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Almost Citizens
  • Sam Erman, University of Southern California

Book description

Almost Citizens lays out the tragic story of how the United States denied Puerto Ricans full citizenship following annexation of the island in 1898. As America became an overseas empire, a handful of remarkable Puerto Ricans debated with US legislators, presidents, judges, and others over who was a citizen and what citizenship meant. This struggle caused a fundamental shift in constitution law: away from the post-Civil War regime of citizenship, rights, and statehood and toward doctrines that accommodated racist imperial governance. Erman's gripping account shows how, in the wake of the Spanish-American War, administrators, lawmakers, and presidents together with judges deployed creativity and ambiguity to transform constitutional meaning for a quarter of a century. The result is a history in which the United States and Latin America, Reconstruction and empire, and law and bureaucracy intertwine.


Advance praise:'More than a century after the United States announced its rise to world power by vanquishing Spain in the ‘splendid little war’ of 1898 and acquiring distant island possessions, the American colonial experiment in Puerto Rico endures as a test of the promise of American citizenship. Sam Erman reconstructs the first years of this experiment, exploring the understandings and misunderstandings that led Congress to grant citizenship and an elected legislature to the people of Puerto Rico in 1917. His deeply researched narrative sheds new light on how the destinies of the United States and its new colony became intertwined - a process that prefigured the continuing clamor for full and equal United States citizenship for the Puerto Ricans.'

José A. Cabranes - United States Circuit Judge and author of Citizenship and the American Empire

Advance praise:'Erman’s exploration of debates over the annexation and governance of Puerto Rico tells a powerful and long-overlooked story of constitutional transformation.'

Christina Duffy Ponsa-Kraus - author of Foreign in a Domestic Sense

Advance praise:'Erman tells the story of Puerto Rico and the invention of a new constitutional category - ‘unincorporated territories’ - in a compelling narrative that interweaves politics, constitutional controversy, and the lives of Puerto Rican activists.'

John Witt - Yale University, Connecticut

Advance praise:'Sam Erman’s superb book illuminates the political and constitutional origins of the world’s largest colony, Puerto Rico. His deep research and lively writing provide a ready, and altogether chastening, explanation for the fact that, a full century after the Jones Act awarded citizenship to all Puerto Ricans, all too many mainlanders, including the President, scarcely credit the reality that the island and its beleaguered citizens are truly part of a united American community with equal entitlement to our solicitude.'

Sanford Levinson - author of An Argument Open to All: Reading 'The Federalist' in the 21st Century

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