Territories of the United States
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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, U.S.|
|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)|
of the United States
Territories of the United States are sub-national administrative divisions directly overseen by the United States Federal Government. Unlike U.S. states and Native American tribes which exercise limited sovereignty alongside the federal government, territories are without sovereignty.[note 1] The territories are classified by whether they are incorporated and whether they have an "organized" government through an Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. has sixteen territories in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.[note 2][note 3] Five of the territories are permanently inhabited and are classified as unincorporated territories—they are American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The other eleven territories are small islands, atolls, and reefs with no native or permanent population. Of those eleven, only one is classified as an incorporated territory. Two territories (Bajo Nuevo Bank and Serranilla Bank) are administered by Colombia.
Historically, territories were created to govern newly acquired land. Most territories eventually attained statehood. Other territories at some point administered by the U.S., such as the Philippines, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau, eventually became independent countries.
Many organized incorporated territories of the United States existed from 1789 to 1959. The first were the Northwest and the Southwest territories, and the last were the Alaska Territory and the Hawaii Territory. Of these, 31 territories applied for and were admitted as states. In the process of organizing and promoting territories to statehood, some areas of a territory lacking sufficient development and population densities were temporarily orphaned from parts of a larger territory after residents voted on whether to petition Congress for statehood. For example, when a portion of the Missouri Territory became the state of Missouri, the remaining portion of the territory, consisting of all the states of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota, most of Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana, and parts of Colorado and Minnesota, effectively became an unorganized territory.
U.S. territories tend to have infrastructure and telecommunications inferior to the United States mainland; for example, American Samoa's Internet speed was found to be slower than several Eastern European countries. Poverty rates are also higher in the territories than in the states.
- 1 Existing territories and their legal status
- 2 Incorporated and unincorporated territories
- 3 Current U.S. territories by group
- 4 Classification of former U.S. territories and administered areas
- 5 Cultural image
- 6 Galleries
- 7 See also
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Existing territories and their legal status
Territories have always been a part of the United States. 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 territories
The U.S. has five territories[note 4] 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. U.S. citizenship at birth is granted in four of the five major territories. 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 rest of the U.S. without a visa. However, to become U.S. citizens, American Samoans must naturalize as if they were foreigners. American Samoans don't have natural-born U.S. citizenship because the U.S. Congress has not passed any legislation giving citizenship to residents of American Samoa (unlike the other 4 inhabited territories).[note 5]
Each of these territories is an organized,[note 6] self-governing territory with three branches of government, a locally elected governor, and a territorial legislature.
Each territory also elects a non-voting member (or a non-voting resident commissioner in the case of Puerto Rico) 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 nominate 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. The District of Columbia also has a non-voting delegate.
Every four years, U.S. political parties nominate their presidential candidates at conventions, which include delegates from these territories. However, the U.S. citizens living in territories such as Puerto Rico cannot vote in the general election for president of the U.S. Non-citizen nationals in American Samoa also can't vote for the president.
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 current governors of these territories are the following: Lolo Matalasi Moliga (American Samoa), Eddie Baza Calvo (Guam), Ralph Torres (Northern Mariana Islands), Ricardo Rosselló (Puerto Rico), and Kenneth Mapp (U.S. Virgin Islands).
|Capital||Largest town||Status||Date acquired|
|American Samoa||AS||Polynesia & South Pacific||197.1 km2 (76 sq mi)||51,504||Pago Pago||Tafuna||Unincorporated & unorganized||April 17, 1900|
|Guam||GU||Micronesia & North Pacific||543 km2 (210 sq mi)||162,742||Hagåtña||Dededo||Unincorporated & organized||April 11, 1899|
|Northern Mariana Islands||MP||Micronesia & North Pacific||463.63 km2 (179 sq mi)||52,263||Capitol Hill, Saipan[note 7]||Garapan||Unincorporated & organized (commonwealth)||November 4, 1986[note 8]|
|Puerto Rico||PR||Caribbean & North Atlantic||9,104 km2 (3,515 sq mi)||3,337,177||San Juan||San Juan||Unincorporated & organized (commonwealth)||April 11, 1899|
|Virgin Islands (U.S.)||VI||Caribbean & North Atlantic||346.36 km2 (134 sq mi)||104,901||Charlotte Amalie||Charlotte Amalie||Unincorporated & organized||March 31, 1917|
- American Samoa – Territory since 1900; after the end of the Second Samoan Civil War, the Samoan Islands were divided into two political regions, with the U.S. controlling the eastern half of the islands. In 1900, the Treaty of Cession of Tutuila took effect. The Manuʻa islands became part of American Samoa in 1904, and Swains Island became part of American Samoa in 1925. The US Congress ratified American Samoa's treaties in 1929. American Samoa is locally self-governing under a constitution last revised in 1967.[note 9] People born in American Samoa are non-citizen nationals. American Samoa is technically unorganized. The main island is Tutuila.
