34-zoomThe Forak­er Act, offi­cial­ly known as the Organ­ic act of 1900 was signed into law on April 2, 1900 by U.S. Pres­i­dent McKin­ley.   This law was called the Forak­er Act because of the bills’ spon­sor (Joseph Ben­son Forak­er) a states­man from Ohio. This new law estab­lished civil­ian gov­ern­ment on the island of Puer­to Rico, which had been acquired by the Unit­ed States after the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War.

The new gov­ern­ment had a gov­er­nor and an exec­u­tive coun­cil appoint­ed by the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States,  a House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives with 35 elect­ed mem­bers,  a judi­cial sys­tem with a Supreme Court and a U.S. Dis­trict Court,  and a non-vot­ing com­mis­sion­er  in Con­gress.  The Exec­u­tive Coun­cil was all appoint­ed. 5 were select­ed from island res­i­dents and the rest were from the Pres­i­den­t’s top cab­i­net posi­tions.  The Insu­lar Supreme Court was also appoint­ed.  All Fed­er­al laws of the Unit­ed states were to be in effect on the island. The first gov­er­nor of the island under the Forak­er Act was  Charles H. Allen, inau­gu­rat­ed on May 1, 1900 in San Juan, Puer­to Rico.


The restric­tions on Puer­to Rican auton­o­my caused unhap­pi­ness in many quar­ters and an inde­pen­dence move­ment devel­oped.  Adding to this pres­sure was the growth of a sug­ar indus­try that was dom­i­nat­ed by out­siders.  As more land was set aside for the cul­ti­va­tion of sug­ar, less land was avail­able for oth­er gen­er­al agri­cul­ture. Puer­to Ricans were forced to import many food prod­ucts and the stan­dard of liv­ing declined.

First Supreme Court of Puerto Rico. Image from the Library of Congress

First Supreme Court of Puer­to Rico. Image from the Library of Congress

The  Offi­cial Lan­guage Act (under the Forak­er Act) was insti­tut­ed which declared that in all insu­lar gov­ern­men­tal depart­ments, courts, and pub­lic offices, Eng­lish was to be regard­ed as co-offi­cial with Span­ish, and when nec­es­sary, trans­la­tions and inter­pre­ta­tions from one lan­guage to the oth­er would be made so that all par­ties could under­stand the proceedings.

This law was super­seded in 1917 by the Jones-Shafroth Act.  The Jones Act was passed by con­gress in 1917, cre­at­ing ter­ri­to­r­i­al sta­tus for Puer­to Rico and mak­ing its peo­ple cit­i­zens of the Unit­ed States.