What Are The US Territories?
You may know that the United States contains 50 states. But did you know that there are 14 other areas that are under the control of the United States? These places, known as the United States Territories, house more than 4 million American citizens who can proudly claim their status as Americans… but don’t get to vote in presidential elections, don’t pay federal income taxes and aren’t represented by any congresspeople. They’re kind of like second-class citizens who were somehow born into a first-world country.
Next on the list is American Samoa, which is a US territory but not part of the United States. It’s an unincorporated territory that functions as an organized, federated commonwealth under US law.
American Samoa’s history dates back to World War II when it was used as a refuelling base by the military forces of Allied Forces during their battle against Japan from 1942 to 1944. In 1959, President Eisenhower ceded control of American Samoa to the US Department of Interior for administration purposes until 1996 when it became its own independent government body, with a 98% Native Hawaiian/Samoan population.
The United States territory of Guam is located in the western Pacific Ocean, south of Japan. It’s the southernmost and largest island in a chain of 15 islands called the Mariana Islands that also include Saipan, Rota, Tinian and several smaller ones.
Guam is an unincorporated territory of the United States with a tropical climate and lush vegetation. The island is home to over 160,000 people who speak English and Chamorro, the indigenous language. These days it’s also quite popular as a tourist destination due to its beautiful beaches, scuba diving sites and historical sites such as caves where ancient Chamorro tools were found.
Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands are a US territory, located in the Pacific Ocean between Guam and the Philippines. The islands have been a part of Micronesia since 1899 and became a part of the United States Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges in 1994.
The Northern Mariana Islands are home to many endangered species, including birds like the Mariana fruit dove and bats such as flying foxes from Australia, flying foxes can be found throughout Oceania. These creatures live on the island chain’s coasts, which are protected by coral reefs that help prevent erosion while also providing shelter for wildlife populations.
Puerto Rico is an island territory with a population of 3.3 million people, mainly Spanish-speaking. It’s also a self-governing commonwealth, which means Puerto Rico enjoys more autonomy than other US territories and doesn’t have to abide by federal laws like the Jones Act, which requires ships to be built in the United States if they want to ship goods between domestic ports.
Puerto Rico’s status as a territory of the US dates back to 1898 when it was seized during the Spanish-American War 1898. Since then it has experienced several changes in its relationship with America; for example:
- In 1917 it became an unincorporated territory under US control, meaning that Puerto Ricans were not citizens.
- In 1952 Congress passed Public Law 600 allowing Puerto Ricans to elect their governor and legislature through direct democracy
US Virgin Islands
You may have heard the US Virgin Islands referred to as either the USVI or the U.S. Virgin Islands. The official name of this territory is actually “The United States Virgin Islands,” but most people just shorten it to “the U.S. Virgin Islands,” or, if they want to be a little more informal, “USVI.”
The USVI is located in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean between Puerto Rico, to their north and St. Kitts & Nevis, to their south. They’re made up of three main islands: St John, St Thomas and St Croix; plus several smaller ones called Water Island and Buck Island.
American Samoa is the only territory that has a non-voting delegate in Congress. American Samoa is the only territory that has a territorial governor.
Midway Atoll is a small island in the Pacific Ocean. It was made a US territory in 1857 and remained so until 1986 when Washington returned it to the state of Hawaii. Midway Atoll is now known as Midway Wildlife Refuge, but it’s still a part of the Hawaiian Islands and can be visited by tourists as part of their trip. It’s home to some amazing wildlife, including whales and dolphins!
Palmyra Atoll is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the North Pacific Ocean, about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii. It is a part of the US Minor Outlying Islands. Palmyra Atoll consists of a small island and several sandbars surrounded by coral reefs. The total land area is eight square miles. The water surrounding Palmyra Atoll forms a lagoon that has no outlets or navigable rivers.
The only inhabitants are US Fish and Wildlife Service staff who monitor possible activities on the atoll to protect its wildlife and marine resources. There are no permanent residents on Palmyra; however, there are temporary buildings for employees who work on the island at any given time.
Baker Island is a small island in the Pacific Ocean that is part of the US Minor Outlying Islands. It is uninhabited, but it’s owned by the United States.
Baker Island has no permanent human residents, but there are several military installations on the island which have been used since World War II. The US Air Force currently uses Baker Island as an emergency landing strip for aircraft flying between Hawaii and Africa or Asia. They use it as a refuelling station for planes travelling from Japan to South Korea or Guam.
Howland Island, located just north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean and part of the US Minor Outlying Islands, is a small, uninhabited island administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The island was discovered by European explorers in 1823, but no one ever settled there. In 1935, it was designated as an International Wildlife Refuge because it had become home to thousands of bird species that were migrating from Asia to North America.
Jarvis Island is a small uninhabited island in the South Pacific. It is a US territory, and it is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as part of its National Wildlife Refuge System. The island lies about 1,700 miles southwest of Honolulu.
