The United States has a total of 14 territories, five of which are permanently inhabited and nine of which are uninhabited or barely inhabited. The nine uninhabited territories are small islands, reefs, or atolls, and do not support any kind of permanent population. The United States has always maintained territories in one way or another. The term "territory" used to be granted when new land was acquired by the United States, such as in the case of Hawaii and Alaska. Although many of these former territories eventually became states, some areas remained as territories.
Unincorporated and Incorporated Territories
Territories of the United States can either be incorporated or unincorporated. Whether or not a territory is incorporated or unincorporated is at the discretion of the United States Federal Government. The majority of US territories are unincorporated territories. In unincorporated territories, the U.S. Constitution is only partially applied. Palmyra Atoll is the only incorporated territory of the United States. This is because Palmyra Atoll was acquired by the United States as part of the Hawaiian islands chain. Instead of joining Hawaii in statehood, Palmyra Atoll became an incorporated territory. However, as Palmyra Atoll is uninhabited, its incorporated status is inconsequential.
Organized and Unorganized Territories
In addition, territories of the United States can either be organized or unorganized. To be considered an organized territory, U.S. Congress must pass an Organic Act that grants jurisdiction to the territory, in order to govern its own affairs. Unorganized territories have no formal system of local government, and whose governance is the responsibility of the country to which it belongs. Unorganized territories usually host little to no permanent populations.
Everyone born in U.S. territories is an American citizen, with the exception of American Samoa. A closer look at each territory of the United States is available below.
Puerto Rico (unincorporated organized territory) - Population: 3,667,084
Puerto Rico is a territory of the US found in the Northeast Caribbean Sea. Previously, Puerto Rico was a Spanish territory. However, in the Spanish American War, the United States invaded Puerto Rico, which was given to the United States by Spain in the signing of the Treaty of Paris. With the promise of help and economic stability from the United States, the people of Puerto Rico supported the US in their fight against Spain. However, many Puerto Ricans were dismayed when the United States did not side with the local government after the war, instead resorting to establishing their own system that ignored the one that was already in place on the island.
The territory of Puerto Rico consists of the main island and other smaller islands such as Mona, Culebra, and Vieques. The population of Puerto Rico is approximately 3.7 million people. The island is rich in history, climate, and traditional cuisines which make it a popular destination for tourists from around the world. Residents of Puerto Rico are American citizens. It is estimated that around 61% of Puerto Ricans are in favor of statehood.
Guam (unincorporated organized territory) - Population: 159,358
Guam is a U.S. territory with an established civil government located in the western Pacific Ocean. Guam has a population of 161,785 people who are mainly American citizens by birth. The island covers an area of 210 square miles, the largest of the Mariana Islands. Guam is a popular tourist destination for tourists, especially from Japan. The US took charge of the island in 1898 as part of the Treaty of Paris and was transferred to the U.S. Navy on December 1898 through an Executive Order 108-A. Guam was the site of fighting during World War II. Guam today is home to two military bases.
U.S. Virgin Islands (unincorporated organized territory) - 106,405
The U.S. Virgin Islands are groups of islands in the Caribbean Sea. They are considered part of the Leeward Islands. The islands cover a total area of 133.73 square miles and have a population of 106,105 people who are mostly Afro-Caribbean. Tourism is the main economic activity on the islands with several manufacturing activities supplementing the economy. Christopher Colombus named the U.S. Virgin Islands during his voyage in 1493. The islands are part of the U.S. territories, but citizens of the island are not eligible to vote in the US presidential elections.
Northern Mariana Islands (unincorporated organized territory) - Population: 77,000
The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, is a territory of the US consisting of 15 Pacific islands. The 15 islands include those of the Marianas Archipelagos and cover an area of 183.5 square miles. Northern Mariana Islands have a population of 77,000 people with the vast majority living in the Saipan and Tinian. The administrative center of the islands is the Capitol Hill, although most residents consider Saipan as the capital of the island. The negotiation between the U.S. and the Northern Mariana Islands for territorial status began in 1972 and was approved in 1975 through a referendum. The island formed a new local government under its new constitution in 1978.
American Samoa (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 55,519
American Samoa is a territory of the U.S. located in the South Pacific Ocean. It consists of five mainland and coral atolls. AmericanSamoa has a population of 55,500 people and covers an area of 76.8 square miles. American Samoa has the highest military enlistment of the sixteen U.S. territories. The main export from the island includes tuna product with the U.S. as the main trading partner. The government of Samoa is defined by the Constitution of American Samoa. Most of the inhabitants of the island are bilingual and can speak English and Samoan.
Midway Atoll (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 60
The Midway Atoll is found in the Pacific Ocean. It represents the halfway mark between the Asian and North American mainland. The Atoll was previously home to a Naval Air Facility. Today, the Atoll has a population of around 60 people, mostly made up of environmental workers. It is not possible to visit the island as a tourist.
Palmyra Atoll (incorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 20
The Palmyra Atoll is unique among the U.S. territories for being privately owned — both the Nature Conservancy and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service own the island. Found around 1,600 km from Oahu, in Hawaii, the Palmyra Atoll is actually an archipelago made up of 50 islands. The location of the Atoll is remote - it is thousands of kilometers from any continent. Its population is mostly made up of staff and scientists.
Baker Island (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 0
Baker Island was formally annexed by the United States on May 13, 1836. It is an atoll found around 1,900 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. It is visited by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service every year.
Howland Island (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 0
Howland is also in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,700 nautical miles southwest of Honululu. It is halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Made of coral, the island has no inhabitants.
Jarvis Island (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 0
Jarvis Island is also a coral island, and is located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Johnston Atoll (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 0
Also known as Kalama Atoll, the Johnston Atoll is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Entry is only allowed with a permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Kingman Reef (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 0
Kingman Reef is a triangular reef found between Hawaii and the territory of American Samoa. The reef is only 11 miles in length.
Wake Island (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 0
Located in Micronesia, Wake Island is also a coral atoll. Although it is part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the island is administered by the United States Air Force. The island hosts the Wake Island Airfield and is used as a refueling stop.
Navassa Island (unincorporated unorganized territory) - Population: 0
Unlike the other uninhabited territories on this list so far, Navassa Island is found in the Caribbean Sea. The island, which is small and without human habitation, is currently a topic of a territory dispute between the United States and Haiti.
What Are the Territories of the United States?
The United States has a total of 16 territories. There are five territories that are inhabited. They are Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the North Mariana Islands.
What are the US Territories?
|Puerto Rico||Caribbean Sea||3,337,177|
|U.S. Virgin Islands||Caribbean Sea||106,405|
|Northern Mariana Islands||Pacific Ocean||77,000|
|American Samoa||Pacific Ocean||55,519|
|Midway Atoll||Pacific Ocean||60|
|Palmyra Atoll||Pacific Ocean||20|
|Baker Island||Pacific Ocean||0|
|Howland Island||Pacific Ocean||0|
|Jarvis Island||Pacific Ocean||0|
|Johnston Atoll||Pacific Ocean||0|
|Kingman Reef||Pacific Ocean||0|
|Wake Island||Pacific Ocean||0|
|Navassa Island||Caribbean Sea||0|
About the Author
John Misachi is a seasoned writer with 5+ years of experience. His favorite topics include finance, history, geography, agriculture, legal, and sports.
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