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THE methods by which we govern our outlying territories are again under discussion, and suggestions have been numerous as to how we might acquit our responsibilities more efficiently. One recommendation is for the establishment of a single agency, located in some existing department of the government, to which would be transferred the task of supervising all our dependencies and possessions. At present the administration of these territories is carried on in three different departments at Washington. It is pointed out that the change would be in line with the organization of other governments possessing overseas territories, and which usually have either a colonial ministry or some other central organ with full administrative powers over those areas.
Is a single agency of this nature advisable in the case of the United States? In attempting to find the answer to this question we must remember that our territories were acquired at different times and for different reasons. It must also be remembered that the present relationship of these territories to the United States is not identical in all cases, and that the future purposes of the United States with reference to them have in some instances been implied but in others have not been implied. Congress was thus led to place the administration of territorial acquisitions under different departments of the government, as is shown in the following table:
|Area in||Date of||Administering|
Congress has organized Hawaii and Alaska as incorporated Territories of the United States. This is frequently taken as implying that they are eventually to become States of the Union. Certainly it appears that at the time Congress had no other plan in mind. The "Act to provide a government for the Territory of Hawaii," approved April 30, 1900, made no reference to any supervision over the new government by an executive department in Washington. There was to be about the same relationship between the Federal executive departments and their agencies in the Territory as existed between these departments and their representatives in the States of the Union.
Perhaps the strongest factor in bringing about the annexation of Hawaii to the United States was the belief that it would be valuable in our scheme of national defense. On this account the duty of supervising the government established in Hawaii might very naturally have been placed in one of the departments concerned with national defense. Incidentally, if this had been done the Hawaiian population might have been of a different nature today--one more in accord with the purposes which brought about the annexation in the first place. The Act itself, however, makes it clear that Congress attached little importance to the necessity of supervision by executive departments over the government of outlying territories.
The Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam were taken over for the United States by the Navy. The primary consideration in acquiring all these islands was their probable utility in national defense, particularly that part of it entrusted to the Navy. Not unnaturally their supervision and government were for the time being left with the Navy Department.
The Canal Zone was acquired for the purpose of constructing a ship canal across the Isthmus of Panama. The construction of the Canal was supervised by the War Department. Moreover, an essential factor in the organization and operation of the Canal is the problem of its defense in time of war or other emergency. Thus the government of the Canal Zone, which is merely an adjunct of the Canal, has naturally continued under the War Department. Provision has been made, too, for complete military government of the Zone should the United States be engaged in war or should war appear imminent in the opinion of the President. This provision in the Panama Canal Act of August 24, 1912 might be taken into account not only with reference to the Canal Zone itself but also when we study the situation of other remote territories which may have similar importance in our scheme of national defense.
It should go without saying that the requirements of national defense must not be lost sight of in considering the administration of territories originally acquired for that particular purpose. It is a fortunate circumstance, however, that our organization and maintenance of a territory for national defense provides distinct economic advantages to the inhabitants. It may be decided, for example, not to make the Island of Guam a naval base -- and certainly a naval base should not be created if it is not needed--yet it is difficult to conceive of anything that would be more conducive to the welfare of the population of Guam than the establishment there of such a base. This is true to some extent of the other island territories which have been under the supervision of the Navy Department. If any of these islands were to be seriously used as parts of the naval defense of the United States it would obviously be unwise to place their supervision elsewhere than in the Navy Department.
Recently it was determined that the Virgin Islands had become of minor importance for purposes of defense, and as a result supervision over them has been transferred from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. The proximity of these islands to Porto Rico, their limited resources and their small population have indicated the desirability of attaching them to Porto Rico as soon as such union can be accomplished without offense to the populations involved. Economically it would be most advantageous, particularly to the people of the Virgin Islands, and whatever may be the precise form of government established there this objective should not be lost from sight.
Turning to our greatest insular possession, the Philippines, we find that a military government of the United States existed there prior to the organization of a civil government. The Military Governor was the commanding general. He was a subordinate of the Secretary of War and of the President, and his acts as Military Governor were as much subject to direction and review by them as were his acts as a commander of troops. There was necessarily the closest relationship between the War Department and the military government. The purely military acts of the Military Governor were handled in the customary military way. It was found, however, that a special agency was needed in the Department to deal with the civil affairs of the Islands as distinct from military operations there. Mr. Root set forth clearly in his annual reports as Secretary of War the situation which demanded the creation in the War Department of an office of Insular Affairs.
