The current “commonwealth” regime of territorial government is more “colonial” and “imperialist” than incorporation as part of the transition to full equality of U.S. citizenship rights under statehood as approved by the people and their elected government.

A reader recently responded to the statement by PR51ST that “No American territory voting for statehood has even been denied admission to the Union.” In a Facebook comment the reader suggested the term “incorporated” should be inserted between the words “American” and “territory.” This comment set off a lively discussion which we’ve enjoyed.

However, admission to statehood has never been limited to incorporated territories. Rather, it is U.S. citizenship of the people constituting the body politic of a territory that serves as the primary criteria for duly constituted new states to be admitted to the Union.

That was true of territories settled by U.S. citizens, as well as 18 territories annexed by the U.S. in which Congress conferred U.S. citizenship on non-citizen populations. That includes all or part of 15 states formed from territories  acquired under the Louisiana Purchase as well as Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii.

Both California and Texas were admitted as states without being classified as “incorporated” territories during the annexation and statehood admission process. Any territory annexed or declared to be under U.S. sovereignty in the same act or subsequently can be admitted as a state by simple majority vote in Congress. Since 1796 every territory admitted to the union – like Puerto Rico today – had a duly constituted U.S. citizen body politic.

Accordingly, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act (H.R. 4901) will enable Puerto Rico to be incorporated, but not to qualify the territory for admission. Rather, incorporation would  end the application of the non-incorporation doctrine so important provisions of the U.S. Constitution will be extended directly as part of the transition to statehood.

That provision of H.R. 4901, allowing direct application of the U.S. Constitution does not mean only “incorporated” territories can be admitted to the union. That incorrect assumption can be used to imply or assert that Puerto Rico is not yet eligible and qualified for statehood, despite the 2012 and 2017 pro-statehood majority votes and formal petitions of the duly-constituted and democratic territorial government.

We all sometimes become beguiled by the ambiguities of the “incorporation” and “non-incorporation” dichotomy that perpetuates denial of equal citizenship for Puerto Rico that comes exclusively through statehood. It behooves us recognize that classification as “incorporated” or “unincorporated” is politically significant only as long as Puerto Rico remains a territory.

Those statutory classifications have little or no real relevance to the debate or constitutional process related to statehood or nationhood as post-territorial future status options.

Certainly, under Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution the terms “incorporation” and “non-incorporation” do not appear or exist as criteria for or condition related to admission of a new state. Nor under any federal court ruling or federal statute is incorporation a pre-admission litmus test or requirement for statehood.

Accordingly, it is not true that the word “incorporation” has to be inserted to validate the statement that no territory voting for statehood has been denied admission. The historical record is clear: no organized and duly constituted U.S. territory populated by U.S. citizens that has petitioned for statehood has ever been indefinitely or permanently denied admission to statehood.

That is true not only of territories in which statehood got a majority of votes in a referendum. Most territories were admitted based on petitions of the territorial government or adoption of a territorial constitution by majority rule. However, Colorado and Nebraska were admitted after statehood was rejected by popular vote, followed by statehood petitions from the territory government.

Puerto Rico is the only current territory to petition for statehood and it does so based on two democratic majority votes in 2012 and 2017 to end territorial status in favor of statehood. Of course, admission is subject to terms for admission prescribed by Congress and ratified in a final act of self determination.

Before the federal judiciary invented the non-incorporation doctrine for three territories populated by non citizens, several territories populated by U.S. citizens were admitted without as strong a record of majority rule favoring admission as Puerto Rico. In addition, Puerto Rico is more developed politically and economically and more integrated into the legal, political and social culture of the nation than any of the territories admitted to the union before 1900. It was thereafter in 1901 the courts invented jurisprudence distinguishing incorporated and non incorporated territories for purposes of applying the Constitution in the latter.

In an infamous ruling invading the power of Congress over territories, in 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court ended the Northwest Ordinance tradition applying the Constitution in all U.S. citizen populated territories. That left application of the Constitution to U.S. nationals and citizens in five territories to the discretion of Congress and the courts. The classification of territories as incorporated or not is gratuitous and anachronistic, especially with respect to self determination by U.S. citizen populated territories that petition for statehood based on majority rule.

