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The U.S. Bought 3 Virgin Islands from Denmark. The Deal Took 50 Years (history.com)
35 points by vinnyglennon 53 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 23 comments

This link at the bottom of the article about Puerto Rico is also an interesting read: https://www.history.com/news/puerto-ricos-complicated-histor... .

We owe voting rights and statehood to the island nations we colonized during the past century.

Isn't that a tricky issue?

Take American Samoa. As I understand it, many American Samoans don't want to change the current legal system. Among other things that would change, should it be a US state, is that "About 90 percent of the land is communally owned" and currently "It is against the law for any person whose blood is less than one-half Samoan to own land in American Samoa" - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Samoa#Land_ownership .

With statehood, such laws would be illegal under the US Constitution.

Also, the populations of Northern Mariana Islands is ~55K, of American Samoa is ~55K, of US Virgin Islands is ~105K, and of Guam is ~170K. The least populated US state is Wyoming at ~580K.

If each became a state, that's 8 Senators and 4 voting members of the House, giving those states 12/(435+108) = 2% of the votes in Congress, for 0.1% of the population.

Yes, it's a tricky issue, but I believe that the evidence is clear, if painful due to history.

First, as a general principle, we ought not to have any sort of second-class citizen. Those who live under Uncle Sam's umbrella, even under the beach umbrella at the seaside house, should enjoy His protection and benefits.

American Samoa is the best example of a practice I find unconscionable: We allow and encourage American Samoans to serve in the armed forces. And, unlike in the films, service doesn't even guarantee citizenship. While I understand that the economic opportunities in mainland USA are lucrative for natives of Guam, FSM, or American Samoa, I believe that the military is predatory in its recruiting and unfairly targets unwitting young islanders.

American Samoans are akin to Puerto Ricans in that their representation in Washington, DC is limited to a non-voting delegation. The past few years have shown the futility of hoping for non-voting delegations to shift legislators' opinions; we need for those delegates to have votes in order to effect legislative change.

A final note about American Samoa is that, as I understand it, there is a movement for independence from both Western Samoa and the USA. I don't think that they have to be part of the USA if they don't want to belong! I merely don't want them to be disenfranchised.

With that said, let's remember the history of Hawaii. It is a complicated and gnarled story, with monarchs, rebellions, colonialism, racism, banana republic, and finally statehood. It's only with statehood that Hawaii gained a strong tradition of spending public funds on preserving and understanding the history of the Hawaiians, and shifted the focus of government away from constant exploitation and segregation. It's not perfect, but I can't help but want the same guarantees and improvements for the people of Puerto Rico.

Finally, yes, let's consider the House. Let's imagine that we implement the Wyoming rule: The House is reapportioned so that each Representative is worth the least populous state. (When the rule was named, guess who was least populated?) We'll set this at 55K for today. NMI and American Samoa get one, US Virgin Islands get 2, Guam gets 3, Wyoming gets 10. Alaska gets 13. California gets, uh, 719. Nope. Fun, but nope. A legislative body of over 5K people is not practical.

Edit: Even better, what about Puerto Rico, population ~3M? They should have at least as much representation as dozens of other states with less population, shouldn't they? [2] I'm redoing the numbers below including Puerto Rico and DC.

Let's try again. When Arizona and New Mexico first came into the Union, the law [0] allowed for new Representatives to be chosen, and for the size of the House to grow by one Representative per admitted state. Additionally, the law held the door open for increasing the size of the House incrementally after every census. However, by the time that Alaska and Hawaii were admitted, legislative gridlock had ruined this plan, and the House's size had become fixed by a different law [1].

The upshot of this history lesson is that, had we given one Representative to each new state after 1911, then we're talking about 22/(444+112) = 3.9%. Scary! But, had we not just continued to add Reps, but also diluted their strength by half (keeping in mind that Rep strength has tripled over the past century!) then we're still talking about 22/(888+112) = 2%. That sounds like a reasonable compromise, given that they currently have 0% and that we're talking about some 1-2% of the population.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apportionment_Act_of_1911

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reapportionment_Act_of_1929

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_states_and_territories...

