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Passing of the Jones Act and Its Legacy

President Wilson then signed the Jones-Shafroth Act on March 2, 1917. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory and American citizenship was conferred on Puerto Ricans. This was an act of Congress, and thus not guaranteed by the Constitution. A bill of rights and local government mimicking the American government with Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches was established. The Act would also declare Puerto Rico’s official language to be English.[1]

With the United States’ entrance into World War I, a military draft act was enacted two months later. Approximately 20,000 served under the draft. They guarded the Panama Canal in Central America and were deployed to the Western Front in infantry regiments including the “396th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico, created in New York City, whose members earned the nickname Harlem Hell Fighters.”[2]

Puerto Rico proved to continue to be an important strategic location for the U.S. military through World War II. Afterwards, Luis Muñoz Marin, Muñoz Rivera’s son, took advantage of a new law passed in 1951 through referendum by Puerto Rican voters which granted the island the right to draft its own constitution. Muñoz Marin declared “Puerto Rico a freely associated U.S. commonwealth.” This status was enacted officially on July, 1952.[3]

[1] “Jones Act”, The World of 1898: The Spanish American War, Library of Congress,

[2] “Puerto Ricans Become U.S. Citizens, Are Recruited for War Effort”, This Day in History,,

[3]Puerto Ricans Become U.S. Citizens, Are Recruited for War Effort”

Autonomy for Puerto Rico
Passing of the Jones Act and Its Legacy