In the United States, a territory is any extent of region under the sovereign jurisdiction
of the federal government of the United States
including all waters (around islands or continental tracts). The United States asserts sovereign rights for exploring, exploiting, conserving, and managing its territory. This extent of territory
is all the area belonging to, and under the dominion of, the United States federal government (which includes tracts lying at a distance from the country
) for administrative and other purposes.
The United States total territory includes a subset of political divisions
Territory of the United States
The United States' territory includes any geography under the control of the United States federal government
. Various region
s, and division
s are under the supervision of the United States federal government. The United States' territory includes clearly defined geographical area
and refers to an area of land, air
, or sea
under jurisdiction of United States federal governmental authority (but is not limited only to these areas). The extent of territory is all the area belonging to, and under the dominion of, the United States of America federal government (which includes tract
s lying at a distance from the country
) for administrative
and other purposes.
Constitution of the United States
Under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution
, a territory is subject to and belongs to the United States (but not necessarily within the national boundaries or any individual state). This includes tracts of land or water not included within the limits of any State and not admitted as a State into the Union.
The Constitution of the United States states:
Congress of the United States
Congress possesses power to set territorial governments within the boundaries of the United States, under Article 4, Section 3
of the U.S. Constitution. The first exercise of this power was the Northwest Ordinance
of 1789. The power of Congress over such territory is exclusive
, including the creation of political division
s, except as delegated to a territory's government by act of Congress.
Supreme Court of the United States
All territory under the control of the federal government is considered part of the "United States" for purposes of law. From 1901 to 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court
in a series of opinions known as the Insular Cases
held that the Constitution extended ''ex proprio vigore
'' to the territories. However, the Court in these cases also established the doctrine of territorial incorporation. Under the same, the Constitution only applied fully in incorporated territories such as Alaska
, whereas it only applied partially in the new unincorporated territories of Puerto Rico
and the Philippines
A Supreme Court
ruling from 1945 stated that the term "United States" can have three different meanings, in different contexts:
United States Department of the Interior
The United States Department of the Interior
is charged with managing federal affairs within U.S. territory. The Interior Department has a wide range of responsibilities (which include the regulation of territorial governments and the basic stewardship for public lands, et al.). The United States Department of the Interior is not responsible for local government or for civil administration except in the cases of Indian reservations, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs
, as well as those territories administered through the Office of Insular Affairs
. The exception is the "incorporated and unorganized" (see below) United States Territory of Palmyra Island
, the legal remnant of the former United States Territory of Hawaii
since 1959, in which the local government and civil administration were assigned by the Secretary of the Interior
to the Fish and Wildlife Service
United States divisions
States, territories, and their subdivisions
The contiguous United States
, and Alaska
are divided into smaller administrative regions
. These are called counties
in 48 of the 50 states, borough
s in Alaska and parish
es in Louisiana
. A county can include a number of cities
, or just a portion of either type. These counties have varying degrees of political and legal significance. A township
in the United States refers to a small geographic area. The term is used in two ways: a survey township
is simply a geographic reference used to define property location for deeds and grants; a civil township
is a unit of local government, originally rural in application.
The District of Columbia
and territories are under the direct authority of Congress, although each is allowed home rule. The United States government, rather than individual states or territories, conducts foreign relations
under the U.S. Constitution.
s, such as domestic military bases and national parks, are administered directly by the federal government. To varying degrees, the federal government exercises concurrent jurisdiction
with the states where federal land is part of the territory previously granted to a state.
History of United States territory
At times, territories are organized with a separate legislature, under a territorial governor and officers, appointed by the President and approved by the Senate of the United States. A territory has been historically divided into organized territories
and unorganized territories
. An unorganized territory was generally either unpopulated or set aside for Native Americans
and other indigenous peoples in the United States
by the U.S. federal government, until such time as the growing and restless population encroached into the areas. In recent times, "unorganized" refers to the degree of self-governmental authority exercised by the territory.
As a result of several Supreme Court
cases after the Spanish–American War
, the United States had to determine how to deal with its newly acquired territories, such as the Philippines
, Wake Island
, and other areas that were not part of the North American continent and which were not necessarily intended to become a part of the Union of States. As a consequence of the Supreme Court decisions, the United States has since made a distinction between incorporated
and unincorporated territories
. In essence, an incorporated territory is land that has been irrevocably incorporated within the sovereignty of the United States and to which the full corpus of the U.S. Constitution applies. An unincorporated territory is land held by the United States, and to which Congress of the United States
applies selected parts of the constitution. At the present time, the only incorporated U.S. territory is the unorganized (and unpopulated) Palmyra Atoll
The United States currently administers 16 insular areas as territories:
*Northern Mariana Islands
*United States Virgin Islands
*Minor Outlying Islands
**''Bajo Nuevo Bank
:The italicized islands are part of a territory dispute with Colombia
and are not included in the ISO designation of the USMOI.
Palmyra Atoll is the only ''incorporated territory'' remaining, and having no government it is also ''unorganized''. The remaining are unincorporated territories of the United States
. Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands are styled as commonwealths
Several islands in the Pacific Ocean
and Caribbean Sea
are dependent territories
of the United States.
The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
, Guantanamo Bay
, is administered by the United States under a perpetual lease, much as the Panama Canal Zone used to be before the signing of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties
and only mutual agreement or U.S. abandonment of the area can terminate the lease.