A close relationship, therefore, had already been established between the War Department and the government in the Islands prior to the enactment of Congressional legislation creating a civil government. The subsequent relationship between the Department and the government of the Islands was more the result of the precedent established by Secretary Root than of the very brief legislative provision which continued the office of Insular Affairs created by him. "An Act temporarily to provide for the administration of the affairs of civil government in the Philippine Islands," approved July 1, 1902, contains the following clauses:
That the Division of Insular Affairs of the War Department, organized by the Secretary of War, is hereby continued until otherwise provided, and shall hereafter be known as the Bureau of Insular Affairs of the War Department. The business assigned to said bureau shall embrace all matters pertaining to civil government in the island possessions of the United States subject to the jurisdiction of the War Department. . . .
The passage by Congress in 1916 of the Organic Act, generally known as the Jones Law, did not withdraw the authority of the Bureau of Insular Affairs over the civil government of the Islands.
In Porto Rico, following the military operations of 1898, a military government was established along very much the same lines as that in the Philippines. But the Organic Act of April 12, 1900, which created a civil government for the Island, withdrew the War Department's jurisdiction. Although Congress took this action, it failed (as in the case of Hawaii) to provide for supervision by a single executive department in Washington. The Governor of Porto Rico reported to the Department of State, and the heads of the several executive departments of the Porto Rican Government reported to the heads of the corresponding American departments. This arrangement, which followed the customary territorial procedure, was found to be wholly unsatisfactory, and as soon as it could be legally done the President issued an executive order (July 15, 1909) placing the supervision of the Porto Rican affairs in the Bureau of Insular Affairs of the War Department.
Briefly, then, the status of the outlying territories of the United States may be summarized as follows: 1. Alaska and Hawaii are organized and incorporated Territories. Their representation in Washington is that of the older contiguous Territories of the United States, modified slightly by precedents that have grown up. But it is not an unfair analogy to say that they are represented just as were Arizona and New Mexico at the time when Hawaii was annexed to the United States. The executive department most closely related to them is the Department of the Interior. 2. The remaining non-contiguous territories are alike in being unincorporated. Of these, the Philippine Islands, Porto Rico and the Canal Zone are supervised by the War Department; Guam and American Samoa still report to the Navy Department; and by a recent executive order the Virgin Islands Government reports to the Department of the Interior.
The idea that the functions thus distributed among three departments should be centered in a single executive department has appealed to many American observers. It had its origin in the attempts made early in this century to solve the administrative problems of Porto Rico. In his Annual Report for 1905 the Governor of Porto Rico said:
The Insular Government feels greatly the need of some bureau or division of the Central Government in Washington which could act as a representative in its relations to the Federal Government and the outside public, and which could furnish information and data without delay to officials and others interested in Porto Rico and its resources. In dealing in the United States the Insular Government frequently requires the aid of trained representatives with knowledge of the conditions and needs of the Island, and, on the other hand, members of Congress and others have been too often put to the delay of writing to the Island authorities for information which was imperatively needed at the time.
And again in his report of 1906 he said:
I desire also to renew my recommendation that some bureau or division of the Central Government in Washington be designated as the representative of the Insular Government in the same way that the Bureau of Insular Affairs at the present time represents the Philippine administration.
Prior to his appointment as Governor of Porto Rico, the author of these reports, Governor Winthrop, had been an official of the Philippine Government and had had first-hand knowledge of the work of the War Department and of the Bureau of Insular Affairs in assisting the Philippine Government. His comments are quoted for the twofold purpose of showing that the ordinary supervision which had been given to our territorial governments and which was then being given to Porto Rico was widely different from the supervision which was given by the War Department to the insular possessions subject to its jurisdiction, and also to mark the beginning of the study of the question whether or not our detached territories might not be supervised advantageously by a single bureau or department in Washington.
President Roosevelt advocated reorganization along these lines. In his message to Congress of December 3, 1906, he said: "The administration of the affairs of Porto Rico, together with those of the Philippines, Hawaii and our other insular possessions, should be directed under one executive department; by preference, the Department of State or the Department of War." After a visit to Porto Rico, he said in a special message to Congress on December 11, 1908: "All the insular governments should be placed in one bureau, either in the Department of War or the Department of State. It is a mistake not so to arrange our handling of these islands at Washington as to be able to take advantage of the experience gained in one when dealing with the problems that from time to time arise in another." On January 7, 1907, President Roosevelt inquired of the Secretary of War whether he might designate the Bureau of Insular Affairs of the War Department as the Federal office to have supervision over Hawaiian affairs. The President was advised that legislation was necessary and a bill was introduced in Congress to accomplish that purpose, but it failed to pass.
Among the considerations which doubtless led President Roosevelt to adopt this attitude was the fact that the government officials and the public could without delay secure from the Bureau of Insular Affairs any information they desired to have about the Philippine Islands, but that information about the other dependencies of the United States was far less easy to get. In addition, the Philippine Government could turn to its Washington bureau for information and assistance on a variety of matters. The other territories did not have this advantage.
