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U.S. Territories

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The following territories within the United States were officially organized by Congress with an Organic Act on the first date listed. Each was admitted as a US state on the second date listed. Often, larger outlying portions of an organized territory were not included in the new state.

Northwest Territory
Southwest Territory
Mississippi Territory
Indiana Territory
Territory of Orleans

Michigan Territory

Louisiana Territory

Illinois Territory

Missouri Territory

Alabama Territory

Arkansas Territory

Florida Territory

Wisconsin Territory

Iowa Territory

Oregon Territory

Minnesota Territory

New Mexico Territory

Utah Territory

Washington Territory

Kansas Territory

Nebraska Territory

Colorado Territory

Nevada Territory

Dakota Territory

Arizona Territory

Idaho Territory

Montana Territory

Wyoming Territory

Oklahoma Territory

Hawaii Territory

Alaska Territory




Territories of the United States are a type of political division that is directly overseen by the United States federal government, in contrast to the states, which share sovereignty with the federal government. The territories were created to govern newly acquired land while the borders of the United States were still evolving; many of the boundaries of territories changed over time, when territories were subdivided or shifted, as when a portion of a territory was admitted as a state.

Territories can be classified by whether they are incorporated (part of the United States proper) and whether they have an organized government (through an Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress).

 Many organized incorporated territories of the United States existed from 1789 to 1959 (the first being the Northwest and the Southwest Territory, the last being the Alaska Territory and the Hawaii Territory), through which 31 territories applied for and achieved statehood. In the process of organizing and promoting territories to statehood, some areas of a territory demographically lacking sufficient development and population densities were temporarily orphaned from parts of a larger territory at the time a vote was taken petitioning Congress for statehood rights.

For example, when a portion of the Missouri Territory became the state of Missouri, the remaining portion of the territory, consisting of the present states of Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas, most of Kansas, Wyoming, and Montana, and parts of Colorado and Minnesota, effectively became an unorganized territory.

Under Article IV of the United States Constitution, territory is subject to and belongs to the United States (but not necessarily within the national boundaries or any individual state). This includes tracts of land or water not included within the limits of any State and not admitted as a State into the Union.

The Constitution of the United States states:

    The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

    —Article IV, United States Constitution



Political Territories

Organized incorporated territories are those territories of the United States that are both incorporated (part of the United States proper) and organized (having an organized government authorized by an Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress usually consisting of a territorial legislature, territorial governor, and a basic judicial system). There have been no such territories since Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as states in 1959.
Through most of U.S. history, regions that were admitted as US states were, prior to admission, territories of this kind. As the United States grew, the most populous parts of the organized territory would achieve statehood. The remainder frequently kept at least some of the governing structure of the old legal entity (territory) and would be renamed to avoid confusion.

Example of one of the interim political divisions of the United States
(as they were from 1868 to 1876, including nine organized territories and two unorganized territories.)
U.S. Territories


21st century Territories

Territories have always been a part of the United States. By Act of Congress, the term ‘United States,’ when used in a geographical sense, means “the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands of the United States.” Since political union with the Northern Mariana Islands in 1986, they too are treated as a part of the U.S. An Executive Order in 2007 includes American Samoa as U.S. “geographical extent” duly reflected in U.S. State Department documents.

The five inhabited U.S. territories have local voting rights, have protections under U.S. courts, pay some U.S. taxes, and are represented in the U.S. Congress by delegates who can appoint constituents to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Merchant Marine academies. Approximately 4 million islanders are U.S. citizens; about 55,000 U.S. non-citizen nationals live in Samoa. Under current law among the territories, "only persons born in American Samoa and Swains Island are non-citizen U.S. nationals". Samoans are under the protection of the U.S., with freedom of U.S. travel without visas, and U.S. citizens do not lose citizenship by permanent residence there.

Inhabited United States territories have democratic self-government, in local three-branch governments, found respectively in Pago Pago, American Samoa; Hagåtña, Territory of Guam; Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; San Juan, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, United States Virgin Islands. Nine uninhabited territories administered by the Interior Department are Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Atoll, Navassa Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Wake Island.

Every two years, U.S. citizens of the inhabited territories popularly elect “Members of Congress”, titled Congressman or Congresswoman. They “possess the same powers as other members of the House, except that they may not vote when the House is meeting as the House of Representatives.” They participate in debate, are assigned offices, money for staff, and appoint constituents from their territories to the four military academies Army, Navy, Air Force and Merchant Marine Academy.

Like the delegate from District of Columbia, they do not vote in a roll call vote, but they vote on all legislation before Congress as equals in their standing committees, they are included in their party count for each committee, and they are equal to senators on conference committees. Depending on the congress, they may also vote on the floor in the House Committee of the Whole.

Members of Congress from the territories seated as of January 2013 are: Gregorio Sablan for the Northern Marianas; Madeleine Bordallo for Guam; Eni Faleomavaega for Samoa; Pedro Pierluisi for Puerto Rico; and Donna Christian-Christensen for the Virgin Islands.


Original United States Expansion

Territorial Acquisitions of the United States from 1783's peace
with the United Kingdom–to–peace with Mexico 1848.

U.S. Expansion

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