W. McKINLEY CARTOON, c1900. American cartoon comment, c1900, on Uncle Sam’s seemingly insatiable imperialist appetite; waiting to take the order, at right, is President William McKinley.

In the annals of Puerto Rican history, the Foraker Act of 1900 stands as a significant turning point. Officially known as the Organic Act of Puerto Rico, it established a civil government in Puerto Rico, marking the island’s transition from a Spanish colony to a U.S. territory. This article will delve into the enactment of the Foraker Act, the changes it engendered, and its enduring impact on Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Before the Foraker Act

Before the enactment of the Foraker Act, Puerto Rico found itself in a state of flux. The island had just been transferred from Spain to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War in 1898. Prior to this, Puerto Rico had been under Spanish rule for four centuries. Under Spain, the island had a relatively autonomous administration but was economically dependent on the metropolis.

However, with the change in colonial powers, Puerto Rico underwent a transition. From 1898 to 1900, the island was under military rule. During this period, the U.S. initiated several changes, such as the introduction of the U.S. dollar as the official currency and making English the official language of government and education. There was, however, no clear policy or structure for the civil administration of the island, leading to a sense of uncertainty and instability.

The Enactment of the Foraker Act

The Foraker Act, named after its primary sponsor, Senator Joseph B. Foraker of Ohio, was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President William McKinley on April 12, 1900. This legislation marked a departure from military rule and established a civil government in Puerto Rico.

Changes Brought About by the Foraker Act

The Foraker Act created a new political structure in Puerto Rico. It established a governor and an executive council, appointed by the U.S. President, and a House of Delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters. While the Act provided a measure of local control, major decisions remained in the hands of U.S. appointed officials, leading to continued debates about autonomy and governance.

The Impact of the Foraker Act on Puerto Rican Society and Economy

The Foraker Act brought about significant changes in both the societal and economic spheres of Puerto Rico. The establishment of a civil government provided a semblance of structure and stability, even as it reinforced U.S. control over the island.

In terms of societal changes, one of the most significant was the imposition of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans, which occurred not through the Foraker Act but later through the Jones Act in 1917. This move was ostensibly aimed at bringing Puerto Ricans into the American fold, though it also had strategic implications for the U.S. during World War I. The citizenship granted, however, was not without limitations; Puerto Ricans could not vote in U.S. presidential elections unless they resided in the mainland United States.

On the economic front, the Foraker Act had immediate and lasting effects. It declared Puerto Rico a territory of the U.S. and established a tariff system that affected the trade between the island and the mainland. Specifically, goods from Puerto Rico were now subject to duties as if they were from a foreign country. This disrupted the local economy, particularly the sugar industry, which had to compete with other sugar-producing countries. The Act also led to a significant influx of American businesses and capital into the island, transforming its economic landscape.

Puerto Rico’s Political Landscape Post-Foraker Act

The political landscape of Puerto Rico underwent substantial changes after the enactment of the Foraker Act. Although the Act provided a semblance of self-governance, it also entrenched U.S. control over the island. This complex relationship has shaped Puerto Rico’s political trajectory in the 20th century and continues to inform discussions about its future status.


The Foraker Act stands as a landmark in the historical journey of Puerto Rico. It charted a new course for the island, carving out its unique position as a U.S. territory with a distinct cultural and political identity. From the establishment of a civil government to the significant societal and economic changes, the Act left an indelible imprint on the island’s fabric.

However, the Act also laid bare the complexities and contradictions of Puerto Rico’s status. It opened up the island to the benefits and challenges of American influence, even as it limited its autonomy and self-governance. The legacy of the Foraker Act continues to reverberate in Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle for self-determination and in its intricate relationship with the United States. As we look back on this pivotal moment in Puerto Rican history, we gain critical insights into the island’s past and its trajectory into the future.