• Puerto Rico played a key role in the American campaign of the Spanish-American War. This military map aided generals whose victory on the island helped break Spain's hold over the Caribbean. Courtesy of Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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    Military map, island of Puerto Rico
    • Date
    • 1898
    • Creator
    • United States, Adjutant-General's Office, . Military Information Division
    • Description
    • Shows positions of troops in Puerto Rico in 1898. Relief shown by hachures. In upper left corner: Adjutant General's Office, Military Information Division. Includes inset of Isla Culebra and Isla de Vieques. Enclosure E to accompany report of Nov. 3,... more
      Shows positions of troops in Puerto Rico in 1898. Relief shown by hachures. In upper left corner: Adjutant General's Office, Military Information Division. Includes inset of Isla Culebra and Isla de Vieques. Enclosure E to accompany report of Nov. 3, 1898, W.M. Black, Lt. Col. Chief Eng. U.V. Exhibited in “Faces and Places,” at the Boston Public Library, Boston, MA, October 2003 - September 2004. MB (BRL). Drawn by W. Morey Jr. C.E. less
    • Rights
    • No known copyright restrictions. No known restrictions on use.
    • Partner
    • Digital Commonwealth
    • Contributing Institution
    • Boston Public Library

  • Puerto Ricans supported US troops fighting against Spain. This illustration captures a number of American soldiers on the front lines during an attack on El Caney, Puerto Rico. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

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    The attack on El Caney, Puerto Rico [i.e., Cuba], July 1, 1898
    • Date
    • 1899
    • Creator
    • Ditzler, Hugh Witter (1871-1949).
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/UND/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • Art and Picture Collection. The New York Public Library

  • US troops occupied towns and cities all across the island. In this photo, a few American soldiers stand in the ruins of a Spanish artillery. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

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    Occupation of Porto [i.e. Puerto] Rico by U.S. forces. Spanish barracks at San Juan showing effects of artillery fire, 1898
    • Date
    • 1860 - 1920
    • Description
    • 84804 [notes in folder] USSC.
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/UND/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection. The New York Public Library

  • After the war, what did the US owe to Puerto Rico? This political cartoon attempts to capture the tense political situation. Congress controls the gates between the Constitution and Puerto Rico, implying that the latter would be ruled with a more restrictive, colonial government. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

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    Separated
    • Creator
    • U.S. Senate. Office of Senate Curator. ?-.
    • Description
    • This illustration entitled, "Separated", by cartoonist Clifford Berryman, which appeared in the Washington Post on March 9, 1900, depicts the ongoing debate in Congress as to whether Puerto Rico, acquired from Spain as part of the Spanish - American ... more
      This illustration entitled, "Separated", by cartoonist Clifford Berryman, which appeared in the Washington Post on March 9, 1900, depicts the ongoing debate in Congress as to whether Puerto Rico, acquired from Spain as part of the Spanish - American War should be governed by the U.S. Constitution. less
    • Rights
    • Unrestricted.
    • Partner
    • National Archives and Records Administration
    • Contributing Institution
    • Center for Legislative Archives

Running an empire demanded more than a treaty. The US labored for decades before and after the Spanish-American War to lay the groundwork and administrative systems that supported its new borders. This section explores how America officially annexed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Hawaii.

Beginning in the fifteenth century, Puerto Rico was a stronghold of Spain's Caribbean empire. With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, the US quickly set its sights on San Juan. American troops invaded and occupied Puerto Rico in July 1898 and met little resistance. Puerto Ricans welcomed the US as a liberator. They interpreted American collaboration as a chance for economic reform and eventual freedom. By October, Spain surrendered Puerto Rico to American troops, yet with peace came new tension. Puerto Ricans lobbied for independence. Politicians in Washington, DC questioned where exactly Puerto Ricoand the other new territoriesstood in relation to mainland politics.

Debate came to a head with a series of Supreme Court rulings known as the "insular cases." These determined that the Constitutional rights allotted to states and citizens did not apply to Puerto Rico or its people, even though the territory was subject to taxes, legislation, and other obligations dictated by Congress. According to the Supreme Court, Puerto Rico would be "foreign in a domestic sense."