Special Message to the Congress Transmitting the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
To the Congress of the United States:
I am transmitting to the Congress for approval the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, adopted by the people of Puerto Rico on March 3, 1952.
The Constitution has been submitted to me pursuant to the Act of July 3, 1950, 64 Stat. 319 (48 U.S.C., Supp. IV, 731b-731e). This Act authorizes me, upon adoption of a constitution by the people of Puerto Rico, to transmit the constitution to the Congress if I find that it conforms with the applicable provisions of the Act and of the Constitution of the United States. I do find and declare that the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico conforms with the applicable provisions of the Act of July 3, 1950 and of our own Constitution.
Fully recognizing the principle of government by consent, the Act of July 3, 1950 authorized the people of Puerto Rico to organize a republican form of government pursuant to a constitution of their own choosing. The Act was adopted by the Congress of the United States "in the nature of a compact." By its own terms, the Act could become effective only when accepted by the people of Puerto Rico in a referendum.
On June 4, 1951, the people of Puerto Rico voted by a large majority to accept the Act of July 3, 1950, thereby reaffirming their union with the United States on the terms proposed by the Congress. Following the referendum, the voters of Puerto Rico elected delegates to a Constitutional Convention. The Convention convened in San Juan on September 17, 1951, and concluded its deliberations on February 6, 1952.
The Constitution approved by the Constitutional Convention was submitted to the people of Puerto Rico in a referendum on March 3, 1952. It was adopted by an overwhelming majority.
In the course of its studies and deliberations, the Constitutional Convention made a careful analysis of the constitutions of each of the States of the Union, as well as that of the Federal Government. As a result, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico contains many provisions which are common to constitutions which have been adopted by the States, as well as other provisions which are designed primarily to meet local problems.
The Constitution establishes the government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico with three coordinate branches of government, legislative, executive and judicial. The city of San Juan is designated as the seat of government.
The legislative power of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is vested in the Legislative Assembly, consisting of a Senate composed of 27 members and a House of Representatives composed of 51 members. Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are to be elected by direct vote at each general election for a term of four years. Both United States and Puerto Rican citizenship are requisites for election to legislative office.
Under the Constitution, the executive power of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is vested in a Governor, to be elected by direct vote in each general election for a term of four years. To be eligible for election as Governor, a person must be at least 35 years of age, and must have been, during the 5 years preceding the date of election, a citizen of the United States and a citizen and bona fide resident of Puerto Rico. The Governor is vested with the powers usually lodged in a chief executive under our form of Government, including the right to veto bills enacted by the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly may override the Governor's veto by a vote of two-thirds of the total number of members of which each house is composed.
The judicial power of Puerto Rico is vested in a Supreme Court, and in such other courts as may be established by law. The Supreme Court is designated as the court of last resort in Puerto Rico and is to be composed of a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices. The Justices of the Supreme Court are to be appointed by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate of Puerto Rico, and are to hold office during good behavior. Justices now serving on the Supreme Court, who have been appointed by the President of the United States, are to continue to hold office during good behavior.
The Constitutional Convention gave careful consideration to the objective of ensuring an independent judiciary. It limited the number of Justices of the Supreme Court to five members and expressly provided that the number cannot be increased except by direct request of the Supreme Court itself. Independence of the judiciary is further advanced by the provision of the Constitution placing responsibility for administration of the entire judicial system in the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is appointed for life and removable by impeachment only.
The new Constitution contains a bill of rights which corresponds with the highest ideals of human dignity, equality and freedom. The bill of rights includes provisions which are similar to our own basic Constitutional guaranties. In addition, it contains express provisions regarding public education, conditions of labor, and the protection of private property. The bill of rights also recognizes the existence of certain human rights, but acknowledges that their full enjoyment depends upon an agricultural and industrial development not yet attained by the Puerto Rican community.
Amendments to the Constitution may be proposed by a concurrent resolution approved by not less than two-thirds of the total membership of each house of the Legislative Assembly. The amendments must be adopted by a majority of the qualified electors either in a general election or in a special referendum.
The Act of July 3, 1950, was the last of a series of enactments through which the United States has provided ever-increasing self-government in Puerto Rico.
The Treaty of Paris, which ceded Puerto Rico to the United States, was ratified and proclaimed fifty-three years ago. After a brief period of military government, the Congress in 1900 adopted the first organic act of Puerto Rico, known as the Foraker Act, which established a civil government for the Island. By making provision for a popularly elected lower house of the legislative assembly, called the House of Delegates, the Foraker Act extended some measure of local self-government to Puerto Rico. Preponderant control of the local government of Puerto Rico was retained by the United States, however, by virtue of the President's authority under the Act to appoint the Governor, the heads of the Executive Departments, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and the eleven members of the Executive Council of Puerto Rico.
The present Organic Act of Puerto Rico, enacted on March 2, 1917, provided a substantial advance in local self-government for Puerto Rico. By creating the Legislature of Puerto Rico, composed of a popularly-elected Senate and House of Representatives, it gave the people direct control over the legislative branch of the government. Concurrently, the Executive Council created by the Foraker Act was divested of its legislative functions. An opportunity for greater participation in the formulation of executive policies was provided the people of Puerto Rico by authorizing the Governor, with the advice and consent of the insular Senate, to appoint the heads of the executive departments, except the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Education. Authority to appoint the Governor, the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Education, the Auditor, and the Justices of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico was reserved to the President of the United States. The Act granted full United States citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico and gave them a bill of rights. It also authorized them to elect a representative to the Congress, accredited to the House of Representatives.
In 1946, I appointed the first native of Puerto Rico as Governor, Jesus T. Pinero.
By the Act of August 5, 1947, the people of Puerto Rico were authorized to elect their own Governor. This Act also provided that the heads of all executive departments of Puerto Rico were to be appointed by the elected Governor of Puerto Rico, including the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Education. As a result of the Act, therefore, the people of Puerto Rico assumed direct responsibility and control over the executive branch of the local government. The President of the United States still retained authority to appoint the Auditor and the Justices of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, but even this authority will be relinquished upon approval of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Through the Act of July 3, 1950, providing for the establishment of a constitutional government in Puerto Rico, the United States gives evidence once more of its adherence to the principle of self-determination and its devotion to the ideals of freedom and democracy. The people of Puerto Rico have accepted the law as enacted by the Congress. They have complied with its requirements and have submitted their Constitution for the approval of the Congress. With its approval, full authority and responsibility for local self-government will be vested in the people of Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will be a government which is truly by the consent of the governed. No government can be invested with a higher dignity and greater worth than one based upon the principle of consent.
The people of the United States and the people of Puerto Rico are entering into a new relationship that will serve as an inspiration to all who love freedom and hate tyranny. We are giving new substance to man's hope for a world with liberty and equality under law. Those who truly love freedom know that the right relationship between a government and its people is one based on mutual consent and esteem.
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a proud document that embodies the best of our democratic heritage. I recommend its early approval by the Congress.
HARRY S. TRUMAN
Note: for the President's statement upon signing the bill approving the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, see Item 198.
Harry S Truman, Special Message to the Congress Transmitting the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/230565