In 1945, the Senate Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs held a hearing on S227, a bill proposing independence for Puerto Rico. This was the second Tydings bill, following the Tydings Bill of 1936. It was first introduced in 1943 and was reintroduced in 1945. The document setting up the hearing began with a statement about the political status of Puerto Rico and two other territories.
“In assuming this responsibility [the territories of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines], three duties devolved upon Congress:
- To establish a civil government,
- To promote the welfare of the inhabitants, and
- To take final action at the proper time as to the definite and permanent political status of these islands and their peoples.”
The document went on to note that both the Philippines and Cuba had been granted independence at that point, the Philippines still being in a transition which would end the following year. Puerto Rico had not yet been settled into a permanent political status, the document said, but “Congress has full authority under the Constitution and the laws to make such determination, with Presidential approval and without intervention by the people of Puerto Rico” but “It is deemed fair that the people of Puerto Rico shall nevertheless have a voice and vote in determining under what conditions their whole future life is to be established.”
This was the introduction to a bill that provided independence for Puerto Rico.
Terms of the independence
The bill specified that the voters of Puerto Rico could have a say in whether or not they became independent. It also set out the terms of independence:
- The U.S. federal government would approve of a constitution for Puerto Rico.
- All the land in Puerto Rico, except U.S. military bases, would belong to the new nation of Puerto Rico.
- That there would be a gradual change in tariffs for goods between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, ending up in 20 years with Puerto Rico paying the same tariff as any foreign country to the United States and vice versa. Puerto Rico could speed up the transition if they chose to.
- That Puerto Rico would take over any remaining obligations to Spain from the Treaty of Paris.
- The President of the United States would proclaim Puerto Rico’s independence and invite other heads of state to recognize the new Republic of Puerto Rico.
- U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico could, in the first sixth month’s of Puerto Rico’s independence, declare their desire to remain U.S. citizens. Any who did not do so would become Puerto Rico citizens instead. After the six months, the same immigration laws would apply to Puerto Erico as to all other foreign countries.
- The federal government would take on all the debt held by Puerto Rico, as a loan from the U.S. to Puerto Rico.
- Within six months of independence, Congress would make a plan for economic support of Puerto Rico by the United States. The President would recommend to Congress whatever he felt was appropriate after reading this plan.
Then first witness was Juan Augusto Perea, representing the independence movement on the Island. He said that there were three options for Puerto Rico’s status: statehood, “permanent colonialdom,” and independence. He said that he was sure the United States did not want Puerto Rico as a state, so the real choice was “independence or nothing.” He called for a straight up or down vote on independence, claiming that Puerto Rico would choose independence if given that choice.
“They are lukewarm and noncommittal,” he admitted, “but as soon as the Tydings bill is favorably reported by this committee they will be all for it.”
Senator Hayden asked whether Puerto Rico wanted the same independence as the Philippines. Hearing that they did, he then pointed out that the Philippines had had an active independence movement, whereas Puerto Rico did not. Perea repeated, for the third time, that Puerto Rico would support independence if Congress passed the bill.
The citizenship question
The next witness, Edward Shaughnessy, Assistant Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, proposed that the default option for Puerto Ricans living in a state when independence was declared should be U.S. citizenship. That is, instead of declaring that they wanted to keep U.S. citizenship, U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico and living in a state would have to declare Puerto Rican citizenship fi they wanted to give up their U.S. citizenship.
People born in a state and living in Puerto Rico would, he said when asked, keep their U.S. citizenship because they were born in the United States. People born in Puerto Rico and living in Puerto Rico would have to declare their desire for U.S. citizenship instead of Puerto Rican citizenship. Senator Hayden, who was born in the Territory of Arizona, pointed out that this is how territories had been handled in the past, and Shaughnessy agreed.
At no point was it suggested that people could keep dual citizenship of Puerto Rico and the United States.
Captain G.B. Parks of the Navy asked for an amendment to the bill which would allow the U.S. military to expand the military presence in Puerto Rico if needed. Dr. Gilberto Concepcion claimed that the great majority of Puerto Ricans favored independence and that there had been a strong independence movement in Puerto Rico since its days under Spain. He also said, when asked, that 100% of Puerto Ricans would agree to expanded U.S. military bases after independence.
Jorge Luis Cordova of the Statehood Association called the bill unfair because it assumed that independence would be the outcome and did not offer statehood as an option. He described the Tydings bill as a matter of the United States “washing its hands” of Puerto Rico. Cordova claimed that the majority in Puerto Rico would choose statehood, just as previous witnesses had claimed that most Puerto Ricans wanted independence.
Senator Tydings said the he didn’t think that the U.S. Senate would pass a statehood bill for Puerto Rico. Cordova responded, “We have a great deal more faith in the spirit of fairness and justice in the American people at large. It must be pointed out, sir, that there has never been any concerted effort on the part of Puerto Rico or anyone to sell Congress on the idea that Puerto Rico is entitled to statehood.”
He asked for a bill giving a choice between statehood and independence.
In the end, the bill died in committee and was never voted on by the Senate. Much of the discussion in the lengthy hearings sounds the same as the discussions held today on the status of Puerto Rico.