It is important to bear in mind that the direct authority over outlying territorial governments conferred by Congress on executive departments is almost negligible and that the functions of the War Department and of the Bureau of Insular Affairs with reference to the Philippine Government are conferred by the Legislature and Executive of that government, or else have grown up by precedents as the result of the good will existing between the War Department and the Philippine Government. The word "supervision" has been used because it is the customary term, but it by no means describes the relationship. Situated as it is, the Philippine Government would be compelled to create an agency in the United States to perform many necessary functions for it were there no Bureau of Insular Affairs.
The purpose of the War Department was to maintain in the Philippine Islands a government to the greatest extent possible self-contained; to have in the Islands the best available personnel, which should support and assist the government established in the Islands; to represent the Philippine Government before the American public, Congress, and the Executive, in the closest coöperation with the Governor-General; to make the War Department the channel of communication between the Governor-General and the United States and to prevent other American agencies from interfering with the government of the Islands. Most important of all, it has sought to keep constantly before Congress and the Executive the necessity for not extending to a remote territory like the Philippines statutes designed to meet conditions obtaining in the United States.
The direct advantages of constant and close coöperation between the Philippine Government and the War Department may be illustrated by a single example. In 1905 the Bureau of Insular Affairs sold for the Philippine Government $2,500,000 of public improvement bonds bearing 4 percent interest. These bonds were sold at 109.06, the premium realized amounting to $226,500. To accomplish this the War Department had secured from the Attorney-General an opinion on the legality of the bonds, and it had secured from the Secretary of the Treasury a statement that the bonds would be accepted at par as security for deposits of public money and might under certain conditions be used as security for circulation by national banks. The United States Treasury agreed to be, in fact, the fiscal agent for the bonds; that is, the interest and principal were to be paid by the United States Treasury. The bonds were engraved at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing of the Treasury Department. During the same year two issues of Hawaiian bonds were sold. The first, bearing interest of 4½ percent, were sold at 100.01; the second, bearing interest at 4 percent, were sold at 101.375. One million dollars of Porto Rican bonds were sold in 1907 at slightly less than 105. The last-named were 4 percent bonds and the sale was made by the Porto Rican Government without the intervention of an executive department of the United States. The better price of the Philippine bonds was notoriously not due to the better credit of the Philippine Government. Later, when the methods used by the War Department were made available to the Porto Rican and Hawaiian authorities, the striking difference in price disappeared.
An important consideration in transferring the supervision of a territory from one executive department to another should be the informed wishes of the people who would be directly affected by the change. Alaska and Hawaii have been given a status which perhaps justifies their inhabitants in believing that there has been a promise of statehood. If the supervision of these Territories should be transferred from the Interior Department, which bore a similar relationship to other territories which have since become States, the change might be interpreted as a withdrawal of this promise and might for that reason be very unpopular. It would seem wise to make no change unless it had been definitely decided to withdraw what has been called an implied promise of statehood. This conclusion seems the more sound because federal supervision over these Territories, wherever lodged, would at once become ineffective and unsatisfactory because it would be regarded as only temporary.
With regard to the unincorporated territories of the United States, it seems clear that with the exception of small islands essential to defense or remote from our shores they can be most efficiently supervised by the War Department through the Bureau of Insular Affairs. There should be full recognition of the fact that in assigning small islands for supervision it is proper to keep in view the specific object for which they were acquired. An island or à small group of islands acquired primarily for naval purposes does not differ greatly from a war vessel or fleet at anchor. It would be as improper to transfer the administration of such an island or island group from the Navy to another department as to turn over war vessels to any other than the Navy Department. Should the naval purposes become at any time negligible or relatively unimportant, the question might then arise as to their transfer. Another set of factors centers about the situation of remote islands with respect to visits of inspection, communications and related matters; in these directions the Navy Department has peculiar advantages not held by other departments. It should not be forgotten, too, that as a military service has to be prepared at all times to take over the administration of occupied territory it must be complete in itself, with all the technical personnel necessary for the maintenance of order, sanitation, health, public works -- in fact, government.
