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Jones-Shafroth Act

For the law regarding U.S. shipping, see Merchant Marine Act of 1920. For the law concerning government of the Philippines, see Jones Law (Philippines).
For other uses, see Jones Act.

The Jones–Shafroth Act, Resident Commissioner (previously appointed by the President) to a four-year term.


The impetus for this legislation came from a complex of local and mainland interests. Puerto Ricans lacked internationally recognized citizenship; but the local council was wary of "imposing citizenship." Luis Muñoz Rivera,[1] the Resident Commissioner in Washington, argued in its favor, giving several significant speeches in the House of Representatives.[2] On 5 May 1916 he demanded: "Give us now the field of experiment which we ask of you… It is easy for us to set up a stable republican government with all possible guarantees for all possible interests. And afterwards, when you… give us our independence… you will stand before humanity as a great creator of new nationalities and a great liberator of oppressed people." Rep. William Atkinson Jones, (D-Virginia), chair of the House Committee on Insular Affairs, and Sen. John Shafroth, (D-Colorado), chair of the Committee on Pacific Islands and Puerto Rico, sponsored the legislation which bears their names.[3][4]

Major features

This Act made all citizens of Puerto Rico U.S. citizens[5] and reformed the system of government in Puerto Rico. In some respects, the governmental structure paralleled that of a state of the United States. Powers were separated among an Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branch. The law also recognized certain civil rights through a bill of rights to be observed by the government of Puerto Rico (although trial by jury was not among them).



When the Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed two months later, it allowed conscription to be extended to the island. Some 20,000 Puerto Rican soldiers were sent to World War I.

Before the Act was signed, Puerto Rican residents of the island who were not citizens of the United States (their citizenship since 1898 was Puerto Rican) were considered as aliens. When Isabel Gonzalez arrived in New York from Puerto Rico, US Immigration attempted to deport her to Puerto Rico, but she appealed her case up to the US Supreme Court (see: Gonzales v. Williams). The court ruled that all Puerto Ricans had immigration rights to the mainland US. But, the Court fell just short of granting US Citizenship status. Without citizenship, Puerto Ricans were ineligible for the draft. Prior to the Act, Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States who were permanent residents were required to register with the Selective Service System and could be drafted.[6][7]

Legislative branch

The Act created a legislative system comprising two houses: a Senate consisting of 19 members and a 39-member House of Representatives. Previously, Puerto Rico had a unicameral legislature, the House of Delegates. The legislature was elected by manhood suffrage for a term of four years. Acts of the Legislature could be vetoed by the governor, but his veto could be overridden by a two-thirds vote, in which case the President of the United States would make the final decision.

Matters relating to franchises and concessions were vested in a Public Service Commission, consisting of the heads of the executive departments, the auditor, and two elected commissioners. A Resident Commissioner to the United States continued to be elected by popular vote for a four-year term; the Resident Commissioner's duties included representing Puerto Rico in the U.S. House of Representatives, with a voice but without vote, as well as before the executive departments in Washington.

Executive branch

Under the Act, six executive departments were constituted: Justice, Finance, Interior, Education, Agriculture, Labor and Health. The governor, the attorney-general and the commissioner of education were appointed by the President with the approval of the U.S. Senate; the heads of the remaining departments by the governor of Puerto Rico, subject to the approval of the Puerto Rican Senate.

The Governor of Puerto Rico was to be appointed by the President of the United States, not elected. All cabinet officials had to be approved by the United States Senate, and the United States Congress had the power to veto any law passed by the Puerto Rican Legislature. Washington maintained control over fiscal and economic matters and exercised authority over mail services, immigration, defense and other basic governmental matters. Puerto Rico was not given electoral votes in the election of U.S. President, because the Constitution of the United States of America allows only full-fledged states to have electoral votes.

Subsequent legislation

Portions of the Jones Act were superseded in 1948, after which the Governor was popularly elected. In 1948, U.S. Congress allowed Puerto Rico to draft its own Constitution which, when implemented in 1952, provided greater autonomy as a Commonwealth (according to the political sector in power in the island at the time).


Further reading

  • Cabranes, Jose. Citizenship and the American Empire (1979) (legislative history of the statute, reprinted from the University of Pennsylvania Law Review).
  • Gatell, Frank Otto. "The Art of the Possible: Luis Muñoz Rivera and the Puerto Rico Bill." Americas 1960 17(1): 1-20.
  • Morales Carrion, Arturo . Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History (1984).
  • Picó, Fernando. Historia general de Puerto Rico. Río Piedras: Ediciones Huracán, (1986).

External links

  • Jones-Shafroth Act - The Library of Congress
  • Spanish text
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