Expanding Representation: Pacific Territories

Efforts to define the relationship between the United States and its overseas territories that had occupied so much of the story before World War II continued after the conflict, though on a new trajectory. In 1946 the United States followed through on a decades-long promise to give the Philippines complete independence. Hawaii, due in part to its Delegates’ strong campaigns for statehood, was little more than a decade away from incorporation into the Union as the 50th state in 1959.

But territorial questions spread beyond these longtime bulwarks of America’s presence in the Pacific. In fact, America’s Pacific empire at the opening of the 20th century also included the 210-square-mile island of Guam and the multiple islands that make up American Samoa. Placed under American military control, both Guam and American Samoa were vital fueling stations in strategic Pacific locations.

After the United Nations issued a decolonization mandate in 1945, the United States gradually handed over the island governments to the people. In 1947 the Truman administration approved the trusteeship agreement for the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands that required the United States to “make ample provision for the political, economic, social, and educational development” of certain Pacific territories (Northern Mariana, Caroline, and Marshall Islands) after the war. Nearly a year later, Congress established the Joint Committee on the Trust Territories of the Pacific to oversee the mandate.95

Yet, like much of American policy toward the territories, self-determination came piecemeal. The U.S. military maintained a strategic interest in Guam throughout the Cold War, and Guamanians became U.S. citizens in 1950. American Samoa, on the other hand, lost much of its importance as a refueling station as technology improved the range of America’s warships. Samoans were also wary of U.S. citizenship and fiercely protected their cultural and political systems. 

Regardless of their differences, for Pacific Islanders living under the U.S. flag, gaining access to America’s lawmaking process proved to be especially difficult.

American Samoa and Guam to World War II

Promulgation of Laws Regulation/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay2_31_PromulgationofLawsRegulation_NARA.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration This Promulgation of Laws Regulation from 1900 details the issuance of laws and ordinances governing the islands of Tutuila and Manu‘a in American Samoa. Following the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the Convention of 1900 permanently divided Samoa between Germany and the United States, and the U.S. Navy was responsible for the administration of American Samoa until 1951.
The United States’ relationship with Samoa began out of military necessity. In 1872 the United States cut a deal to build a coaling station at Pago Pago, a vital deepwater harbor, in return for helping Samoa negotiate international disputes. Following the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the Convention of 1900 permanently divided Samoa between Germany and the United States.96 Guam, which had been captured by the USS Charleston during the war, fell within America’s jurisdiction.

Congress placed Guam and American Samoa under the control of a rotating cast of U.S. military officers, but the experiences of the two territories differed substantially. In 1900 and again in 1904, American Samoa’s political leaders—the heads of extended families in Samoan society—agreed to turn over the islands to the United States in the “Instrument of Cession.” Their agreement both legitimized American annexation and solidified the matais (familial chiefs) as the primary source of local power.97

In Guam, on the other hand, island leaders frequently depended on the individual governors to cede local control. In 1917 the governor of Guam, U.S. Navy Captain Roy Smith, formed the Guam congress, an advisory body of Chamorros (Guamanian natives) and statesiders appointed entirely by Smith. Fourteen years later, the then governor, U.S. Navy Captain Willis Bradley, created the second Guam congress, an elected, bicameral legislative body with the same advisory mandate.98

Roy Smith/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay2_32_RCSmith_LC.xml Image courtesy of the Library of Congress As governor of Guam, U.S. Navy Captain Roy Smith formed the Guam congress in 1917.
On the mainland, however, there was little federal impulse in either the U.S. Navy or the State Department to provide self-determination for either territory.99

