In 1917 Denmark sold its West Indian colonies with their inhabitants to the United States of America for twenty-five million dollars in gold in accordance with the terms of this Treaty signed by both parties. By that transaction, the United States enhanced its military and economic hegemony within the Caribbean region, while Denmark rid itself of an economic liability and a failed, and increasingly troublesome, social order. The people of the newly created Virgin Islands of the United States were given no official say in the matter. The transfer ceremony took place on March 31, 1917.
In this activity, students will use questions to investigate the treaty of acquisition between Denmark and the United States for the Danish West Indies. They will understand how the United States acquired the islands that became the U.S. Virgin Islands, examine its status as a territory and debate other options for its status such as statehood and independence.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
Before using this activity, lead the class in a discussion about primary sources as needed. Introduce the document the class will be studying, and define treaty and hegemony as needed.
Ask students to list populated U.S. Territories? There are five. (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marina Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.)
Load the document “Major Political & Constitutional Documents of the United States Virgin Islands” onto an interactive smart board, in the left column under Early United States rule, click on Treaty of Acquisition 1917, and then have students make observations and read the treaty together. If there is not a smart board, students can work in small groups at computers.
Also load the Analyze a Written Document worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through discussing the answers to questions on the worksheet.
Analyze the Primary Source
You may load the Analyze a Written Document worksheet on the smart board or on computers so that you can lead students through answering the questions, print the worksheet and distribute to your students, or adapt the questions from the worksheet to create your own. Primary Source Analysis Worksheets
Have students complete the analyze worksheet individually, in small groups, or as a class. Help students as needed to complete the worksheets. Review their answers and the observations as a class.
Which article in the Treaty of Acquisition 1917 states that Denmark will cede the islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John to the United States? (Define cede as needed.) How much did the islands cost?
Article 6 discusses what will happen to the residents. Explain this in your own words. Are the people able to remain Danish citizens? If so, how? Is it clear which people they are referring to, existing Danish citizens, or all island residents?
Digging Deeper: What was happening in the world at the time of the sale? Why would the United States want the Danish West Indies? Do you think it was fair for the islands to be sold without thorough input of its citizens? Why or why not?
Territory, Statehood, and Independence: The US Virgin Islands (USVI) is currently a territory of the United States of America. What other options exist for the USVI? Have students research the options as needed, and then discuss the options, take a position, research their particular position and develop an argument for that position, and then debate their arguments for or against statehood, remaining a territory, or independence for the U.S. Virgin Islands.