> I don't think that they have to be part of the USA if they don't want to belong! I merely don't want them to be disenfranchised.

Right, but what if they want to stay as a dependent? Your original statement was that we owe statehood (and, now, independence) to them, not, we should let them decide if they want statehood. While the wording seems like a minor change, I think it's an important distinction.

> let's remember the history of Hawaii

As I understand it, one of the arguments in American Samoa against statehood is to avoid being like modern Hawaii. Eg, land ownership restrictions to native Samoans means that American Samoa, unlike Hawaii, is predominately populated by the indigenous people.


> what about Puerto Rico

I'm all for P.R. statehood. And D.C. statehood. Should the population decide. And with clear, solid restrictions on outsider influence in the debate and discussion elections. And a firm commitment to support the Puerto Rico no matter what happens - unlike the dire lack of commitment we have now.

> When Arizona and New Mexico first came into the Union

Note that NM's 1912 statehood did not result a "strong tradition of spending public funds on preserving and understanding the history of" New Mexico.

There is a curious paradox here: Because American Samoans aren't legally self-determining, they're unable to become legally self-determining. We have to interpret their desires for them, and we have to resist the urge to allow them to be less-than-citizens or to have diminished rights.

New Mexico has a Department of Cultural Affairs. They have a budget of around $45mil/yr [0]. The Department was set up by the New Mexico Legislature.

Puerto Rico has an Institute of Puerto Rican Culture ("Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña"). They are a government-owned corporation. They seem constantly stressed by their budget [2]. They have a budget of around $17mil/yr [1].

[0] http://www.newmexicoculture.org/about

[1] http://www.presupuesto.pr.gov/presupuestoRecomendado2018-201...

[2] https://nasaa-arts.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/PR_2013-20...

"We have to interpret their desires for them" is very easily re-interpreted as just another expression of paternal colonialism.

Remember, and I quote now from the Samoa Historic Preservation Office document at http://www.ashpo.org/attachments/article/94/2017%20FIVE%20YE... :

"American Samoa has remained an “unorganized” territory, with its own Constitution but under direct Federal government supervision delegated by the President to the Department of the Interior. This unique status is not accidental. It is the result of decisions consciously taken by the American Samoan leaders—not to obtain citizenship nor acquire an organic act—in order to keep their traditional land tenure system, whose racial preferences would make it unconstitutional under Federal law."

Your statement rejects the validity of their conscious decision. "Kill the Indian, and Save the Man" said Pratt. A policy of enforced statehood against their will would surely be characterized as "Kill the Samoan, and Save the American." Well, it wouldn't be the first time we broke agreements with indigenous peoples.

You earlier wrote "It's only with statehood that Hawaii gained a strong tradition of spending public funds on preserving and understanding the history of the Hawaiians".

The implication I read was that 1) a strong tradition could not start without statehood, and 2) that strong tradition is a natural consequence of statehood.

I believe both are wrong.

1) Do the people of American Samoa not have a sufficiently strong tradition of funding the preservation and understanding of their own history? They certainly spend public funds on it, like http://www.ashpo.org/ . What else would come with statehood?

Remember, the - for lack of a better term - white population of Hawaii dominated local politics until statehood. The political power of the Big Five, who backed the Hawaiian Republican Party, didn't want statehood because they thought territorial status was better for the sugar companies. And they wanted a subordinate plantation population.

American Samoa is 89% Samoan, and political power is held by the Samoans. This is a very different situation.

2) It took 19 years of statehood before the 1978 Hawaii State Constitutional Convention which established Hawaiian as the second official language, and created the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

By comparison, the NM Department of Cultural Affairs started 15 years ago, which is nearly a century after statehood, and it is nowhere equivalent to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in terms of effect.

Now, it's true that the department consolidated many functions which were present earlier. But the Territory of Hawaii might well have had a 'farm and ranch heritage museum' (which is part of what the NM Department of Cultural Affairs overseas - https://laws.nmonesource.com/w/nmos/Laws-2004#!fragment/zoup... ).