Post–World War II Guam

In December 1941, Japanese forces invaded Guam, beginning a brutal, three-year occupation. Chamorros were often beaten or executed for small offenses.100 Delegate Ben Garrido Blaz, who worked in the island’s labor camps during the war, recalled having friends simply disappear while he suffered from “the hunger and deprivation of concentration camps.”101 American forces recaptured the island in the summer of 1944, but the effects lingered for the next 50 years. Antonio Borja Won Pat, Guam’s first Delegate to Congress, said his experience during World War II largely shaped his congressional career. He said his strong stance as a defense hawk on the House Armed Services Committee came from his “first-hand [experience with] the enslaving hands of a military conqueror.”102

Liberation of Guam in 1944/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay2_33_GuamOperation1944_NARA.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration U.S. Naval and Marine Corps officers salute as the U.S. flag is raised during the liberation of Guam in 1944.
In large part, the end of the conflict changed U.S. attitudes toward the islands. Guam, for instance, remained under naval rule, but the Navy granted the territorial government “interim” legislative powers in 1947. Won Pat, then the president of the local chamber of commerce, applauded the decision, but told the Chicago Tribune in November 1946 that Guam needed “a self supporting economy before it can be ready for American citizenship.”103

The war also significantly changed the island. The U.S. military occupied two-thirds of Guam’s land, and the island’s white population had increased 420 percent during the 1940s. Though still a minority, whites filled nearly half the high-paying jobs, which set up a clash between Guamanians and federal administrators.104 By 1949, Won Pat had effectively changed his mind about naval control when, as speaker of the territorial assembly, he led a walkout protesting an ongoing power struggle with the then governor, Rear Admiral Charles Pownall.105

Guam Organic Act of 1950 Signing/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay2_34_TrumanGuamOrganicActSigning_TrumanLibrary.xml Image courtesy of the Harry S. Truman Library/National Archives and Records Administration President Harry S. Truman signs the Guam Organic Act of 1950. From left to right: Wyoming Senator Joseph C. O’Mahoney, Carlos Taitano, Harold Seidman, Francis Matthews, New Mexico Senator Clinton P. Anderson, Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman, and Nebraska Senator Hugh Butler.
In September 1949, President Truman transferred control over Guam from the U.S. Navy to the Department of the Interior, and a few months later, on February 19, 1950, Congressman James Peterson of Florida introduced H.R. 7273 that provided for the Guam Organic Act. The bill moved smoothly through Congress and passed with little debate before Truman signed it into law in August. The legislation granted Guamanians citizenship and established a unicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. The governor, appointed by the Interior Department, was given veto power. Guamanians paid federal income taxes, but the territorial government retained the funds to use at home. In 1968 Guam began directly electing its own governor and lieutenant governor.106

Post-war American Samoa and Self-Determination

Unlike Guam, American Samoa stayed under U.S. control for the duration of the Second World War. On June 29, 1951, the Truman administration transferred American Samoa from the U.S. Navy to the Department of the Interior via Executive Order 10264. Though Congress considered conferring citizenship on American Samoans as early as 1933, there was no immediate push for an organic act like that in Guam.107

Samoans were protective of their family- and community-based political system and wary of America’s involvement. “We’re very tribal about our ways,” Delegate Eni F. H. Faleomavaega once put it rather succinctly. To date, American Samoans are not U.S. citizens. They are the only people still designated U.S. nationals, a status defined by the Nationality Act of 1940 as those who are not citizens under the U.S. Constitution, but who “owe permanent allegiance to the United States.” “I guess our forefathers were very hesitant about getting citizenship, for fear that their lands or their culture will be taken away once they become U.S. citizens,” Faleomavaega conjectured.108

U.S. Navy Scouting Pilots/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay2_35_NavyScoutingPilots_NARA.xml Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration U.S. Navy scouting pilots discuss plans for patrol flights in the South Pacific during the early 1940s.
In 1954, at the behest of the Interior Department, federal officials and island leaders organized a constitutional committee to outline a new civil government in American Samoa. They unveiled a draft constitution six years later, and 68 delegates selected by village and district councils approved the document unanimously.109

