This Day in the Law
October 18

U.S. Troops Raise U.S. Flag in Puerto Rico (1898)

On October 18, 1898, U.S. military troops fighting the Spanish-American War raised the U.S. flag in Puerto Rico. The raising of the flag initiated the U.S.’s official control of the Puerto Rico as a colony.

Puerto Rico was initially founded in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. By 1508, the Spanish established the town of Caparra as their first settlement. Over time, many of the island’s inhabitants were enslaved for plantation crops such as sugar, coffee, and tobacco.

In 1898, the U.S. and Spain engaged in war with each other called the Spanish-American War. Spain controlled Cuba and other colonies at the time and revolts from the inhabitants grew in size and number. Further, the American battleship Maine mysteriously sunk in Havana, Cuba’s harbor in 1898. As a result of these events and others, President William McKinely and Congress declared war on Spain.

On October 18, 1898, at noon, American troops officially took over Puerto Rico, a recent former colony of Spain, and raised the U.S. flag in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The dignified ceremony was conducted with a band that played “The Star Spangled Banner” with gun salutes. This ceremony symbolized the U.S.’s victory over Spain and control of Puerto Rico as a Spanish colony.

By 1917, Puerto Ricans gained full U.S. citizenship and the island became a U.S. territory. Many Puerto Ricans moved from rural areas to the cities and into the U.S. looking for work.

Today, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth territory of the United States. However, the future of Puerto Rico is still somewhat uncertain. The debate concerns whether Puerto Rico should become a full-fledged state, gain its own independence from the U.S., or remain a commonwealth of the U.S.