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On October 18, 1898, the United States officially took possession of Puerto Rico – a trophy from the recent Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines represented the last grab of 19th-century manifest destiny – which even then was controversial.
The Philippines were granted independence after World War Two. Hawaii became a state (the 50th state) in 1959.
But Puerto Rico has been a territory ever since.
The Unincorporated Territory: The Almost-State of America
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. The term “unincorporated” means that Puerto Rico is not properly a part of the U.S. All natural-born Puerto Ricans are automatically U.S. citizens. In a series of Supreme Court decisions – known as the Insular Cases – it was decided that the U.S. Constitution extends to all territorial citizens ex proprio vigore (by its own force).
However, since Puerto Rico is not a State, it does not have voting representatives in Congress. Therefore, Puerto Ricans do not vote in national elections – including Presidential elections.
Since Puerto Ricans have no vote in Congress, Puerto Rico does not have a federal income tax on island-based income. The old “no taxation without representation” legal adage still applies! Puerto Rico still pays Social Security taxes and Medicaid.
Even without a formal federal income tax, Puerto Rico still pays some federal revenues and enjoys federal services. The FBI, the military, Department of Transportation, the EPA, etc., all have offices there. This is why the federal government can (and should) be involved in aid and recovery after hurricanes.
The Future 51st State?
In a 2012, territory-wide referendum asked two questions: (1) whether Puerto Rico should maintain its current status, and (2) if Puerto Rico should change, should it become a state, independent, or in a free association.
The results? On the first question, about 54% of the voters wanted a change in political status. On the second question, about 62% wanted statehood, 33% wanted free associated status, and only 5% wanted independence.
So barely more than half of the voters wanted a change in status, but if they did change, the majority preferred statehood.
If Puerto Rico did become a state, its population of 3.4 million would make it the 30th largest state in the nation – bigger than Iowa and smaller than Connecticut.
Will you ever see an American flag with 51 stars? The future is wide open.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.