Tales From The Territories: The Not-Quite States Of America

Mar 29, 2017

One century ago — on March 31, 1917 — on the Caribbean islands of Saint Thomas and Saint Croix, Danish flags were lowered and the Stars and Stripes were raised. The U.S. had bought three of the Virgin Islands and they eventually became a territory. But what does it mean to be part of America — but not one of the 50 states?

Doug Mack set out to find out and wrote about what he found in a new book, "The Not-Quite States of America." He recently sat down with WLRN's Nancy Klingener to talk about his findings.

WLRN: What is a territory and how is it different from living in a state?

MACK: A territory is something that is very much like a state, except it doesn't have the same number of rights or the same number of services as a state. So the territories don't have the full protection of the Constitution. They can't vote for president. They vote in the presidential primaries, but they don't vote in the general election. They have a congressperson, but that person just goes to D.C. and has an office and serves on committees but can't vote on the floor of the House.

To let people know, there are five territories. In the Pacific, there is American Samoa, which is in Polynesia, south of the Equator. North of the Equator, in the western Pacific, there's Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. And in the Caribbean, there's Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

What led you to these places?

I have a degree in American Studies. But in all of my studies for four years we didn't even spend five minutes on the territories. And then, just a few years ago, I was with my wife and she was showing me some of the state quarters that she has collected over the years and she pointed out that there are territory quarters as well. And I sort of went, 'Oh, right. We have territories.' I thought, 'These places are really kind of interesting and I should know more about them.' I'm sort of embarrassed that I don't know more. And that spurred me to this journey of 31,000 miles, to all the different territories.

Listen to the interview — and find out which territory has the best barbecue:

You can also check our interactive map with facts about the U.S. territories: