Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution


Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution


Publication Date



In this groundbreaking study of American imperialism, leading legal scholars address the problem of the U.S. territories. Foreign in a Domestic Sense will redefine the boundaries of constitutional scholarship.

More than four million U.S. citizens currently live in five “unincorporated” U.S. territories. The inhabitants of these vestiges of an American empire are denied full representation in Congress and cannot vote in presidential elections. Focusing on Puerto Rico, the largest and most populous of the territories, Foreign in a Domestic Sense sheds much-needed light on the United States’ unfinished colonial experiment and its legacy of racially rooted imperialism, while insisting on the centrality of these “marginal” regions in any serious treatment of American constitutional history. For one hundred years, Puerto Ricans have struggled to define their place in a nation that neither wants them nor wants to let them go. They are caught in a debate too politicized to yield meaningful answers. Meanwhile, doubts concerning the constitutionality of keeping colonies have languished on the margins of mainstream scholarship, overlooked by scholars outside the island and ignored by the nation at large.

This book does more than simply fill a glaring omission in the study of race, cultural identity, and the Constitution; it also makes a crucial contribution to the study of American federalism, serves as a foundation for substantive debate on Puerto Rico’s status, and meets an urgent need for dialogue on territorial status between the mainland and the territories.


Arts and Humanities | Constitutional Law | History | Law | Law and Politics | United States History




Duke University Press


Durham, NC


Foreign in a Domestic Sense sheds important light on the historical, constitutional, cultural, and political realities of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and, more generally, the expansion of the United States beyond the fifty states.... That some of the contributors disagree with one another, and that these essays could well spur further work along several different avenues of study are signs of the complexity of the topic and of the vitality and value of this fine book’s endeavor.”
Bartholomew H. Sparrow, H-Net Reviews

“A new outlook on the P.R.-U.S. relationship .... [T]he book represents a series of essays that analyze this situation, Puerto Rico’s inner turmoil over the matter and it even questions the legality of American colonial possessions.”
San Juan Star

“[A] well rounded collection .... Embracing both academic reflections on the foundations of America’s imperial power and practical discussions of political and constitutional trends, this collection will interest scholars and anyone seeking informed perspectives on Puerto Rico’s future."
Harvard Law Review

“[A]n excellent overview of the island’s uniqueness and the quandary that it confronts: independence, statehood, or an unsatisfactory status quo.”
Roger Handberg, South Eastern Latin Americanist

“Burnett and Marshall shed much-needed light on America’s unfinished colonial experiment.”
Yale Law Report

“The authors have brought to bear a rich set of experiences and perspectives and, collectively, make an important contribution to understanding both the contemporary and historical context of the debate over territorial status .... [T]he range of issues explored is particularly noteworthy, and the forthright and accessible language of virtually all of the contributors makes it a volume well worth reading, for scholars and the lay public alike.”
Wendy L. Martinek, Law and Politics Book Review

“The timing of this collection is perfect.... [I]t is almost a must for colonial nationalists reviewing the jingoism and even racism inherent in the taking of ‘our islands,’ words used by William S. Bryan and also in the so-called Insular cases that legally justified their ‘special-case’ administration. Furthermore, the selections are balanced by the somber writings of five US Federal justices and ex-attorneys general plus ten Constitutional law scholars.... Necessary for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and others working on this important problem.”
W.M. Will, Choice

“This thought-provoking collection of essays gives all Americans, and especially those who are following the debate over whether training exercises by the U. S. Navy should be allowed to continue on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, another set of viewpoints to consider.”
Deborah L. Acomb, National Journal

"[A] welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion about the United States' history as an imperialist nation...."
Maura I. Toro-Morn, Journal of American Ethnic History

"[A] well-crafted collection of essays."
Emilio Pantojas-Garcia, Latin American Research Review

"[An] important and thoughtful book ...."
Samuel Shapiro, Journal of American History

"The book is a major contribution to the solution of a problem that has haunted Puerto Rico and demeaned the United States for over a century.... [A] major contribution .... [I]ts very publication is an integral part of the history of American colonialism in Puerto Rico."
Carlos Iván Gorrín Peralta, Caribbean Studies

“I can hardly contain my enthusiasm for this project, which brings together an array of authoritative scholars in the field. “Foreign in a Domestic Sense” is the most important work of its kind of our generation, a book that advances the scholarship while having a material impact on current and future debates about Puerto Rico’s self-determination.”
Francisco A. Scarano, author of Puerto Rico: Cinco Siglos de Historia


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.

Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution

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