Unincorporated territories of the United States

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Unincorporated territories are legal terms of art under the laws of the United States denoting areas controlled by the government of the United States which are not part of the United States proper and which are not possessions Federally administered and governed. The convoluted legal language in essence means they are more or less self governing, but still owned by the United States. The history of these territories is as follows:

August 28, 1867

Captain William Reynolds of the USS Lackawanna formally took possession of the Midway Atoll for the United States.[1]

April 11, 1899

The 1898 Treaty of Paris came in to effect, transferring Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico from Spain to the United States, all three becoming unorganized, unincorporated territories.

April 12, 1900

The Foraker Act organized Puerto Rico.[2]

June 7, 1900

The United States took control of the portion of the Samoan Islands given to it by the Treaty of Berlin of 1899, creating the unorganized, unincorporated territory of American Samoa.

April 1, 1901

Emilio Aguinaldo, the Filipino leader in the Philippine-American War, surrendered, allowing the United States to form a civilian government.

February 23, 1903

Under the terms of a 1903 lease agreement, the United States came to exercise complete control over Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, while Cuba retained ultimate sovereignty over the territory.

August 29, 1916

The Philippine Autonomy Act or Jones Law was signed, promising the Philippines independence.

March 2, 1917

Jones-Shafroth Act reorganized Puerto Rico. This act conferred United States citizenship on all citizens of Puerto Rico.

March 31, 1917

The United States purchased the U.S. Virgin Islands under the terms of a treaty with Denmark.[3]

May 17, 1932

The name of Porto Rico was changed to Puerto Rico.[4]

March 24, 1934

The Tydings-McDuffie Act was signed allowing the creation of the Commonwealth of the Philippines.

July 4, 1946

The United States recognized Philippine independence.

July 14, 1947

The United Nations granted the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to the United States, consisting primarily of many islands fought over during World War II, and including what is now the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau. It was a trusteeship, and not a territory of the United States.

July 1, 1950

The Guam Organic Act came into effect, organizing Guam as an unincorporated territory.[5]

July 25, 1952

Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth of the United States, an unincorporated organized territory, with the ratification of its constitution.[4]

July 22, 1954

The Organic Act for the United States Virgin Islands went into effect, making them an unincorporated, organized territory.[5]

July 1, 1967

American Samoa's constitution became effective. Even though no Organic Act was passed, this move to self-government made American Samoa similar to an organized territory.[5]

January 1, 1978

The Northern Mariana Islands left the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to become a commonwealth of the United States, making it unincorporated and organized.[5][6]

October 21, 1986

The Marshall Islands attained independence from the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, though the trusteeship granted by the United Nations technically did not end until December 22, 1990. The Marshall Islands remained in free association with the United States.

November 3, 1986

The Federated States of Micronesia attained independence from the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and remained in free association with the United States.

December 22, 1990

The United Nations terminated the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands for all but the Palau district.

May 25, 1994

The United Nations terminated the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands for the Palau district, ending the territory, making Palau de facto independent, as it was not a territory of the United States.

October 1, 1994

Palau attained de jure independence, but remained in free association with the United States.[7]


  1. http://www.janeresture.com/midway/
  2. The World Almanac & Book of Facts 1901, p93
  3. . http://www.dkconsulateusvi.com/TRANSFER/transfer.html. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 
  4. a b . Statoids. http://statoids.com/upr.html. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 
  5. a b c d [dead link]. U.S. Department of the Interior. Archived from on 2006-05-26. http://web.archive.org/web/20060526170126/http://www.doi.gov/pfm/acct97/insular.html. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 
  6. . Statoids. http://statoids.com/ump.html. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 
  7. . Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1840.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 

See also