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History, United States Control

Foraker Act, civil government, House of Delegates, upper house, governor of Puerto Rico

In 1900 the U.S. Congress passed the Foraker Act, which established civil government in Puerto Rico but did not clearly define the colony’s relationship with the United States. Under the Foraker Act, the people of Puerto Rico became subject to U.S. federal law. However, they did not become citizens of the United States, and they were exempted from paying federal income taxes.

Under the new civil government, the president of the United States appointed the governor of Puerto Rico (all Americans until 1946); the governor’s Executive Council, executive officers who served as the upper house of the legislature; and the justices of the island’s Supreme Court. The lower house, the House of Delegates, was popularly elected. However, the governor or the U.S. Congress could veto any law passed by the legislature. An elected resident commissioner represented the island in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the commissioner could not vote on legislation. In addition, Puerto Rico was not permitted to arrange any commercial treaties.

The Foraker Act deeply disappointed the many Puerto Ricans who desired either statehood or independence. For them, the situation would soon worsen. In 1901, in the so-called Insular Cases, the Supreme Court of the United States held that Puerto Rico and other territory acquired as a result of the Spanish-American War was “unincorporated territory” of the United States. This decision meant that Puerto Rico belonged to, but was not part of, the United States. Furthermore, the court held that the Constitution of the United States did not necessarily apply to Puerto Ricans. By the end of 1901, Puerto Ricans were even more disappointed over their status with the United States.

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