The Samoan constitution essentially codified the existing political structure: a governor who held full veto power appointed by the Interior Department and a bicameral fono (territorial congress). One chamber was made up of the traditional matais. Elected representatives from geographical districts comprised the other chamber.110 Later revisions in 1969 limited the governor’s power and expanded the number of matais in the fono. Samoans began electing their governor and lieutenant governor in 1977.111

Congressional Representation

Guam began requesting nonvoting representation in the U.S. Congress as early as 1954, but after 14 years of inaction on the Hill, the territorial legislature created an office to lobby Congress on its behalf. It was an elected position first held by Won Pat, but since it wasn’t federally sponsored, it functioned more like a private lobbying firm than a legislative office.112

Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, 2nd Session, 92nd Congress/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay2_36_InteriorandInsularAffairs92nd_HC.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Patsy Takemoto Mink of Hawaii (seated fifth from right in the second row) and Phillip Burton of California (seated eighth from right in the second row) served on the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. Pictured here with committee staff, Burton introduced legislation to grant Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands Delegates in the U.S. Congress.
On June 1, 1971, Phillip Burton of California, who served on the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, introduced H.R. 8787, which provided for Delegates to Congress representing Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The bill, he said, kept “with the modern trend of democratic governments” in the territories. He believed the needs of the two territories went beyond the jurisdiction of his single committee and with Delegates of their own the territories would have a direct line to Congress. Following a brief debate, the bill granted the new Delegates floor and committee privileges on par with those of the statutory representatives from the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.113 The Senate passed the bill without amendment by voice vote on March 28. President Richard M. Nixon signed the bill on April 10, 1972, and the following November Guamanians elected Won Pat as their first Delegate.

Like Guam had done two years earlier, American Samoa sent an unofficial “Delegate at Large” to Washington to act as an elected lobbyist for the islands in 1970.114 On August 2, 1978, Representative Burton introduced H.R. 13702 to provide for a Delegate from American Samoa with the same privileges as other territorial lawmakers. The legislation sailed through Congress and its success surprised even Faleomavaega, who was a congressional staffer at the time.115 “You wouldn’t believe, it was difficult for me even, how do you justify having a congressional delegate from this little, dinky territory, at that time with only about 36 to 40 thousand people,” Faleomavaega asked, adding that Burton’s belief that every territory “should have representation” was key to its success. President Jimmy Carter signed the bill on October 31, 1978. The first American Samoan Delegate, Fofó I. F. Sunia, was elected in 1980.116

The stories of how Guamanians and American Samoans came to be represented in Washington in the 1970s were but two points on a long, arcing dialogue that began in the 1890s about how overseas territories would be administered by or incorporated into the nation. For Guam and American Samoa, especially, the post–World War II period was one of rapid change. Both came out from under military rule and were granted a measure of autonomy as well as representation in Congress. Their new Delegates joined a small cohort of APAs in Congress, pushed for their islands’ interests, developed key congressional allies, and participated in the legislative process to a degree earlier statutory representatives had not.

Next Section


95Trusteeship Agreement for the Territory of the Pacific Islands, 80th Cong., 1st sess., H. Doc. 378 (3 July 1947); Public Law 80-204, 61 Stat. 397 (1947); Garrison Nelson, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947 to 1992, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1994): 963. It appears that committee members reported materials through their standing committees. The joint committee disbanded on December 31, 1948.

96Arnold H. Leibowitz, “American Samoa: Decline of a Culture,” California Western International Law Journal 10, no. 2 (Spring 1980): 227–229; Sean Morrison, “Foreign in a Domestic Sense: American Samoa and the Last U.S. Nationals,” Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 41, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 75.

97Arnold H. Leibowitz, Defining Status: A Comprehensive Analysis of United States Territorial Relations (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1989): 414; Morrison, “Foreign in a Domestic Sense”: 76–77.

