01 Jul HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US
Margaret A.M. Heine
is the principal counsel at Heine Law Group in Fullerton, California. She is licensed in California and Washington and has authority to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Court of International Trade.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US
The United States of America has a real ring to it, USA. What really comprises the USA, and how did we get there? Celebrating our freedoms won during the revolutionary war, should give us pause to reflect on how the United States is what it is today.
The original 13 colonies were developed by the British in the 1600’s and 1700’s. The colonies were just that, an arm of the British sovereign. The colonies paid taxes, took direction from the British government, and then, finally fed up that they should govern themselves and make their own decisions, chose to fight for their independence. (Yes, simplified history.)
The Continental Congress, comprised of 56 individuals and representing the 13 colonies, adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It was published with one signature, John Hancock, on July 4, 1776. It would take years for it and the Constitution to be fully implemented and approved by the colonies, which are now called states.
Once British rule was eliminated, the “colonies” were no more. They became “states”, fully functioning, self regulating units, whom all subscribed to a bigger plan, the Federal system. In truth, the United States is comprised of States, Territories, and Commonwealths.
Commonwealths? Yes, 4 states are actually commonwealths by the own state constitutions: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia and Massachusetts. A Commonwealth is a description of all local political units coming together for a common purpose. So, every political unit within their borders subscribe to a common good and purpose. The U.S. Constitution recognizes that as a state. There is no legal distinction between a state and a commonwealth in the U.S. Constitution. The Commonwealth States were originally designated as such under British rule, and simply codified their existence in the new United States. Kentucky carried the commonwealth designation as it was a state spun off from Virginia.
New York was also further defined by the creation of additional states, Vermont and Rhode Island. It was a very fluid time in the United States, and many States gave land grants to lands that they laid claim to, and which eventually became states of their own accord, like Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi. Many of the original colonies used the proposition that they owned the property from sea to sea, which of course, was subject to many negotiations between states while new states and boundaries were being set.
The United States also acquired it’s original land mass in North America from the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which accorded the U.S. a vast holding of land. The expansion of the United States was aided by various land and territory purchases. Most of these acquisitions took place in the 1800’s. Most notable were the following purchases:
Louisiana purchase from France in 1803.
Florida purchase from Spain in 1819.
Texas was annexed by the United States in 1945.
Oregon Territory was purchased from Great Britain in 1846.
California was ceded by Mexico in 1848.
Gadsen Purchase in 1854 added Arizona and New Mexico.
Alaska Purchase from Russia in 1867.
Hawaii was annexed as a territory in 1898 and ultimately became a state.
That wasn’t the end of United States acquisitions. The United States adopted the practice of taking territories. They claimed islands and territories as United States owned entities, but did not afford them statehood. The 5 inhabited territories are:
Puerto Rico in 1898
Guam in 1898
America Samoa in 1900
U.S. Virgin Islands in 1917
Northern Marian Islands in 1947
There are an additional 14 other territories of the United States, none of which are inhabited. A territory cannot be represented in Congress. They have their own internal government, but are not independent. A person born in any of the territories other than American Samoa, are citizens. Most citizens of territories do not pay federal income taxes either.
As many of the territories continue to press for Statehood, our 50 states may still grow. The United States is united simply because we have all agreed to abide to the same conglomeration of states that have chosen to work together under a federal plan for the common good of us all. Happy Birthday to all of us!