The Insular Cases: Downes v. Bidwell


Downes v. Bidwell is one of a handful of U.S. Supreme Court cases that together make up what are called the Insular Cases. Decided in the first several years of the twentieth century, these cases determined that full constitutional rights were not necessarily granted to people living in American territories. In one of the most important of the Insular Cases, Downes v. Bidwell, the Supreme Court established that the United States was not just a nation of states and temporary territories; it was a nation of states and potentially permanent territories. Although the United States had always possessed territories, they were assumed to be transitional phases for areas under U.S. sovereignty. They were to be administered from the nation’s capital until they had reached sufficient population size and had written constitutions establishing republican government, following the blueprint of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance. Congress could then annex U.S. territories as new states into...

Image for: The Insular Cases: Downes v. Bidwell

Henry Billings Brown (The World's Work, 1906)

View Full Size