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To Grant Statehood or Not: The Territories of the United States

"Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free." - Henry David Thoreau

Manifest Destiny, as first described by its supporters, was the idea, under God, of territorial expansion to encourage capitalism and democracy across North America. Since the 19th century, this idea allowed the Union to spread West to become what we now know as the United States – along with 14 additional territories – and arguably more – still under its federal control. Manifest destiny has not ceased to exist today. Statehood, and the question of granting statehood to the existing territories, is a highly debated topic. Some individuals believe that manifest destiny can still endure, even in populated areas such as Puerto Rico, while others believe the opposite. There are many different sides to this multifaceted question, and if we proposed the correct solution to it, it would still pose difficult to change the status of these territories as of right now. Before introducing a variety of different ideas about becoming a state vs. remaining a territory, we invite you to consider these different points as they relate to modern manifest destiny.

The definition of a territory, and its right to remain as a somewhat sovereign body under the federal government, is a difficult question for many to answer. There is a lengthy, multistep process that the governing individuals of both the territory and of the legislative and executive branches of the United States must complete for it to become a part of the Union.

Because there are technically 14 territories held by the United States, it seems as though it would be simple to define exactly what a territory is. Well, it is not that easy. Some of these territories are granted “commonwealth” which means that they are at a level lower than a state. The other territories cannot function autonomously due to their lack of inhabitants and/or conditions of livability, thus the commonwealth practice is not necessary. All in all, these 14 territories – American Samoa, Bakers Island, Guam, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll, Puerto Rico, United States Virgin Islands, and Wake Island – are possessed by the United States but lack federal statehood. A unique area to this subject is Washington, D.C. This federal district is composed of many American citizens that can vote and belong to an electoral college – thanks to the 23rd amendment.

The points of debate typically include federal income taxes, citizenship, respective rights, and congressional representation.


Federal income tax works differently in these territories. Citizens are subject to different governmental subsidies and federal income tax is treated more “externally” compared to the processes that occur within the United States. However, it takes place without the territories having a vote in Congress in regards to this issue or any other.

Historically, the grounds for America fighting, and succeeding, against British control had to do with "taxation without representation."

To look at this from a modern-day perspective: Is the same occurring for these territories that continue to pay federal income taxes without having a spot in Congress or a legitimate account for their voting per an electoral college?


The citizens of these territories have a congressman or congresswoman on their behalf in Congress, however, these individuals cannot vote but can propose legislation and sit on committees. The United States Constitution allows for a designated number of representatives and senators from each state of the Union. This number would need to be changed through a constitutional amendment for there to be the same amount of political representation in congress. To say it will be a difficult process is an understatement.

Citizenship and Rights

Citizenship is automatically granted to individuals residing in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. However, the residents of American Samoa are required to go through an immigration process to reach full citizenship in the United States even though it is an American territory. The rights guaranteed to these individuals do vary from their homeland counterparts and they are not permitted to vote in the United States general election. However, they do have the ability to vote in the primary election.

"51st State"

It appears that throughout history, referendums have been made in Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. for them to become a state. When a referendum was placed on the ballot, it typically asked something to the effect of, "Should [said territory] be admitted to the Union as a state?" An accompanied "yes" or "no" response was offered to the electorates. While the majority typically goes in favor of statehood, it appears that if the proposed legislation makes it to Congress, it usually dies. For those that are adamant about having another state included in the Union, why is the process so drawn out and typically unsuccessful? Is this a testimony to the current idea of expansionism?

Throughout the country and its territories, debates and opinions are shared on all sides of the matter. Should statehood be granted to these territories? What would it look like if it was? These are all relevant questions to consider in establishing your views on this subject.

With all of that said, is this modern manifest destiny still at work? Is the concept still applicable and similar to that of its advocates in the 19th century?


*All opinions expressed by WYO Conservative guests are theirs alone and may not represent the views of WYO Conservative’s Founder and Owner, Donna K. Rice, or any WYO Conservative affiliates.


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