Like the 32 other U.S. citizen populated territories before Puerto Rico, the question presented by H.R. 4901 is how long will Congress deny equality to millions of American citizens after a majority vote and petitions of their government for admission? In every territory admitted as a state there was an anti-statehood opposition movement. But Puerto Rico has a smaller independence and anti-statehood faction than territories like Colorado, Wisconsin, and Nebraska before admission.

Moreover, there is a far higher rate of English proficiency in Puerto Rico than in Louisiana or New Mexico when they were admitted. In the case of Louisiana, the War of 1812 created far more adverse political and economic circumstances than Puerto Rico faces today, but Congress realized the only thing worse than granting statehood would be to deny it any longer.

To revive the political and legal idioms making the term “incorporation” the exclusive path to statehood is to make non-incorporation a pretext for denying self determination to millions of Americans.



4 Responses

  1. Since 1898 US invaded PR all our traditions began to change and now we are far away from our España heritage. These 120+ years have made us feel that we are living in the melting pot of the states. So let’s it going on.

  2. Great Article! Congress has the power, under Article 4 (Territorial Clause), to admit the US Territory of Puerto Rico, as a State, any time it wants.
    -Equal US Citizenship-Rights for Puerto Ricans-US Veterans, now!-
    Since 1898, the US Federal Government undemocratically controls the US Territory of Puerto Rico (PR)-(with more US Citizens than 21 States)– that have NO Federal “consent of the governed”, as Patriots demand Equal Civil Rights-Fairness; revocation of unjust Laws; a Non-Territorial/Non-Colonial Status!

    FACTS: Today, millions of 2d class US Citizens-US Veterans in Puerto Rico (PR) (part of “We the People”) have: NO Vote for US President; NO just Representation in US Congress; NO Parity in Federal Laws, Programs, or Funding (like in Social Security, MEDICARE, MEDICAID, Veterans, Infrastructure, Education, Emergency…) ; NO permanent statutory US Citizenship (even if moving to a State)…!

    Plus, the Federal Government controls PR’s Borders, Currency, Laws, Security, Economy, Trade, etc.–under the unjust/ trite Territorial Clause (1787); racist Insular Cases (1901-1925); other un-equal Laws—where the US Constitution is not fully applied to Puerto Rico! (Unfairly going on for over 125+ Years)!

    Besides, Puerto Ricans face a magna CRISIS and Exodus to the States–which major ROOT components are-Economic; Fiscal; Infrastructure; Social; and Territorial Status—where each PART affects the other. The Federal undemocratic Territorial status affects everything; brings instability…; ties PR’s Hands to fairly compete-grow the Economy; limits progress; goes against our US Democratic founding principles!
    The Federal Government should be the Servant of ALL the People; NOT the Master of some!
    The People with Equal US Citizenship/ Rights come first, not a “separate & unequal” Status! In our US Republic, the power resides with all “We the People” (made up by individuals)–per our Declaration of Independence that calls for “Consent of the Governed”; noble US Constitution that calls for Equal Rights-Fairness, and a Republican form of Government or a Representative Democracy (“a Government of the People, by the People, and for the People”–Lincoln)! NO Federal Vote results in NO Democracy!
    Even if one US Citizen (Individual) doesn’t have full Rights, it’s one too many!
    The FEDERAL GOVERNMENT can end this unjust inequity now, but, has not done so! Instead, some generalize; provide biased EXCUSES that blame the Victim; are closet racists…; create double standards not applied to other Territories before PR. This results in a stalemate that perpetuates Federal subjugation!
    Puerto Ricans Sacrifice & Contribute to our USA since 1513!
    Hispanic US Puerto Ricans (PR) are about 10m strong (most live in the States) as they are integrated; greatly sacrifice, and loyally contribute (in all fields of endeavor) to our diverse USA; patriotically shed sweat, blood, and tears for our US Flag (WWI; WW-II; Korea; Vietnam; Global War on Terrorism…). Also, PR pays more Federal Taxes than 6 States; is a US Market that creates over a million US Jobs… PR Ancestors (1st Governor of PR/Crew) came to Florida (in 1513)-107 years before the Pilgrims…; others fought in the US War of Independence (1776)…till today. PR helps develop and defend our now USA!
    Silence to discrimination; supports injustice!
    You can’t have it both ways; either support Equal Rights or you allow Federal discrimination!
    FIX: Our Federal Government must focus on Equal US Citizenship-Rights for All (under our US Flag); LET THE PEOPLE VOTE-conduct a defined/ binding PR Plebiscite with non-Territorial options:
    • STATEHOOD-MEANS: Admission to our diverse “UNION of STATES”– under US Constitution/ Laws/ Democracy; EQUAL US Citizenship with full Rights, Benefits, and Responsibilities; with PR-STATE Identity, Constitution, Flag, Sovereignty… as other States & other US Citizens have…
    • INDEPENDENCE- MEANS: Puerto Rico National Sovereignty; PR Constitution/Laws, PR Citizenship…; with loss of US Constitution & statutory US Citizenship, Rights, and Benefits…
    • INDEPENDENCE with Free Association PACT-MEANS: Puerto Rico National Sovereignty; PR Constitution/ Laws, PR Citizenship…; with loss of US Constitution & statutory US Citizenship, Rights, and Benefits… But, with a negotiated/limited PACT between Independent Nations on Terms (like trade, defense, etc.) that can be terminated by either side…
    In a UNION-each State is stronger than by itself; complements others, with progress–for the Good of All!
    “En la UNIÓN está la Fuerza!”
    US Citizens in PR have voted to END the Territorial-Colonial Status, per local Plebiscites (2012, 2017 & 2020) where Statehood won; Independence got only 2-5% of the Vote… Puerto Ricans have proven loyalty to our US; cherish their US Citizenship! Yet, Congress doesn’t do Right for Equal Citizenship!

