Territories of the United States

Territories of the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Territories of the United States are one type of political division of the United States, overseen directly by the federal government of the United States and not any part of a U.S. state. These territories were created to govern newly acquired land while the borders of the United States were still evolving. Territories can be classified by whether they are incorporated (part of the United States proper) and whether they have an organized government (through an Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress or a territorial constitution (and functioning legislature), as the region was striving for statehood).

Many organized incorporated territories of the United States existed from 1789 to 1959, through which 31 territories applied for and achieved statehood. In the process of organizing and promoting territories to statehood, many unorganized territories were orphaned from the parts of a larger territory wherein the whole was ineligible, usually demographically lacking sufficient development and population densities at the time a vote could be taken petitioning congress for statehood rights.

The U.S. had no unincorporated territories (also called “overseas possessions” or “insular areas“) until 1856 but continues to control several of them today.

An incorporated territory of the United States is a specific area under the jurisdiction of the United States, over which the United States Congress has determined that the United States Constitution is to be applied to the territory’s local government and inhabitants in its entirety (e.g., citizenshiptrial by jury), in the same manner as it applies to the local governments and residents of the U.S. states. Incorporated territories are considered an integral part of the United States, as opposed to being merely possessions.[1] 

Incorporated and unincorporated territories

All territory under the control of the federal government is considered part of the “United States” for purposes of law.[2] From 1901 to 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of opinions known as the Insular Cases held that the Constitution extended ex proprio vigore to the territories. However, the Court in these cases also established the doctrine of territorial incorporation. Under the same, the Constitution only applied fully in incorporated territories such as Alaska and Hawaii, whereas it only applied partially in the new unincorporated territories of Puerto RicoGuam and the Philippines.[3][4]

In the contemporary sense, the term “unincorporated territory” refers primarily to insular areas. There is currently only one incorporated territory, Palmyra Atoll, which is not an organized territory. Conversely, a territory can be organized without being an incorporated territory, a contemporary example being Puerto Rico.

See organized incorporated territories of the United States and unincorporated territories of the United States for timelines.

Organized incorporated territories of the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Organized incorporated territories are those territories of the United States that are both incorporated (part of the United States proper) andorganized (having an organized government authorized by an Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress usually consisting of a territorial legislature, territorial governor, and a basic judicial system).

Through most of U.S. history, regions that were admitted as U.S. states were, prior to admission, territories of this kind. As the United States grew, the most populous parts of the organized territory would achieve statehood. The remainder frequently kept at least some of the governing structure of the old legal entity (territory) and would be renamed to avoid confusion.

Some examples of this progression include (each grouping involves an original territory’s lands legally disposed of over time from left to right):

Many such regions took a further decades long growth period before their incorporated lands could petition for admission as states. For instance, parts of both the original Louisiana Territory and the younger Oregon Territory took over fifty years to achieve statehood — Idaho and Montana.

In 2011, the only incorporated territory of the U.S. is neither an organized possession nor populated — Palmyra Atoll, the unorganized territory in equatorial waters far south of the State of Hawaii. The atoll under international law is an incorporated territory by ‘explorers claim’ and after serving in World War II as a supply and patrol base is only used today by a variable number of staff and researchers. The atoll also happens to be unorganized because it has no permanent occupants to petition for change, just the (rotating) assigned and visiting federal employees.       Current territory

The District of Columbia is functionally similar to an incorporated territory, being fully a part of the United States as a non-state, but is classified separately as it was established under the unique constitutional provision for a federal capital rather than through Congressional authority over federal territory generally.

All other current U.S. territories are unincorporated (meaning that they are not fully part of the United States, with all aspects of the United States Constitution applying automatically), whereas other former incorporated territories are now states.

The following territories within the United States were officially organized by Congress with an Organic Act on the first date listed. Each was admitted as a U.S. state (of the same name, except where noted) on the second date listed. Often, larger outlying portions of a organized territory were not included in the new state.


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