Its location makes it unique among American territories in that it is closer to another country than to any other US state: Jarvis Island was once under the control of France, before being transferred over to England following an 1857 treaty signed with both countries. In 1899, however, Germany purchased it from Great Britain, along with several other islands, for $4 million worth of gold coins.
Johnston Atoll is an unincorporated territory of the United States that is located in the Pacific Ocean, about halfway between Hawaii and American Samoa. It has a population of around 1,000 people who live on the largest atoll in Micronesia.
The island is known as “Johnston Island” by most people. However, locals call it “Johnston Atoll”, or simply “Atoll”. This name was given to it by King Kamehameha IV when he visited the island in 1852 and saw how beautiful it was compared to other Hawaiian islands.
After World War II ended, many military bases were built throughout America’s territories so that more troops could be trained there before going into battle against enemy forces overseas, this was called ‘forward positioning’. One such base was built on Johnston Atoll—the first one ever constructed there and today it houses US Air Force personnel who use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) like drones or satellites to help others fight wars without being physically presenting themselves.
Kingman Reef is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the central Pacific Ocean. It consists of a series of reefs and shoals that form an atoll, or ring-shaped coral reef, surrounding a lagoon. The atoll is about 164 nautical miles south-southwest of Hawaii and some 1,500 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu. The nearest landmass is Wake Island. Kingman Reef is administered by the United States Department of Interior as part of American Samoa.
Kingman Reef has no permanent population; however, it does have up to 50 civilians working there at any given time during scientific research projects. There are also four Coast Guard personnel posted there on a 24/7 basis to provide search-and-rescue services and conduct monitoring activities.
It was first discovered by Europeans on September 2nd 1859 by Captain Eber Bunker aboard the whaling ship Starling under Capt Charles Edward Manby. In 1933 President Franklin D Roosevelt proclaimed Kingman Reef a federal bird refuge under control of U S Fish & Wildlife Service for protection & propagation purposes but this status did not include territorial rights because Kingman does not meet the requirements for taking title under The Territorial Clause found in Article IV Section 3 Clause 2 which states “The New States may be admitted by Congress into this Union.
Wake Island is a coral atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Honolulu to Guam. It’s one of the most isolated islands in the world and is part of the U.S. Territory of Wake Island—an unincorporated territory that includes some other islands as well.
Wake has no indigenous population or natural resources, but it was annexed by Japan in 1898 during its expansionist period when it controlled Korea, Taiwan and parts of Manchuria. After World War II, American forces landed on Wake Island on December 11th 1941, where they encountered fierce resistance from Japanese forces until they were defeated by May 1942. The island was retaken by United States Marines during an assault operation code-named Operation Tan No., led by Colonel Merrill B. Twining on February 23rd 1944; this marked a turning point for American forces against Japan in WW2 because Wake Island was a strategic outpost for military operations against Tokyo-based targets such as Yokohama harbour which held many large industrial sites including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries; Hitachi Ltd; Kawasaki Heavy Industries etc.
Navassa Island is a small, uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea. Its ownership has been contested since it was first discovered by Europeans in 1589. It is now a territory of the US and not part of the US. Yet, despite this, it remains under US jurisdiction just like anywhere else within American borders.
The US government argues that since Navassa Island was never claimed by any other country before or after it was settled by Americans in 1857, it automatically became US territory—an argument which seems to make sense when you consider how long we’ve been claiming the land as our own for centuries. However, some countries disagree with this interpretation of international law and believe that Navassa Island should belong to them because no one ever actually lived there until just over 100 years ago. The debate continues today between Haiti and Nicaragua, who both claim the island, with neither side willing to budge on their position at all.
Incorporated/Unincorporated Territories, Organized/Unorganized Territories
There are four types of territories.
- Incorporated Territories: These are the territories that have been incorporated into the United States and are considered states. They include Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The population of these three territories is about 17 million people combined!
- Unincorporated Territories: These are not currently organized into states or have been organized by Congress into a new state, but they aren’t yet part of an existing state either. There’s only one unincorporated territory left today: the US Virgin Islands and it has about 110 thousand residents on four islands in the Caribbean Sea off Puerto Rico’s east coast.
- US territory residents are not US citizens. They are US nationals. This means that they have the right to enter and leave the United States freely, live here permanently, and work here without a visa or green card. However, their status as residents is limited by their physical location within the country: they cannot vote in federal elections or run for office themselves; they can only vote in local elections.
- US territory residents must also be careful about travelling abroad if they want to maintain their legal residency status while they’re away from home. According to a study published by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), “the vast majority of US territories—about 98 per cent—require no evidence of intent or eligibility before granting an individual residency status.”
The United States territories are not part of the United States, but they are still under its control. They have their own laws, but they’re all subject to the US Constitution.
You may be wondering how exactly a territory can be both a part of something and not a part of something at the same time? That’s because these territories aren’t technically considered states yet, they’re just parts of the US that aren’t state-level entities yet.