On March 2, 1917 the people of Puerto Rico were granted citizenship through the Jones-Shafroth act signed by President Woodrow Wilson.

Puerto Rico is located about 1000 miles southeast of Florida and less than 500 miles from the coast of South America. As part of the Treaty of Paris, nineteen years earlier in December 1898 the beautiful island was ceded to the U.S. by Spain. The treaty ended the Spanish-American war.

A congressional ac created a civil government in 1900 and the first governor, Charles H. Allen, was appointed by President McKinley. He was inaugurated in May of that year in the islands capital city, San Juan.

Puerto Rican’s were granted citizenship by an act of Congress and not by the Constitiuation, therefore it was not guaranteed by the Constitution. The Jones-Shafroth Act also created a Bill of Rights for the island, which separated its government into executive, legislative and judicial branches and actually declared Puerto Rico’s official language to be English.

As citizens, Puerto Ricans could join the U.S. Army, but few chose to do so. President Wilson signed a compulsory military service act two months later and 20,000 Puerto Rican men were drafted to serve during World War I. Those soldiers were sent to guard the Panama Canal (linked the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the Isthmus of Panama and Central America), which had been in operation since 1914.

Puerto Rican infantry regiments were also sent to the Western Front, including the 396th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico. Created in New York, whose members earned the nickname Harlem Hell Fighters.

During Word War II, Puerto Rico became an important military and naval base for the U.S. Army and aided by the hydroelectric power expansion program started in the 1940s the economy continued to grow.

In 1951, Puerto Rican voters approved a new U.S. law granting islanders the right to draft their own constitution. And in March 1952 Governor Luis Munoz Marin, proclaimed the island a freely associated U.S. commonwealth under the new constitution.

Though nationalist calls for the island’s complete independence from the U.S. was and still is a constant—as are calls for Puerto Rico to become a state—referendums confirmed the decision to date to remain a commonwealth.

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