- Guam – Territory since 1899; Guam was acquired at the end of the Spanish–American War. Guam is the home of Naval Base Guam and Andersen Air Force Base. Guam was organized under the Guam Organic Act of 1950; this act granted U.S. citizenship to Guamanians, and gave Guam a local government. In 1968, the act was amended so that a governor of Guam could be elected.
- Northern Mariana Islands – Commonwealth since 1986, the Northern Mariana Islands was part of the Spanish Empire until 1899, then part of the German Empire from 1899 to 1919; it was administered by Japan as a League of Nations mandate until the islands were conquered by the United States during World War II. In 1947, it became part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), administered by the United States as U.N. trustee. The other constituents of the TTPI were Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands. A Covenant to Establish the Northern Mariana Islands as a commonwealth in political union with the United States was negotiated by representatives of both political bodies; it was approved by Northern Mariana Islands voters in 1975 and came into force on March 24, 1976. The Northern Mariana Islands constitution partially took effect on January 9, 1978, and fully took effect in November 1986 (under the Covenant Agreement). The Covenant is one of the two principal documents of the multi-document CNMI Constitution, the second being the local Constitution itself, approved in a 1977 referendum. In 1986, the Northern Mariana Islands formally exited U.N. trusteeship. The abbreviations "CNMI" and "NMI" are both used in the Commonwealth. Most of the residents of the Northern Mariana Islands live on the main island, Saipan.
- Puerto Rico – Unincorporated territory since 1899; Puerto Rico was acquired at the end of the Spanish–American War. Puerto Rico has been a commonwealth since 1952. Puerto Rico was organized under the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950 (Public Law 600). 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. A Puerto Rico attorney has called Puerto Rico "semi-sovereign". There is a statehood movement in Puerto Rico — its goal is to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. See also Political status of Puerto Rico.
- U.S. Virgin Islands — Purchased by the U.S. from Denmark in 1917, and organized under the Revised Organic Act of the Virgin Islands in 1954. U.S. Citizenship was granted in 1927. The main islands are Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix.
Except for Guam, the inhabited territories have had negative population growth between 2010 and 2017. The inhabited territories also have high poverty rates, but also high Human Development Index (HDI) rankings. All poverty rates are higher than the mainland United States. Four of the five territories have an official language other than English.
|Territory||Official language(s)||Population growth
(2010 to 2017)
|Poverty rate (2009)||Life expectancy (years)||HDI ranking||GDP (dollars)||Traffic Drives||Time Zone||Area Code (+1)|
|American Samoa||English and Samoan||−2.39%||65%[note 10]||73.4||0.827 (Very High HDI)||$658,000,000||On the Right||Samoan Time (UTC-11)||684|
|Guam||English and Chamorro||+2.12%||22.9%||76||0.901 (Very High HDI)||$5,793,000,000||On the Right||Chamorro Time (UTC+10)||671|
|Northern Mariana Islands||English, Chamorro,
|−0.68%||52.3%||75.4||0.875 (Very High HDI)||$1,242,000,000||On the Right||Chamorro Time (UTC+10)||670|
|Puerto Rico||English and Spanish||−10.43%||43.5%[note 11]||80.9||0.845 (Very High HDI)||$103,135,000,000||On the Right||Atlantic Time (UTC−4)||787, 939|
|Virgin Islands (U.S.)||English||−3.25%||22.4%||79.4||0.894 (Very High HDI)||$3,765,000,000||On the Left||Atlantic Time (UTC−4)||340|
The territories do not have counties as administrative divisions.[note 12] The U.S. Census Bureau counts the following as county-equivalents: the 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico, the 3 main islands of the U.S. Virgin Islands, all of Guam, the 4 municipalities of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the 3 districts and 2 atolls of American Samoa. The U.S. Census Bureau also counts each of the islands in the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands as county-equivalents.
The U.S. has eleven territories with no native or permanent population, called the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands. 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.
