Modern Colonies

Current Territories of the United States

Catie Humphreys

What is a colony? Where are they located?

A colony is defined as a country or area under the full or partial political control of another country, typically a distant one, and occupied by settlers from that country.

According to the United Nations, today, there are 61 colonies, worldwide. Most of these colonies are islands, and many are small. Some of these colonies include: American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Guam, Montserrat, New Caledonia, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Tokelau, Turks and Caicos Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Western Sahara.

Does the United States have colonies?

The United States did participate in colonizing other parts of the world in the early 20th Century. Today, the United States has 5 territories that are still under U.S. rule. However, many of the 50 states began as territories, before gaining statehood. The creation of territories is addressed in the constitution and is a power given to congress. Today, the United States has FIVE territories. Let's take a closer look at these five territories and what rights they have.

What rights do they have?

U.S. Territories Around the World

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898, after the Spanish-America War. There are currently about 3.5 million residents, making this the most populated of the U.S. territories. In 1952, Congress made Puerto Rico a "commonwealth". People who are born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens, however they may not vote for the president and vice president of the United States, while living in Puerto Rico. The United States is responsible for the defense of Puerto Rico, meaning that military support is given. There is quite a bit of controversy surrounding Puerto Rico and whether they should become an independent country, or remain tied to the United States. In 2012, the majority of the people voted statehood over remaining a territory, for the first time ever.


Following the Spanish-American War, Guam became a U.S. territory in 1989. The natives are the Chamorro people, although military bases cover 29% of the island. The people of Guam have been U.S. citizens since 1950, and are represented by a non-voting delegate in Congress. These citizens cannot participate in presidential elections today. Guam's economy is based on tourism and U.S. military spending. The current population is 165,124, and many residents are content with remaining a U.S. territory.

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands were purchased from Denmark in 1916 and is about twice the size of the District of Columbia. The U.S. Virgin Islands lies about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico. The three primary islands on the U.S. Virgin Islands are St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. The British Virgin Islands are also in this area. Virgin Islands residents are U.S. citizens, but are not represented in Congress and cannot vote in presidential elections. In June 2010, Congress rejected a proposed constitution for the U.S. Virgin Islands. The population on these islands is 104,000. The economy is based primarily on tourism, as it is one of the most popular destinations for Americans.

Northern Marianas Islands

The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands is the newest territory of the United States. After the Spanish-American War, the islands were ceded to Germany. The islands were liberated during WWII, and were put under U.S. management by the United Nations. The Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands opted to remain a U.S. territory, rather than gain their independence. Unfortunately, the CNMI has a long history of corrupt leadership. The population is currently about 52,000. 50% of the population is Asian and the main Roman Catholicism is the main religion. Since 2009, the Northern Marianas Islanders are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a non-voting delegate. The people of Northern Marianas Islands do have U.S. citizenship .

American Samoa

American Samoa became a U.S. territory in 1899. Unlike other U.S. territories, Americans need a passport to enter American Samoa. American Samoa and the country of Samoa are close to one another, and share cultural values and similarities. In 2010, the majority of the people of American Samoa voted to remain a U.S. territory. Of all the territories, American Samoa has the highest rate of military enlistment in the U.S. military. The current population is around 55,000 people. Currently, people born in America Samoa are American nationals, but not American citizens. They have no voting rights and are not able to freely come and go into the United States. Today, many American Samoans are fighting this legislation and want change: either independence, or citizenship.

Should these territories be given voting rights?

Voting Rights in U.S. Territories
Stacey Plaskett, a delegate for the U.S. Virgin Islands, argues that residents on U.S. territories should be given the right to vote. What do you think?


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