A look into the past: the Jones-Shafroth Act

by | Jul 26, 2016 | Congress, Headlines | Comments

In our daily lives we tend to be so focused with the present and the future, that we forget to remember the past. In all our achievements, struggles, and episodes, we forget to understand how we got there in the first place.

Every story has a beginning, and every beginning determines the fate of the story.

Puerto Rico’s story is a long, rich tale full of life, culture, and transformation. Today we examine the events leading up to the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 to see how the foundation of US – Puerto Rican relations began with this particular piece of legislation.

After the Spanish – American War in 1898, Spain ceded the territory of Puerto Rico to the US. The US held a military occupational force in Puerto Rico until the Foraker Act passed. The Foraker Act was the first piece of legislation that the U.S. Congress approved of for Puerto Rico. It set up a temporary government comprised of a governor, an executive council, a House of Representatives, and a Judicial System. They were all appointed by the U.S. President and Congress. This established Puerto Rico as an “unorganized territory.” This act had its critics who made known their discontents with this situation. This led the way for a new approach, a new piece of legislation.

This brings us to the passage the Jones-Shafroth Act. It was signed by president Woodrow Wilson in 1917, and it helped extend more autonomy to the territory Puerto Rico. The act made all citizens of Puerto Rico, US citizens. It established separation of powers for the three branches of government in the Puerto Rican government. It created a bill of rights that extended to all citizens. This was the preliminary setup for the Puerto Rican government and created the framework for its modern day structure. In 1948, portions of the Jones-Shafroth Act were superceded. This allowed for a governor to be popularly elected by the Puerto Rican citizens. It also allowed Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution. This truly set up greater autonomy for Puerto Rico and allowed them to have more control in their internal affairs.

This act is still in effect today, and has helped establish the outlines of Puerto Rico’s structure in comparison with its territorial status. Many factors have helped shape Puerto Rico into what it is today. The Jones-Shafroth Act created the beginning of the partnership between the US and Puerto Rico. We look at the past to see how Puerto Rico is today. We add on to the past, with our present situations, to determine the best course of action we must take. We create the future with an understanding of the past. Finally, we use our experiences and knowledge to help either continue on the legacy of the past, or re-make it to fit a new modern era. Puerto Rico must now apply the lessons of the past, to determine its new course of action.