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End American territories

March 4th, 2021 by dk

President Biden’s inauguration featured a field of flags to represent the hundreds of thousands of Americans who couldn’t attend or observe the festivities because of the pandemic. This somber Field of Flags was then illuminated for 46 seconds — for the 46th president — by 56 pillars of light, representing all Americans.

Why 56? Because the United States Census Bureau counts 4,280,889 Americans who don’t live in any of the 50 United States. They are spread across five American territories and the District of Columbia. “Inclusiveness” has become a popular buzzword in political and social circles, yet millions of Americans are not included in the 50 stars on our flag.

Put it this way: Those Americans who were represented in those six “extra” pillars of light are almost exactly equivalent to the entire population of Oregon. They pay taxes. They fight in our military. Are there any good reasons why they should be denied representation in Congress? None that I’ve ever heard.

Washington, DC’s population is slightly more than 700,000. Our capital city has more residents than Vermont or Wyoming, but no votes in Congress or the electoral college. If Puerto Rico became a state, its population would rank near the middle — slightly more than Iowa or Nevada, slightly fewer than Connecticut or Utah.

Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia should be granted statehood. This can be accomplished with a vote in both houses of Congress using the so-called Tennessee Plan. Oregon and four other states used this method to gain statehood in the mid-1800s. Alaska used it in 1959.

After America adds these two states, the other island territories can be added to other states. The U.S. Virgin Islands can be added to Puerto Rico. Hawaii’s population will grow by 20 percent with the addition of Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands. (We claim nine other islands, reefs, or atolls as territories, but none have permanent populations.)

Quick action on statehood would quickly brighten Democrats’ electoral fortunes. Washington, DC votes overwhelmingly for Democrats. Puerto Rico has a history of leaning leftward, but not as reliably as the District. It’s not surprising that Republicans have long opposed this expansion, but that shouldn’t distract the decision.

Congress should give every American the full rights of citizenship not out of Democrats’ self-interest, but out of self-respect. It’s simply the right thing to do. Besides, having three or four more Democratic senators might extend the useful life of the filibuster and the electoral college.

Territories represent vestiges of our colonial roots. We haven’t had empiric ambitions since Vietnam. We used to need ocean islands as military refueling stations, but now we fly to Iraq and back from Nebraska. It’s past time we gave these island inhabitants inclusion or independence — their choice.

Biden and the Democrats campaigned on the promise to give the estimated 8 million undocumented workers a path to citizenship. How did they so easily overlook the 4.3 million among us who need something similar? We have a good history of fighting taxation without representation. We shouldn’t allow its continuance any longer.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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