Jones-Shafroth Act

Jones-Shafroth Act

The Jones-Shafroth Act (1917), applies to the grant of citizenship to all citizens of Puerto Rico. Also known as the "Jones Act -" or "Jones Law - of Puerto Rico", it amended the "Organic Act of Puerto Rico" created by the Foraker Act of 1900. (This "Jones Act" applies only to Puerto Rico.)

The Jones-Shafroth Act conferred United States citizenship on all citizens of Puerto Rico and revised 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 to be observed by the government of Puerto Rico (although trial by jury, which did not exist in Puerto Rico's civil law system, was not among them).

The Act created a locally elected legislature. The two houses were a Senate consisting of 19 members and a 39-member House of Representatives. All were 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.

Six executive departments were constituted: Justice, Finance, Interior, Education, Agriculture, Labour 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, and 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 President, because the Constitution allowed only full-fledged states to have electoral votes.

The impetus for this legislation came from a complex of both local and mainland interests. Puerto Ricans lacked internationally recognized citizenship; but the local council was wary of "imposing citizenship." Luis Muñoz Rivera, the Resident Commissioner in Washington, argued in its favor, giving several significant speeches in the House of Representatives. [ 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."

Many Puerto Ricans believe that the Act allowed conscription to be extended to the island, which sent 20,000 soldiers to the U.S. Army during the World War I. In reality, however, the Act was under consideration long before the United States entered the War, and male residents of the United States (including Puerto Rico) were eligible for the draft whether or not they were U.S. citizens or nationals. [Jose Cabranes, "Citizenship and the American Empire" (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979), pp. 14-17.]

The act was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on March 2, 1917. Portions of the law were superseded in 1948, after which the Governor was popularly elected. In 1952, Puerto Rico was allowed to draft its own Constitution, which allowed greater autonomy as a Commonwealth.

Howard Kern was the Attorney General in 1914 and was appointed Acting Governor of Puerto Rico in 1917, appointed by Woodrow Wilson.


*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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