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After nearly two decades under U.S. rule, the 1917 Jones Act granted American citizenship to Puerto Ricans. I argue that the United States strategically granted collective citizenship in order to strengthen its colonial rule. The convergence of two conditions prompted the grant of citizenship: Congress determined that the islands were strategically valuable to the United States; and Congress registered an independence movement on the island that could threaten colonial control. When Puerto Ricans demanded independence, Congress enveloped them in a bear hug that granted citizenship to weaken their movement. While citizenship was an attractive solution to many of the problems of colonial rule, there were strong objections within the United States to granting citizenship to a population considered to be nonwhite. As a result, Congress created a workaround by disentangling citizenship from statehood and from many of the rights and privileges that typically accompany it. Though citizenship is often associated with democracy and equality, American officials turned citizenship into a mechanism of control for the empire they were building. This work uncovers strategies of American territorial expansion and colonial governance and confronts deeply held notions about American citizenship and political community.
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