Edition for Educators—Statutory Representatives
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Resident Commissioner Félix Córdova Dávila of Puerto Rico (far left) visits the White House in 1924 with other leaders from the island. The delegation pressed President Calvin Coolidge to grant Puerto Ricans the right to elect their own governor. Until the 1940s, Puerto Rican governors were appointed by U.S. Presidents.
“I am happy to entertain the thought that I am the first native citizen . . . who has come to the Congress of our adopted fatherland, and address it in the language of its laws and its Constitution.”— Territorial Delegate Miguel Antonio Otero of New Mexico Territory, July 23, 1856.
This month’s Edition for Educators highlights statutory representatives in the House. Since its inception, Congress has contended with the Constitution’s silence on the issue of representation for U.S. territories. Over decades of improvisation, a system of “statutory representation” emerged consisting of laws crafted by Congress and evolving procedural rules in the House to give territories a limited voice in the national legislature through the offices of the Territorial Delegate and the Resident Commissioner.
Hispanic Americans in Congress
Published in 2014, the second edition of Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822–2012 documents the changing role of Hispanics within the institution, from statutory representation to advancing to committee chairmanships and party leadership. The corresponding website contains biographical profiles of former Members, links to information about current Members, contextual essays on national events that shaped generations of Hispanics in Congress, and historical photos. As of this date, 107 Hispanic Americans have served as Representatives, Senators, Delegates, and Resident Commissioners.
Featured Historical Highlight
Delegate Francisco Perea of the New Mexico Territory
January 9, 1830
Born on January 9, 1830 in Las Padillas, Francisco Perea fought to keep his territory loyal to the Union during the Civil War and served a term as a Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives during the 38th Congress (1863–1865).
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
President Harry S. Truman (left) rides in an open car in Puerto Rico in 1947 seated next to Governor Jesús Piñero. A year earlier, Truman had appointed Piñero as the first native Puerto Rican governor of the island. Piñero had previously served as Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House.
Featured Blog Posts
Gained in Translation
For reasons that range from personal preferences to promoting diplomatic engagement, House Members have greeted constituents and international guests in languages other than English. Members such as Territorial Delegate José Manuel Gallegos of the New Mexico Territory and Resident Commissioner Félix Córdova Dávila of Puerto Rico used Spanish on the House Floor on a number of occasions.
Getting a Foot in the (Chamber) Door
When newly elected Resident Commissioner Federico Degetau of Puerto Rico, the first Member of Congress from the island territory, began his service in the 57th Congress (1901–1903), the media treated him with attentive curiosity. But despite the fanfare and expressions of goodwill, Degetau remained unwelcome in the one place that served as the legislature’s nerve center: the House Floor.
Jesús T. Piñero of Puerto Rico
A prominent landowner-turned-politician, Jesús Piñero parlayed his concern for the poor and his desire to perpetuate his family vocation into a political career. During his short tenure as Resident Commissioner, Piñero sought economic aid for Puerto Rico. His congressional career ended when President Harry S. Truman tapped him to serve as the first native-born governor of Puerto Rico in the island’s 500-year history.
Trinidad Romero of the New Mexico Territory
Considered one of the “most widely known and influential politicians of New Mexico in the territorial days,” Trinidad Romero, a successful merchant and entrepreneur, served a single term as a Territorial Delegate to Congress. His short time in the House, like that of many other New Mexican Delegates in the 19th century, marked but a brief moment in a long career in various territorial offices.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress
Joseph Hernández served one term as the Delegate from the Florida territory, marking him as the first Hispanic American Member of Congress.
Since Delegate Joseph Marion Hernández was elected to represent the new Florida Territory in 1822 during 17th Congress (1821–1823), Hispanic Americans from 13 states and four territories have served in Congress. Puerto Rican Resident Commissioners and Territorial Delegates make up the 33 Hispanic statutory representatives. Constituting the majority of Hispanic Members before 1945, their service reflects American territorial expansion in the Southwest, Caribbean, and South Pacific. Select “Hispanic Americans in Congress” and view the map.
This is part of a series of blog posts for educators highlighting the resources available on History, Art & Archives of the U.S. House of Representatives. For lesson plans, fact sheets, glossaries, and other materials for the classroom, see the website's Education section.