The Colonial Constitution: Law and Empire in the US Territories


ACLS Fellowship Program




Following the War of 1898, the United States took possession of new island territories. In a series of decisions known as the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court ruled that the US Constitution did not apply fully in “unincorporated” territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Territorial inhabitants were subject to US rule, yet lacked the full constitutional rights that stateside citizens possessed. This project examines how the precedent set by the Insular Cases substantially affected the lives of people in the US territories over the course of the twentieth century. Territorial residents responded to the Insular Cases in different ways: some challenged their second-class status in court and on the streets, while others appropriated the cases to advance their own political agendas. This project sheds light on how law serves as an important facet of both governance and resistance in the US empire.