So, what's special about statehood how it preserves and helps understand history? And how does it follow directly from statehood, since I think the stronger influence in Hawaii is as a consequence of increasing awareness caused by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and onward.

Before I get to the main point, it would seem that I must clarify my point about governmental agencies: New Mexico gets to spend nearly three times what Puerto Rico spends on preserving its legacy and history, despite having about a third fewer residents. This is the privilege of statehood.

I'm not endorsing "paternal colonialism" when I say that we must interpret the desires of island peoples; I'm talking literally about the fact that, since their delegates cannot vote, it is our votes which carry their desired change in the law. I would like to remind you that I am on the side of giving those delegates votes, and further, giving them votes which would normalize their relations with the rest of the States and the Union; I think that we ought to end the paternally-(neo)colonialist practice of non-voting delegations of second-class residents, in favor of voting Reps and Senators.

You wrote "This is the privilege of statehood."

That is not what I inferred from your original statement.

Still I ask, is your argument that American Samoa isn't now doing enough to preserve their history and culture, and that statehood would improve the situation? If so, why?

You write "I am on the side of giving those delegates votes"

Yes, I am aware of that. I again quote from the Samoa Historic Preservation Office:

"American Samoa has remained an “unorganized” territory, with its own Constitution but under direct Federal government supervision delegated by the President to the Department of the Interior. This unique status is not accidental. It is the result of decisions consciously taken by the American Samoan leaders—not to obtain citizenship nor acquire an organic act—in order to keep their traditional land tenure system, whose racial preferences would make it unconstitutional under Federal law."

What you want want tear apart the local culture by destroying the traditional land tenure system. That is another of the lessons of Hawaii, and the American Samoans are well aware of it (based on a recent podcast I listened to where they went to American Samoa to talk with American Samoans on this exact topic).

When you say that you know better and "interpret the desires of island peoples" in a way to completely invert the explicit agreement with those people, made through a voluntary and informed process, then why shouldn't I describe it as "paternal colonialism"?

You want your preferred system of government - the states and federal system - to be their government, and get rid of the ‘aiga system of land ownership. That's colonialism. You want to override their decision because you think you know better. That's paternalism.

How am I wrong about my characterization?

I agree that there's also a "paternally-(neo)colonialist practice of non-voting delegations of second-class residents". But we can't fix that by continuing to practice colonialism and ignoring the wishes of the people and their non-voting representation.

Then let's let American Samoa leave the USA entirely, yes?

Certainly. If that's what they themselves decide, yes.

We must fulfill our obligations to them, and there must be "clear, solid restrictions on outsider influence in the debate and discussion" concerning that topic (quoting myself from earlier.)

Would it not be possible to guarantee first-class citizenship to Samoans without making Samoa a state?

How do you define "first-class citizenship"? If it involves having voting representation in the House and Senate, there is no current mechanism other than statehood.

Also, how do you handle the 10th Amendment? Which says powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved to the States or the people.

Territories are messy and we can do better.

No more than we did to any other English-speaking US territory in the 19th or 20th century that didn't have enough people for statehood. (And before you bring up Puerto Rico, a) it's not English-speaking and b) no, it's not true that its people have ever voted for statehood, whether in 2017 or any other year.) If Guam or USVI ever gets to a population closer to that of one of the smaller US states, and its people vote to apply for statehood, we'll talk then. Same goes for Greenland should the US buy it, hordes of Americans migrate to it, and it develops a substantial English-speaking population.

Why would English speaking have anything to do with applying for statehood?

Because English is vital to being part of a unified American culture.

If the US annexed Canada, I would also not want Quebec as a state for the same reason. Either make it a territory or give it independence.

I consider the current native speakers of New Mexican Spanish, whose family settled in New Mexico in the 1600s, to be equally a part of the "unified American culture" as you are.

The same for the Amish who speak Pennsylvanian German, the Gullah speaking people, the Cajun speakers, and the many indigenous people of North America who speak Navajo, or Hawaiian, or language at home.