    Only Statehood guarantees a permanent statutory US Citizenship as the US Constitution/Laws end upon Independence. Statutory US Citizens (by Territorial Clause/Jones Act-1917), in the STATES, have a Stake in this just Fight– as they can lose their non-permanent statutory US Citizenship! THUS, the US Congress must let them Vote in any Plebiscite or naturalize those in the States (per 14th Amendment).
    “We must Guard against a Tyranny of a Majority!”
    In our evolving US Constitution, it’s clear that the Power should reside with “We the People” (made up by Individuals). However, our Federal Government incongruently does not act to end PR’s Federal undemocratic Territorial Status; or amend/ revoke unjust-unequal Laws that limit Progress.
    “Equality for a more perfect UNION!”
    Today, Hispanic-Puerto Ricans are being treated unjustly by their Federal Government (Legislative, Executive & Courts)-that, at times, misinterpret the US Constitution or do nothing for Equal Civil Rights for PR or mean–“All People are Equal; but, some People are more Equal than others!”
    “We the People”-Patriots call to Civic Action for FAIRNESS-JUSTICE!
    THE TIME IS NOW: demand our Federal Government take ACTION to ensure Equality; Democracy:
    (1) Do a PR Plebiscite on viable Non-Territorial Options—STATEHOOD vs INDEPENDENCE vs
    INDEPENDENCE-Free Association PACT-Support HR-2757-PR Status Act (w/amended definitions).
    (2) Revoke un-just Laws (like the racist “Insular Cases”, 1920 Jones Act…); Incorporate Puerto Rico.
    (3) Amend US Constitution to clearly protect Equal Civil Rights-Fairness for ALL “We The People”…
    (4) Update the Territorial Clause; provide more Rights & a Status limit; end unjust Federal domination…
    Patriots call to Civic ACTION for PR Equal Civil Rights- EDUCATE on Facts; CONTACT: MEDIA; US Congress: & US President:
    UNITED-with Truth, Reason, Justice, and Civic Action for the Good of All!
    BY: DENNIS O. FREYTES (MPA, MHR, BBA); FL Veterans Hall of Fame; Community Servant Leader

  3. YES! Congress has the power, under Article 4 (Territorial Clause), to admit the US Territory of Puerto Rico, as a State, any time it wants. But, we should fight the legal fight to revoke the racists Insular Cases and to Incorporate PR… that will call attention to our just fight for–

  4. YES! Congress has the power, under Article 4 (Territorial Clause), to admit the US Territory of Puerto Rico, as a State, any time it wants. But, we should fight in the Federal Courts–to revoke the racists Insular Cases and in US Congress to Incorporate PR… as UNITED (based on facts), we call attention to our just fight for- Equal US Citizenship-Rights for Puerto Ricans-US Veterans, now!-

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