Other suggestions in regard to a single agency of administration have been made and should not be ignored. One rather comprehensive plan may be noted in some detail. In 1921 there appeared a pamphlet entitled " A Proposal for Government Reorganization," published in New York under the auspices of the National Budget Committee. Among other things it said:
It is believed that a single agency of the Government should be given jurisdiction over all business of the United States relating to the government of its territories and dependencies. One advantage that would come from such an arrangement would be the eventual building up of a personnel trained in the field of colonial and territorial government. The problem of government in any of our territories and possessions is not materially different from the same problem in any other, and were a single agency of the Government given jurisdiction over our relations with all such territories and possessions, interchange of personnel between our colonies would be facilitated, and the experience gained in the administration of one government would thus be made available in the administration of others. A permanent corps of officials, trained in such matters, would gradually be built up. It has been noted that with the exception of Alaska and Hawaii the administration of our colonies and dependencies is under the jurisdiction of our military establishments. However effective such administration is mechanically, it is always subject to the criticism that the people involved feel that, to a certain extent, they continue to live under a military government. It is believed that the separation of such questions from the military and naval establishments would do much to improve the feeling of the people of our dependencies and possessions toward the American Government. Nor is this theoretical reasoning. There can be no doubt but that the training and experience of army and navy officers is such that their treatment of the purely civil problems involved in the administration of our territories and dependencies is ordinarily very different from that which would be accorded these problems by administrators trained and experienced along other than military lines, who would doubtless give greater regard to educational and health work and the development of agriculture, commerce and other industries. (p. 57.)
The Department of State is charged primarily with the dealings of the United States with other governments, which is substantially the question involved here -- the dealings of the United States with the governments of its own territories and insular possessions. . . . The training and experience gained by the officers and employees of the State Department in caring for the relations of the United States with foreign governments adequately fits them to administer the business of the United States in its dealings with its own territories and insular possessions. Hardly any question can arise in the administration of our territorial and colonial governments that has not a counterpart in some problem handled by the State Department in conducting the negotiations of the United States with other countries. (pp. 57-58.)
The quotation of such long passages from this document must not be taken as the mere putting up of a man of straw. Similar arguments have frequently been used by other authorities to justify the changes recommended.
The belief is expressed that transfer from the War Department's jurisdiction of those possessions now under it would improve the feeling of the people concerned toward the American Government. There is nothing in the record to support this contention. It is only necessary to recall that Porto Rico was returned to the jurisdiction of the War Department in 1909 largely as a result of dissatisfaction on the part of the Porto Rican Government with the method of its supervision.
It is surprising, to say the least, to find the War Department administration charged with laxness in such matters as education and public health, in view of the fact that its work in these fields has been particularly notable. In the Philippines and in Porto Rico it has set an example to the world of what can be done by way of educational work in the tropics. The criticism most frequently met with is that too large a part of the revenues of the governments concerned are devoted to education and that education has been too rapid in comparison with development along other lines. The health work of the purely military government of the United States in Cuba, Porto Rico, the Canal Zone and the Philippines marks the beginning of an era in tropical health work and furnishes perhaps the most distinguished achievement of America in the field of public health.
The recommendation that men trained in one territorial field should be available for service in other fields is excellent, but it fails to take into account the fact that this is the case at present. Men trained in the Philippine service have been utilized freely not only in our other dependencies but in the service of the United States at home and in that of foreign governments, particularly in Latin America. It should be observed that the American policy has been to train the people of territories and dependencies to govern themselves, which means giving them experience in all the fields of government service. In the performance of this service American officials have been of great value. Success in their work, however, carries with it the gradual closing of the field. Thus more and more the utilization of persons with this experience must be in new fields, either in service of the United States Government or else in that of foreign governments.
The pamphlet also recommends that the proposed agency for territorial administration be located in the Department of State. It is very doubtful whether the Department of State has ever been of the opinion that its normal or proper duties had anything in common with supervising and assisting the governments of detached territories.
The theory that there is something in the education and training of military men which unfits them for dealing with civilians is not supported by the experience of the United States or by that of foreign countries. No doubt military men could be selected who would be unfitted for any non-military duty. But the military man is required by his profession to deal with civil populations under peculiarly trying circumstances, and his training should equip him for such duties. No government has more delicate tasks presented to it than are involved in those of purely military government; and to exercise authority successfully in such a government, in the American tradition, one must have the essential military qualifications of "officer and gentleman." The military man who constantly feels it necessary to identify himself by rattling his saber is quite apt to be a misfit in military life.
But the real answer to this last criticism is quite independent of the question of the general qualifications of military men. Root, Taft, Wright, Dickinson, Stimson, Garrison, Baker, Weeks -- here we have a roster of the Secretaries of War whose duty it has been to supervise the dependencies of the United States reporting to the War Department during the first twenty-five years of its responsibility. Surely no abler men could have been found in our country to initiate and carry on this work of administration. Their handiwork appears not only in acts performed but in the traditions created in this service.
Imperfections may of course be pointed out, but it should be remembered that the supervisory department is not given the power of a dictator. The head of the department may advise and admonish. Unfortunately there have been instances when advice was not followed and admonition was not heeded. Yet the work of the War Department in the Philippines, in Porto Rico, in the Canal Zone, in Cuba and elsewhere has been well done. If it has fallen short of perfection there remains the satisfaction of remembering that many expert critics predicted that it could not be done at all.