The Bordering of America: Colonialism and Citizenship in the Philippines and Puerto Rico

Article excerpt


The ascendancy of the United States as a global empire produced a crisis in the meaning of American nationhood, prompting imperial statesmen to recalibrate the boundaries of inclusion and exclusion. The annexation of Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898 gave rise to a complex and often volatile system of border-making. Overseas expansion changed the territorial nature of the state, as both the Philippines and Puerto Rico were declared "unincorporated territories" defined as neither fully domestic nor completely foreign. Territorial statecrafttreated the Philippines and Puerto Rico similarly. However, statecrafttowards individuals (as opposed to territories) differentiated the two populations as Puerto Ricans were declared U.S. citizens in 1917 but Filipinos were not. This essay explores how U.S. policies toward these territories and populations became increasingly complex and contradictory as the state tried to manage the national polity in the age of imperial expansion. [Key words: colonialism, citizenship, borders, Puerto Rico, Philippines, empire]

the united states' bid for a transoceanic empire during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had a profound impact on the character of american statecraft. The extension of U.S. sovereignty beyond the nation's continental borders gave rise to contentious debates about the costs and consequences of America's imperial ascent. In the aftermath of the Spanish American War in 1898, the U.S. claimed title to most of Spain's insular colonies, including Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Cuba, and Guam.1 Cuba was granted nominal independence in 1902, allowing American policymakers to focus their attention on the other colonial properties. Although the U.S. had a long history of domestic territorial conquest, the seizure of overseas possessions raised a new set of questions about the boundary lines of the American polity. Precedent established with regard to previous episodes of territorial acquisition (Adams-Onís Treaty [obtaining Florida], Louisiana Purchase Treaty, Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo) had always included provisions granting U.S. citizenship to the inhabitants of annexed lands.2 In addition, federal law as codified in the Revised Statutes of the United States established that all of the rights and protections guaranteed by the U.S. constitution were applicable to territories acquired by the U.S.3

The prospect of collectively naturalizing the native residents of the Philippines and Puerto Rico, however, gave many U.S. lawmakers pause, insofar as the people who inhabited these territories were of suspect racial fitness. Expansion towards the new trans-oceanic territories also meant a transition from the hitherto dominant model of settler colonialism, in which territories became states after Anglo settlers became a majority and acquired property and power. This is not to say that "race" did not play a role in continental expansion. The pattern of incorporation could vary considerably depending on the speed of colonization and the size of the resident, non-Anglo population, the evident contrasting examples being California, which became a state in 1849 after the Anglo population that arrived with the Gold Rush overwhelmed the local population, and New Mexico, which had a much larger Mexican population and only became a state in 1912, after a protracted struggles over land titles and political power.4 Settlers would play a very marginal role in insular colonization after 1898.

American lawmakers were forced to reconcile two seemingly countervailing political impulses that prevailed in the U.S. in the aftermath of the War of 1898. The first was the urge to enlarge the territorial jurisdiction of U.S. in an effort to bolster America's geopolitical position vis-à-vis rival imperial rivals, especially in the Caribbean Basin and Asia. By doing so, expansionists hoped to secure transoceanic trade routes and access to international markets for American commercial interests. …


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