May 21, 2024

Territories of the United States


| Overview | History | Establishment | Names | Limitations |

Published: February 2, 2024

1. Overview:

A collection of geographical areas in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea are referred to as Territories of the United States. Although these territories of the United States are governed by the federal government of the United States, they do not have the same status as the 50 states of countries. According to land area, American Samoa is the smallest populated US territory.

Due to their complex histories, these regions frequently combine elements of American culture with those of other localities, giving exchange participants a singular experience. International participants in Interexchange programs get the chance to live and work in several territories of the United States, namely Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

The last state to join the union, Hawaii, was admitted on August 21, 1959, bringing the total number of states in the United States are fifty. Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands are just a few of the significant territories the United States has in addition to its states.

In the past, several of the states that make up our country’s fifty were either territories or portions of bigger regions. 31 territories or portions became states in the end. For instance, Missouri was created from the Missouri Territory, and from the unorganized territory that resulted after Missouri was made into a state, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota, as well as the majority of Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana, as well as portions of Colorado and Minnesota, later became states.

2. History:

Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands are the current top five territories of the United States. Each of these US territories has some degree of self-governance, which is controlled by the United States government.

The Organic Act of 1900, also known as the Foraker Act, made Puerto Rico a US territory. As a result of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became American property. Since that statute was passed, it has existed as a territory. Although it has frequently been brought up as a potential new state, Congress has made no significant effort.

The U.S. Virgin Islands were added to the territories of the United States by the Organic Act of the Virgin Islands of the United States of 1936. Guam became a territory in 1950 as a result of the Guam Organic Act of 1950. The original 1936 act was replaced in 1954 by the Virgin Islands Amended Organic Act.

By Security Council Resolution 21, the United States has been in charge of the Northern Mariana Islands since Japan ended World War II. In a referendum, the residents of the Islands decided to join Guam; however, Guam rejected the idea in 1969. American Samoa is regarded as being disorganized since it lacks an organic government. American Samoa has continued to be linked to the US despite this. The United States has several other uninhabited territories in addition to the five major ones.

3. Establishment of territories in the United States:

The journey to statehood has often involved first being a territory or portion of a territory and then seeking statehood. Many of the articles written after the first states ratified the Constitution have explained. A territory is constituted when an organic act organizing it is passed. The first was the Northwest Ordinance, established by the Continental Congress in 1787, and others have been passed by Congress throughout the history of the country.

Except for a small number in American Samoa, residents of these territories are U.S. citizens, pay federal taxes like Social Security and Medicare but not federal income tax, and are free to travel around the country. The territories of the United States have their governments and choose their governors, just like states in the United States do.

The largest state in terms of land area is Alaska which is followed by Texas and California in the United States.

Even though the US consists of 50 states plus the District of Columbia, the US territories are frequently overlooked. The US federal government governs a collection of islands and unincorporated territories in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. They include American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Minor Outlying Islands.

4. Names of territories in the United States:

  • American Samoa
  • Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • Federated States of Micronesia
  • Guam
  • Republic of the Marshall Islands
  • Republic of Palau
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

 5. Limitations of territories in the United States:

Territories lack the complete recognition that states do since they are not states. While not being states, every territory has a representative it can send to the House of Representatives. All populations of the other four territories, with the possible exception of American Samoa, are citizens of the United States. The presidential primary elections are open to territory residents, although they are not allowed to vote in the regular presidential election.

In Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, 579 United States (2016), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that territories lack sovereignty. Following Hurricane Maria, the governor of Puerto Rico and others claimed that the territories lacked understanding and support and were helpless.

Although being citizens of four out of the five territories, they are unable to cast a ballot in the main presidential election and only send delegates to the House. Although they have considerable self-government, they lack sovereignty, and the fact that a country is a territory rather than a state means that it is subject to many restrictions.