98Robert F. Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam, rev. ed. (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011): 130, 140; Leibowitz, Defining Status: 323, 417. Chamorro is the common term used to describe Guam natives before World War II. After the war, Chamorro and Guamanian are considered interchangeable terms. See Gina E. Taitano, “Adoption of ‘Guamanian,’” Guampedia, accessed 13 October 2015, http://www.guampedia.com/adoption-of-guamanian/.

99One exception is Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland, who introduced a bill (S. 1450), which died in the 75th Congress (1937–1939), conferring citizenship to Chamorros on Guam. Navy Secretary Claude Swanson was blunt: “These people have not yet reached a state of development commensurate with the personal independence, obligations, and responsibility of United States citizenship,” he told a Senate Committee in 1937. The letter from Swanson to Senator Tydings is printed in the Hearings before the Senate Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs, Citizenship for Residents of Guam, 75th Cong., 1st sess. (9 April 1937): 2.

100Leibowitz, Defining Status: 323–324.

101Congressional Record, House, 99th Cong., 2nd sess. (26 November 1991): 35435.

102Congressional Record, House, 96th Cong., 2nd sess. (5 March 1980): 4831.

103Pedro C. Sanchez, Guam: The History of Our Island (Agana, Guam: Sanchez Publishing House, 1987): 297; Lloyd Norman, “Navy Must Long Rule Guam, Says Island Leader,” 10 November 1946, Chicago Tribune: 36.

104Leibowitz, Defining Status: 325; James Perez Viernes, “Civil Rights and Citizenship (1898–1950),” Guampedia, accessed 13 October 2015, http://www.guampedia.com/chamorrodrive-for-civil-rights/.

105Doloris Coulter, “Guam Rebels at New Navy ‘Rule,’” 3 April 1949, Washington Post: B3.

106Organic Act of Guam, Public Law 81-630, 64 Stat. 384 (1950); Stathis, Landmark Legislation: 235; Guam Elective Governor Act, Public Law 90-497, 82 Stat. 842 (1968).

107There is one instance of a proposed Organic Act for American Samoa. After the matai protested a host of U.S. policies and threatened to destabilize the military’s authority, Congress authorized the creation of a commission to investigate the governance of American Samoa in 1930. The commission recommended that Samoans be granted American citizenship with a tripartite government but the legislation died in the House in 1933. See Leibowitz, Defining Status: 416–417.

108Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, oral history interview by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, 11 April 2011, accessed 13 July 2015, http://www.uschs.org/oral-histories/uschs_faleomavaega.htm (site discontinued); Nationality Act of 1940, Public Law 76-853, 54 Stat. 1137 (1940); Morrison, “Foreign in a Domestic Sense”: 84, 84n79.

109Leibowitz, Defining Status: 420.

110Leibowitz, “American Samoa: Decline of a Culture”: 251; Morrison, “Foreign in a Domestic Sense”: 80.

111For a full picture of the development of the local legislature, see Fofó I. F. Sunia, The Story of the Legislature of American Samoa (New Zealand: GP Printers, 1988); Leibowitz, “American Samoa: Decline of a Culture”: 255–256.

112Leibowitz, Defining Status: 339–340.

113House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Providing for a Delegate to the House of Representatives for the Unincorporated Territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands, 92nd Cong., 1st sess., H. Rept. 270 (1971): 2, 4; “Guam, Virgin Islands Delegates,” CQ Almanac, 1972, 28th ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1973): ch. 6, 245; Congressional Record, House, 92nd Cong., 2nd sess. (18 January 1972): 26; Public Law 92-271, 86 Stat. 118 (1972).

114Paramount Chief A.U. Fuimaono first held the position, and Faleomavaega worked on his staff.

115Hearing before the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Subcommittee on National Parks and Insular Affairs, Delegate from American Samoa to the U.S. Congress, 95th Cong., 2nd sess. (8 August 1978): 1.

116Faleomavaega, oral history interview; Public Law 95-556, 92 Stat. 2078 (1978).