THERE is a great deal of talk everywhere in political circles over the question whether or not the Constitution extends of its own force to Puerto Rico and other new territory of the United States.
This however is not the fundamental question that is raised by the acquisition of this new territory. The great question underlying all others, is Shall justice be done to the inhabitants of this territory?
Some would-be statesmen talk as though the question of doing justice to these people depended on the question whether the Constitution extends to their lands or not. If it shall be decided that the Constitution does not extend to them, then this country is not bound to consider the question of justice in its dealings with them! Congress can govern them in any arbitrary way that it sees fit!
This is just the reverse of the truth. The question of doing justice in any territory does not depend upon the question whether the Constitution extends to that territory or not; but the question whether the Constitution extends thither depends upon the question whether the United States is bound to do justice in that territory.
For what purpose is the Constitution? As set forth in the preamble, it is to “establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Are these things desirable for the people of the new territory? Ought such provision to be made for them? If so, then the Constitution must extend to their land, because the Constitution is the very means devised by the United States to secure these blessings here at home. And this does not mean that their country and circumstances must be made to fit the forms and technicalities of the Constitution as it applies to the United States, but that the Constitution must be applied to them as their situation demands. Some of the forms of the Constitution may not fit their country, but this is no reason for denying them the essence of the Constitution—the principles of just government by which domestic tranquility, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity, are to be secured.
To say that the Constitution does not extend to the new territory, then, is to say that the people there do not need the blessings secured by it in the United States, or that they shall not be given them whether they need them or not. The latter has in effect been said by the Government. For the people of that territory are a conquered people, and a conquered people cannot secure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity except by successful revolt against their conquerors. Having begun by denying liberty and justice to these foreign people, it is entirely logical that the decision should now be reached that the Constitution created for the purpose of securing these blessings to the people under it, does not apply to the territory where they reside.