The status of several territories is disputed: Navassa Island is disputed by Haiti, Wake Island is disputed by the Marshall Islands, Swains Island (part of American Samoa) is disputed by Tokelau, and Serranilla Bank and Bajo Nuevo Bank (both administered by Colombia) are disputed by Colombia, Jamaica, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
|Bajo Nuevo Bank||North Atlantic Ocean & Caribbean Sea||110 km2 (42 sq mi)||0||Unincorporated & unorganized||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.|
|Baker Island[a]||North Pacific Ocean||2.1 km2 (0.81 sq mi)||0||Unincorporated & unorganized||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||Unincorporated & unorganized||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]||South Pacific Ocean & Polynesia||4.75 km2 (1.83 sq mi)||0||Unincorporated & unorganized||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)||0||Unincorporated & unorganized||Last used by the U.S. Department of Defense in 2004|
|Kingman Reef[a]||North Pacific Ocean & Polynesia||18 km2 (6.9 sq mi)||0||Unincorporated & unorganized||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.|
|Midway Atoll||North Pacific Ocean||6.2 km2 (2.4 sq mi)||40||Unincorporated & unorganized||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||North Atlantic Ocean & Caribbean Sea||5.4 km2 (2.1 sq mi)||0||Unincorporated & unorganized||Territory since 1857. Claimed by Haiti.|
|Palmyra Atoll||North Pacific Ocean & Polynesia||12 km2 (5 sq mi)||20||Incorporated & unorganized||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.|
|Serranilla Bank||North Atlantic Ocean & Caribbean Sea||350 km2 (140 sq mi)||0||Unincorporated & unorganized||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.|
|Wake Island[a]||North Pacific Ocean & Micronesia||7.4 km2 (2.9 sq mi)||150||Unincorporated & unorganized||Territory since 1898; host to the Wake Island Airfield administered by the U.S. Air Force; claimed by the Marshall Islands.|
Incorporated and unincorporated territories
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
In 1966, Congress transformed the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico into an Article III district court—the only instance in history for a territory that has not yet attained statehood, which sets Puerto Rico apart judicially from the other unincorporated territories. This has caused at least one U.S. district judge to express the opinion that Puerto Rico is no longer unincorporated:
The court … today holds that in the particular case of Puerto Rico, a monumental constitutional evolution based on continued and repeated congressional annexation has taken place. Given the same, the territory has evolved from an unincorporated to an incorporated one. Congress today, thus, must afford Puerto Rico and the 4,000,000 United States citizens residing therein all constitutional guarantees. To hold otherwise, would amount to the court blindfolding itself to continue permitting Congress per secula seculorum to switch on and off the Constitution.
Express or implied?
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 territories
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
Part of the act of incorporation is on the people of the territory, not on the territory per se, by extending the privileges and immunities clause of the constitution to them, such as when it was extended to Puerto Rico in 1947 (despite this, Puerto Rico remains officially unincorporated).
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.
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.
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....
Moreso, the needful rules and regulations of the territorial clause must yield to the Constitution and the inherent constraints imposed on it in dealing with the privileges and immunities of the inhabitants of the incorporated territory.
Notice must be taken that incorporation of a territory takes place through the incorporation of its inhabitants, not of the territory per se. As such, those inhabitants receive the full impact of the U.S. Constitution, except for those provisions that deal specifically with the federal character of the Union.
Current U.S. territories by group
Incorporated organized territories
With the exception of Washington DC, a special type of territory called a federal district, no incorporated organized territory has existed since 1959, when both Alaska and Hawaii were granted Admission to the Union.
Incorporated unorganized territories
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. Currently, only Palmyra Atoll is incorporated and unorganized.
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 territories
Unincorporated unorganized territories
The U.S. Minor Outlying Islands have no permanent human population. All are unincorporated and unorganized, except for Palmyra Atoll, which is incorporated and unorganized. There are non-permanent human populations at Palmyra Atoll, Wake Island and Midway Atoll.
The U.S. exercises some degree of extraterritorial jurisdiction in several 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.
Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau gained independence under the Compact of Free Association (COFA), which gives the U.S. full authority over aid and defense in exchange for continuing access to U.S. health care, government services such as the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Postal Service, and the right for COFA citizens to work freely in the U.S. and vice versa.
The United States exercises a high degree of control in defense, funding, and government services in:
Organized territories are 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's plenary powers under the territorial clause of Article IV, sec. 3, of the U.S. Constitution.
Classification of former U.S. territories and administered areas
Former incorporated organized territories of the United States
Former unincorporated territories of the United States (incomplete)
- 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 government
- 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 States
- 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.
- 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 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)
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September 2018)
In his book The Not-Quite States of America (a book about the U.S. territories), author Doug Mack said the following about the U.S. territories: "It seemed that, right around the turn of the twentieth century, the territories were part of the national mythology and the everyday conversation. [...] A century or so ago, Americans didn't just know about the territories but cared about them, argued about them. But what changed? How and why did they disappear from the national conversation?" He also said, "The territories have made us who we are. They represent the USA's place in the world. They've been a reflection of our national mood in nearly every period of American history."
