Incorporation of Territories

views updated


Incorporation is the process of formally making a territory part of the United States. Even before the Constitution was written, the United States exercised sovereignty over lands not part of any state; but those territories were to be organized and prepared for statehood. In the late nineteenth century the United States began to acquire territory outside North America, most of which appeared unsuited for statehood. The Constitution contains no provision for governing a colonial empire, but Congress, under Article IV, section 3, made rules and regulations respecting overseas possessions and dependencies. In the insular cases (1901–1911) the Supreme Court formulated a doctrine to define the constitutional status of the territories. Those which Congress, expressly or implicitly, intends to make part of the United States are deemed to be incorporated. The people of incorporated territories are United States citizens with all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Absent such congressional intent, territories are unincorporated. The residents of unincorporated territories enjoy protection of fundamental natural rights but not of rights merely procedural or formal—although Congress may, at its discretion, extend United States citizenship and full civil rights to the people of unincorporated territories. There are currently no incorporated territories.

Dennis J. Mahoney