Foraker Act

The Foraker Act is a law that allowed the U.S. to establish a form of government in Puerto Rico. For example, the Foraker Act allowed the President of the United States to establish a government, consisting of 11 members and a governor, on the island of Puerto Rico. The Foraker Act passed after the U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. To explore this concept, consider the following Foraker Act definition.

Definition of Foraker Act


  1. A law that gave the United States permission to set up a form of government in Puerto Rico in the wake of the Spanish-American War.



What is the Foraker Act?

The Foraker Act, also known as the Organic Act of 1900, is a U.S. Federal law enacted in April of 1900 that allowed the U.S. to set up a form of government in Puerto Rico. This came shortly after the U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. President William McKinley signed the Foraker Act, which was sponsored by Ohio Senator Joseph B. Foraker.

U.S. Acquisition of Puerto Rico

In considering the Foraker Act meaning, we must begin with the history of the U.S. acquisition of Puerto Rico, which is complicated, to say the least. In February of 1898, Puerto Rico had finally achieved its independence from Spain, even creating its own constitution and installing voting rights for its citizens. However, that all came tumbling down only a few short years later with the U.S. acquisition of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico did not exactly benefit from this transaction. For one thing, despite the U.S. acquisition of Puerto Rico, the people of the territory could not vote in U.S. elections. In fact, they still cannot to this day. Puerto Rico tried several times during the 20th century to achieve independence from the U.S. to no avail. And despite U.S. investors still dominating Puerto Rico, most companies located in the U.S. do not pay taxes to Puerto Rico.

Primary Elements of the Foraker Act

There are several primary elements of the Foraker Act that cover everything from Puerto Rican property to Spanish currency. For example, the Foraker Act specifies that taxes required by law for all imports into Puerto Rico, be paid to Puerto Rick. Another of the primary elements of the Foraker Act establishes that any Puerto Rican residents who decided to stay in Puerto Rico until April 11, 1899 would legally be citizens of Puerto Rico and therefore entitled to U.S. protection.

Still another of the primary elements of the Foraker Act states that the currency of the Puerto Rican people be U.S. dollars. Going forward, the American dollar was to replace the Spanish currency that Puerto Ricans had used previously. Further, the Act directed Puerto Ricans to pay their debts with the American dollar that they had been previously paying with their own currency.

Examples of Foraker Act Elements

In addition to the Foraker Act examples provided above, here are some additional elements of Foraker Act examples:

  • The Act established San Juan as Puerto Rico’s capital and noted that Puerto Rico would maintain its seat of government in that city.
  • The Act created the U.S. District of Puerto Rico and established that the President would appoint a district judge, whom the Senate would then confirm and advise for a four-year term, just like the President.
  • The Act established that U.S. statutes would apply to Puerto Rico as well, if applicable to Puerto Rican citizens and except for laws related to internal revenue.

The Act also defined the system by which Puerto Rico would allow bills to become laws. The system is not much different from that which the U.S. follows. First, lawmakers can propose a bill in either house, but it must pass the majority vote in both houses to become law.

Once both houses pass the bill, the lawmakers then present it to the Governor for signature. Once the governor signs the bill, it becomes law. If, however, the governor decides to either not sign the bill or veto it, the legislature can then override his veto with a two-thirds majority vote.

Foraker Act Example in Expansionism

An example of the Foraker Act affecting the course of Puerto Rican history starts with the U.S.’ foray into expansionism in the late 1800s with the Caribbean territories. The motivation for this was, in part, the U.S.’ desire to possess and control resources like sugar and tobacco. Up to that point, some of the numerous territories that had already fallen to the U.S.’ expansion conquest included:

  • The first 13 colonies in 1783 – The U.S. acquired the first 13 colonies by way of the Treaty of Paris after the American Revolutionary War.
  • Louisiana Purchase in 1803 – The U.S. bought what would eventually become the state of Louisiana for $15 million from France.
  • Florida in 1819 – The U.S. bought what would eventually become the state of Florida in 1819 for $5 million from Spain.
  • Alaska in 1867 – The U.S. purchased what would eventually become the state of Alaska for $7.2 million from Russia, with Alaska achieving statehood in 1959.
  • Hawaiian Islands in 1898 – Like Alaska, Hawaii also achieved statehood in 1959.

When the U.S. ceased to occupy Puerto Rico in 1900, the territory was excited about the promise of freedom that came along with this – however, the U.S. had other ideas. The U.S. Senate immediately started planning a “temporary civil government for the area,” though there existed a fair amount of opposition to this plan.

Some government officials, like John C. Spooner of Wisconsin, believed that a territory like Puerto Rico would never become a state, and that to promise them anything else was dangling a false promise of statehood over their heads. Enter the Foraker Act, which had its ups and significant downs. For one thing, while it allowed the island exemption status from U.S. taxes, it also left them with an uncertain political status and an unfair administration.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Treaty of Paris – The treaty that ended the American Revolutionary War, signed by representatives of both King George III of Great Britain and the United States.
  • Veto – The right to reject a decision or proposal made by the legislature.