In 2018, regarding a bill to make Puerto Rico the 51st state, representative Stephanie Murphy of Florida said the following: "The hard truth is that Puerto Rico’s lack of political power allows Washington to treat Puerto Rico like an afterthought, as the federal government’s inadequate preparation for and response to Hurricane Maria made crystal clear.” Similarly, the Governor of Puerto Rico (Ricardo Rosselló) said the following about Puerto Rico: "Because we don’t have political power, because we don’t have representatives, [no] senators, no vote for president, we are treated as an afterthought." Rosselló also said that Puerto Rico is the "oldest, most populous colony in the world".
Current territorial non-voting members of the House of Representatives
Uninhabited territories (U.S. Minor Outlying Islands)
- According to the 2016 Supreme Court ruling Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle, territories don't have their own sovereignty.
- Excluding Bajo Nuevo Bank and Serranilla Bank (which are administered by Colombia), the U.S. has fourteen territories.
- Some residents of Sikaiana (also known as the Stewart Islands) believe they are U.S. Citizens and that Sikaiana is part of the United States: "They base their claim on the assertion that the Stewart Islands were ceded to King Kamehameha IV and accepted by him as part of the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1856 and, thus, were part of the Republic of Hawaii (which was declared in 1893) when it was annexed to the United States by law in 1898." However, Sikaiana was not included within "Hawaii and its dependencies".
- Two of these territories are called "commonwealths".
- In Tuana v. United States, it was ruled that citizenship-at-birth is not a right in unincorporated regions of the U.S. — current citizenship-at-birth in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is granted only because the U.S. Congress passed legislation granting citizenship to those territories. The Supreme Court declined to rule on Tuana v. United States.
- American Samoa is technically unorganized, but it is de facto organized.
- Because Saipan is governed as a single municipality, most publications refer to the capital as "Saipan"
- U.S. sovereignty took effect on November 3, 1986 (Eastern Time) and on November 4, 1986 (local Northern Mariana Islands [Chamorro] time).
- The revised constitution of American Samoa was approved on June 2, 1967 by Stewart L. Udall, then U.S. Secretary of the Interior, under authority granted on June 29, 1951. It became effective on July 1, 1967.
- American Samoa's poverty rate (65%) is from 2017. In 2009, the poverty rate in American Samoa was 57.8%
- Puerto Rico's poverty rate is from 2017.
- American Samoa is divided into 14 counties, but the U.S. Census Bureau treats these counties as minor civil divisions.
- "Definition of Terms - 1120 Acquisition of U.S. Nationality in U.S. Territories and Possessions" (PDF). U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7- Consular Affairs. U.S. Department of State.
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GAO. United States General Accounting Office. U.S. Insular Areas. Application of the U.S. Constitution. November 1997. Page 39 (Page 41 of PDF). Retrieved September 19, 2018.
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- Bartholomew H. Sparrow (2005). Sanford Levinson; Bartholomew H. Sparrow, eds. The Louisiana Purchase and American Expansion, 1803–1898. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 232. ISBN 978-0-7425-4984-5. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- 8 FAM 301.1-2. State Department Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) Vol 8. Viewed July 18, 2018.
- Executive Order 13423 Sec. 9. (l). "The "United States" when used in a geographical sense, means the fifty states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands, and associated territorial waters and airspace."
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- Nativity by Place of Birth and Citizenship Status, United States Census, 2010.
- 8 FAM 301.1-1(b). State Department Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) Vol 8. However, as reported in Samoa lawsuit, Newsweek, July 13, 2012. viewed December 16, 2012.
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- http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-court-samoans-20160613-snap-story.html Supreme Court rejects citizenship for American Samoans. David G. Savage. June 13, 2016. Latimes.com. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
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- U.S. Department of State, Common Core Document of the United States of America, report to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights, December 30, 2011, sec. 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, viewed September 3, 2015. American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands appear on the United Nations' list of non-self-governing territories, viewed September 3, 2015.
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Pacific Islands Benthic Habitat Mapping Center. American Samoa. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
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Bipartisan Bill Seeks To Make Puerto Rico the 51st State By 2021. Dominique Mosbergen. Huffington Post. June 28, 2018. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
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Census.gov American Factfinder. Poverty status in 2009 by age. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
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https://data.worldbank.org/country/Puerto-Rico Worldbank.org. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
GAO - American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands - Economic Indicators Since Minimum Wage Increases Began. March 2014. Page 39 (page 45 of the PDF). Retrieved October 7, 2018.
2010 FIPS Codes for Counties and County Equivalent Entities. Census.gov. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
States, Counties, and Statistically Equivalent Entities (Chapter 4). Census.gov. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
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- U.S. State Department, Dependencies and Areas of Special Sovereignty Chart, under "Sovereignty", lists nine places under U.S. sovereignty thar are administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, the Midway Islands, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island.
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- 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