The Journal of Caribbean History: Volume 41, Issue 1 and 2

Article 5
You Pay for What You Get: The U.S. Virgin Islands, 1917–1936

Stephanie Hunter McMahon


This article analyses the governance of the U.S. Virgin Islands from 1917 through 1936 to assess the relative value of economic factors in territorial governance. A review of key decision-makers’ financial and political concerns reveals that the United States accepted responsibility for the islanders’ economic welfare but not their civic well-being. The author contends that, recognizing the depth of the islanders’ financial distress, the United States extended political rights to the territory’s inhabitants, not out of democratic obligation, but in the hope of decreasing the burden the islands placed on the federal treasury. Thus, economic considerations largely dictated legislative decisions