April 21, 1914 to November 23, 1914, consequential to the Tampico Affair following the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1929.
- Haiti: occupied by the United States from 1915 to 1934 and later under the authority of the United Nations from 1999 to the 2000s.
- Dominican Republic occupied by the United States from 1916 to 1924 and again from 1965 to 1966.
- Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (1947–1986): liberated in World War II, included the "Compact of Free Association" nations (the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
- Ryukyu Islands including Okinawa (U.S. occupation: 1952–1972, after World War II): returned to Japan under the Agreement Between the United States of America and Japan concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands.
- Nanpo Islands (1945–1968): Occupied after World War II, Returned to Japanese control by mutual agreement.
- Marcus Island (or Minamitorishima) (1945–1968): Occupied during World War II, returned to Japan by mutual agreement.
- Falkland Islands (1831–1832): Brief landing party and raid by the U.S. Navy warship USS Lexington. Now administered as a British Overseas Territory by the United Kingdom and claimed by Argentina.
- United States occupation of Greenland (1941–1945)
- United States occupation of Iceland during World War II (1941–1946), retained a military base until 2006.
- American Occupation Zones in Allied-occupied Austria and Vienna (1945–1955)
- American Occupation Zone in West Berlin (1945–1990)
- American Occupation Zones of the Allied Occupation Zones in Germany (1945–1949)
- Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories in full force in Allied-controlled sections of Italy from Invasion of Sicily in July 1943 until the armistice with Italy in September 1943. AMGOT continued in newly liberated areas of Italy until the end of World War II. Also existed in combat zones of Allied nations such as France.
- Free Territory of Trieste (1947–1954) The U.S. co-administered a portion of the Free Territory between the Kingdom of Italy and the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia after World War II along with the United Kingdom.
- Occupation of Japan (1945–1952) after World War II.
- U.S. participation in the Occupation of the Rhineland (Germany) (1918–1921)
- South Korea (U.S. occupation of the south of the 38th parallel north in Korea in 1945–1948). The region is slightly different from the current practical boundary of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) since the ceasefire of the Korean War. See also Division of Korea.
- Coalition Provisional Authority Iraq (2003–2004)
- Green zone Iraq (March 20, 2003 – December 31, 2008)
- Clipperton Island (1944–1945), occupied territory; returned to France on October 23, 1945.
- Grenada invasion and occupation (1983)
- Enabling act (United States)
- Extreme points of the United States
- Hawaiian Organic Act
- Historic regions of the United States
- Organic Acts of 1845–46
- Political divisions of the United States
- Political status of Puerto Rico
- Territories of the United States on stamps
- United States Minor Outlying Islands
- United States territory
- Unorganized territories
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- "Agreement Between the United States and Cuba for the Lease of Lands for Coaling and Naval stations". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. February 23, 1903. Retrieved 2 April 2008.
- Michael Ratner; Ellen Ray (2004). Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. Chelsea Green Publishing. p. xiv;. ISBN 978-1-931498-64-7.
- Zaide, Sonia M. (1994). The Philippines: A Unique Nation. All-Nations Publishing Co., Inc. p. 279. ISBN 9716420714. Retrieved October 20, 2011.
- Okinawa Reversion Agreement – 1971, The Contemporary Okinawa Website. Accessed 5 June 2007.
- Committee, America First (1 January 1990). "In Danger Undaunted: The Anti-interventionist Movement of 1940-1941 as Revealed in the Papers of the America First Committee". Hoover Institution Press. p. 331 – via Google Books.
- Campbell Robertson; Stephen Farrell (December 31, 2008), Green Zone, Heart of U.S. Occupation, Reverts to Iraqi Control, The New York Times
- FindLaw: Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244 (1901) regarding the distinction between incorporated and unincorporated territories
- FindLaw: People of Puerto Rico v. Shell Co., 302 U.S. 253 (1937) regarding application of U.S. law to organized but unincorporated territories
- FindLaw: United States v. Standard Oil Company, 404 U.S. 558 (1972) regarding application of U.S. law to unorganized unincorporated territories
- Television Stations in U.S. Territories
- Unincorporated Territory
- Office of Insular Affairs
- Application of the U.S. Constitution in U.S. Insular Areas
- Department of the Interior Definitions of Insular Area Political Organizations
- United States District Court decision addressing the distinction between Incorporated vs Unincorporated territories