Mt. Rushmore is one of the most recognizable tourist attractions in the United States. At the memorial, the faces of four U.S. Presidents are carved into the side of the mountain.
To reach the best view of the memorial, visitors walk along the Avenue of Flags. There are 56 flags: one for each state, plus six for the territories and Washington, D.C. Puerto Rico is included.
While the National Parks Service page for the Avenue of Flags correctly gives 1898 for the year that Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States, the marker along the avenue is marked with a different year: 1952.
What happened in 1952?
Puerto Rico created and Congress approved (after changes) a constitution for the territory. A constitution is an important step before statehood.
In 1952, Puerto Rico took on the name “the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.” Like Kentucky, Massachusetts, and all the other states and territories called “commonwealth,” Puerto Rico is no different from places that don’t use the name “commonwealth.”
In the United States, “commonwealth” has no legal meaning. Virginia is a commonwealth and California is not, but there is no legal difference between these two states. The Merriam-Webster dictionary explains it like this:
The distinction is in name alone. The commonwealths are just like any other state in their politics and laws, and there is no difference in their relationship to the nation as a whole.
For Puerto Rico, this is confusing. Many people believe that the “commonwealth” gives Puerto Rico a special relationship with the United States. This is not true. The architects of the constitution planned for a transition to statehood. This is the normal pattern for territories of the United States.
Numerous legal documents, from 1952 until now, say that there was no change in Puerto Rico’s political status in 1952. Historians agree.
The commonwealth myth
The “commonwealth” party in Puerto Rico claims that the commonwealth can be negotiated into something else: an “enhanced” or “evolved” or “perfected” commonwealth. Even now, more than 50 years after the adoption of the constitution, there are politicians on the Island who claim that they are busy negotiating this special relationship.
The United States government, including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, have all said that there will be no special relationship. Puerto Rico cannot force the federal government to agree to the terms of the “enhanced commonwealth.” In fact, the “commonwealth” party can’t even agree on what those terms would be.
The practical alternative to Puerto Rico’s territorial status is statehood. As a state, Puerto Rico would have the same rights and responsibilities as the other 50 states. Tell your legislators that you want them to support HR 4901 the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act. Puerto Rico will become a state under this law, and the plaque at Mt. Rushmore can be changed to reflect that.