That's completely untrue. The US has no national language, and bilingualism is something to encourage not suppress. There are 41 _million_ spanish speakers in the US. HI, AK, ND, LA, PR, NM all have more than english as an official language.

The more language learning is taught, the more Americans of every type can appreciate other cultures, and the more new Americans feel supported in their communities.

Take the nationalism elsewhere.

> it's not English-speaking

So what? Do people who don't speak English have less claim to representation in the national government?

> no, it's not true that its people have ever voted for statehood, whether in 2017 or any other year.

Yes, it is. Statehood has won by the terms of the last two status referenda.

It's true that they were boycotted by some anti-statehood groups, who thought the choices were framed optimally, but when people choose not to vote because they don't like the available options, we don't say that the resulting winner didn't win.

I don't believe California or New Mexico had predominately English-speaking populations by the time of statehood, much less being aligned with viewpoints common to the rest of the US.

Quoting https://www.quora.com/What-was-the-population-of-California-... , "The Native population of CA in 1850 is estimated at 300,000. By 1863 it was down to 30,000 because of genocide and enslavement."

From http://explore.museumca.org/goldrush/curriculum/1stcaliforni... you see the US census says there were 92,597 of which 25,000 were Spanish speakers, and "Indigenous California Indians" were "Not included in the population count".

So California had far more non-English speakers than native English speakers when it became a state, and only 100,000 people.

I believe that the majority of New Mexico spoke Spanish as their primary language when New Mexico became a state in 1912.

The 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica entry for "New Mexico" says, in the causal racism of that era:

"The inhabitants of Spanish descent have been only slightly assimilated and cling tenaciously to their racial peculiarities. As a rule, they live in low adobe houses built around a court, and are poor and ignorant, but hospitable. They are more Americanized in the Rio Grande Valley than amoung the mountains where English is rarely spoken. Many of them have intermarried with the Indians, creating the class of half-breeds known as "Mestizos." Although the proportion of Spanish-American and Indian inhabitants is steadily decreasing with the arrival of immigrants from other parts of the United States, it was nevertheless computed by the New Mexican authorities to be about 63% in 1904. About one-tenth of the Spanish-American and Indian population habitually use the English language."

Quoted from https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b2900092&view=1up...

That's probably about 50% of the state which was predominately not using English when NM became a state.

Both NM and CA could expect large numbers of English speakers to outnumber those who spoke other languages. In CA this happened almost immediately, because of the Gold Rush; in NM it took longer. In both cases, English-speaking, common-law government institutions were immediately established upon US annexation.

Had the US annexed Quebec two centuries ago, the massive American population influx into the region would no doubt have assimilated the Quebecois, and today French Quebec would be a bunch of place names around the state, and tourist districts in Montreal and Quebec City. That wouldn't happen today because there is a substantial French-speaking population, and a new large English-speaking influx is unlikely.

And yes, I believe English is fundamental to being part of American culture. That doesn't preclude speaking another language as well. But the descendants of hispanos of New Mexico, Hawaiians in Hawaii, and every other group speak English, and would be the first to tell you of the importance of doing so for personal and societal advancement.

You write "because of the Gold Rush".

Please do not exclude "and genocide of the Indigenous peoples of California". https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Indian_Wars

Your hypothetical analogy to Quebec of two centuries ago fails because the white population of the US would likely not have killed off 90% of the French-speaking population. As it was, we know that the population influx of the Great Migration of Canada of 200 years ago didn't cause the Quebecois to disappear.

You write "In both cases, English-speaking, common-law government institutions were immediately established upon US annexation"

Right, but earlier you wrote "English-speaking US territory", not "English-speaking government institutions". I was objecting to your earlier characterization. NM was not primarily an English-speaking territory.

Now you add "common-law" to the mix. Why is that relevant? Louisiana has a civil-law legal system, not have a common-law one, so it isn't like common-law-only is an essential part of the "unified American culture" you mentioned.

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