Most people know that the United States is made up of 50 states, but the nation also has 16 territories. Throughout history, the U.S. has had territories. Territories are land that is owned by the country but have not been admitted as states. A total of 32 territories have eventually become states.
The territories of the United States are administrative divisions that are directly overseen by the nation’s federal government. States of the U.S. share sovereignty with the federal government. However, territories do not share sovereignty. The United States federal government is allowed to explore, exploit, conserve, and manage all of its territories.
Of the 16 territories, just five are permanently inhabited. Those territories are:
Puerto Rico and Guam were the first territories of these five to be acquired by the U.S. These territories were acquired in 1899. Of the permanently inhabited territories, Puerto Rico is the most populous with a population of over 3.3 million people.
Of these five territories, four are organized under the Organic Act. This legislation establishes a government in the territory. The U.S. Virgin Islands is the only inhabited territory that is not an organized territory. The citizens of organized territories are considered U.S. citizens, but they can’t vote in federal elections.
There are also additional territories that are uninhabited with no indigenous population. Those territories are:
- Baker Island
- Howland Island
- Jarvis Island
- Johnson Atoll
- Kingman Reef
- Midway Atoll
- Navassa Island
- Palmyra Atoll
- Wake Island
Rounding out the 16 U.S. territories are Bajo Nuevo Bank and Serranilla Bank. These two territories are uninhabited and have been claimed by the U.S. but are not administered by the country. Both nations are governed by Colombia, while Jamaica and Nicaragua have contended bajo Nuevo Bank, and Honduras and Nicaragua have claimed Serranilla Bank.