From July 8, 1947, until October 1, 1994, the United States administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands
, but the Trust ceased to exist when the last member state of Palau gained its independence to become the Republic of Palau
. The Panama canal
, and the Canal Zone
surrounding it, was territory administered by the United States until 1999, when control was relinquished to Panama
The United States has made no territorial claim in Antarctica
but has reserved the right to do so. American research stations in Antarctica
—Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station
, McMurdo Station
, and Palmer Station
—are under U.S. jurisdiction but are held without sovereignty per the Antarctic Treaty
Maritime territory of the United States
The government of the United States of America has claims to the oceans in accord with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
, which delineates a zone of territory adjacent to territorial lands and seas. United States protects this marine environment
, though not interfering with other lawful uses of this zone
. The United States' jurisdiction has been established on vessels, ships, and artificial islands
(along with other marine structures).
In 1983 President Ronald Reagan
, through Proclamation No. 5030, claimed a 200-mile exclusive economic zone
. In December 1988, President Reagan, through Proclamation No. 5928, extended U.S. territorial waters
from three nautical miles to twelve nautical miles for national security purposes. However a legal opinion from the Justice Department questioned the President's constitutional authority to extend sovereignty as Congress has the power to make laws concerning the territory belonging to the United States under the U.S. Constitution. In any event, Congress needs to make laws defining if the extended waters, including oil and mineral rights, are under state or federal control.
The primary enforcer of maritime law is the U.S. Coast Guard
. Federal and state governments share economic and regulatory jurisdiction over the waters owned by the country. (See tidelands
The United States is not restricted from making laws governing its own territory by international law
. United States territory can include occupied territory
, which is a geographic area that claims sovereignty
, but is being forcibly subjugate
d to the authority of the United States of America. United States territory can also include disputed territory
, which is a geographic area claimed by the United States of America and one (or more) rival governments.
Under the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907
, United States territory can include areas occupied by and controlled by the United States Armed Forces
. When de facto military control is maintained and exercised, occupation (and thus possession) extends to that territory. Military personnel in control of the territory have a responsibility to provide for the basic needs of individuals under their control (which includes food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, law maintenance, and social order). To prevent systematic abuse of puppet government
s by the occupation forces, they must enforce laws that were in place in the territory prior to the occupation.
The fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico form the main customs territory of the United States. Special rules apply to foreign trade zone
s in these areas. Separate customs territories
are formed by American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
U.S. sovereignty includes the airspace
over its land and territorial waters. No international agreement exists on the vertical limit that separates this from outer space, which is international.
Federal jurisdiction includes federal enclave
s like national parks and domestic military bases, even though these are located in the territory of a state. Host states exercise concurrent jurisdiction
to some degree.
The United States exercises extraterritoriality
on overseas embassies and military bases, including the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
in Cuba. Despite exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction
, these overseas locations remain under the sovereignty of the host countries.
The federal government also exercises property ownership, but not sovereignty over land in various foreign countries. Examples include the ''John F. Kennedy Memorial'' built at Runnymede
in England, and around Pointe du Hoc
in Normandy, France
History of U.S. federal lands
The Land Ordinance of 1785
and the Northwest Ordinance
of 1787 provided for the survey and settlement of the lands that the original 13 colonies
ceded to the federal government after the American Revolution
As additional lands were acquired by the United States from Spain
and other countries, the United States Congress
directed that they be explored, surveyed, and made available for settlement.
During the Revolutionary War, military bounty land was promised to soldiers who fought for the colonies. After the war, the Treaty of Paris of 1783
, signed by the United States, the UK
, and Spain
, ceded territory to the United States. In the 1780s, other states relinquished their own claims to land in modern-day Ohio
By this time, the United States needed revenue to function.
[Vernon Carstensen, "Patterns on the American Land." ''Journal of Federalism,'' Fall 1987, Vol. 18 Issue 4, pp 31–39]
Land was sold so that the government would have money to survive.
In order to sell the land, surveys needed to be conducted. The Land Ordinance of 1785
instructed a geographer to oversee this work as undertaken by a group of surveyors.
The first years of surveying were completed by trial and error; once the territory of Ohio had been surveyed, a modern public land survey system had been developed.
In 1812, Congress established the General Land Office
as part of the Department of the Treasury
to oversee the disposition of these federal lands.
[A History of the Rectangular Survey System by C. Albert White, 1983, Pub: Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management: For sale by G.P.O.]
By the early 1800s, promised bounty land claims were finally fulfilled.
In the 19th century, other bounty land and homestead laws were enacted to dispose of federal land.
Several different types of patents existed.
These include cash entry, credit, homestead, Indian, military warrants, mineral certificates, private land claims, railroads, state selections, swamps, town sites, and town lots.
A system of local land offices spread throughout the territories, patenting land that was surveyed via the corresponding Office of the Surveyor General
of a particular territory.
This pattern gradually spread across the entire United States.
The laws that spurred this system with the exception of the General Mining Law of 1872
and the Desert Land Act
of 1877 have since been repealed or superseded.
In the early 20th century, Congress took additional steps toward recognizing the value of the assets on public lands and directed the Executive Branch
to manage activities on the remaining public lands.
The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920
allowed leasing, exploration, and production of selected commodities, such as coal
, and sodium
to take place on public lands. The Taylor Grazing Act
of 1934 established the United States Grazing Service
to manage the public rangelands
by establishment of advisory boards that set grazing fees.
The Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act
of 1937, commonly referred as the O&C Act, required sustained yield management
of the timberlands in western Oregon.
Currently, federal lands
are about 640 million acre
s, about 28% of the total U.S. land area of 2.27 billion acres.
[Lipton, Eric, and Clifford Krauss]
Giving Reins to the States Over Drilling
''New York Times'', August 24, 2012.
[Carol Hardy Vincent, Carla N. Argueta, & Laura A. Hanson]
Federal Land Ownership: Overview and Data
Congress Research Service (March 3, 2017).
* Territories of the United States
* Territories of the United States on stamps
* Waters of the United States
USGS map of the territorial acquisitions of the U.S.
Category:Political divisions of the United States
Category:Federal government of the United States