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The Colonial Law of 1863 changed the system of government by dividing the islands into two Municipalities which were St. Thomas - St. John, and St. Croix. Each Municipality was served by a Colonial Council, both of which could combine as an Assembly on the call of the governor or both Councils. The Councils had slightly greater powers than their predecessors and they had
some measure of financial control that is usually inherent in legislative bodies as we know them. However, many limitations on the powers remained firmly in the hands
of the King and his direct representative, the governor.
All final decisions rested with the King. In addition, the King appointed four members to the St. Thomas - St. John Council and five to the St. Croix Council. An additional handicap was the amount of deliberation necessary to adopt any measure. Before the Council adopted any measure, it was subject to revision three times. The first revision period permitted general discussion, in the second the governor or the council could make amendments, and in the third, only the governor could make amendments. As aforementioned, any measure was still subject to the approval of the King in order to become law.

The Colonial Law of 1863, besides dictating the structure of government, also dealt with the important matter of enfranchisement. It was the opinion of the lawmakers at the time that landowners and other people of means were those that truly had a stake in the society and therefore should be the ones represented at the polls. As a result, the strict property and income qualifications stipulated by the Colonial Law of 1863 were such that only 5.5 percent of the population was able to vote. This caused a double disadvantage for the average citizen who saw not only a Colonial Council that was practically powerless, but one in which he was un-represented. To put it simply, the average or “grass roots” people had no voice whatsoever in the running of the government.

The Colonial Law of 1906 was basically an amendment to the Colonial Law of 1863. Of its provisions, the most noteworthy is one which states that before any 31st Legislature of the Virgin Islands Swearing-In Ceremony painting2

ordinance is adopted, the opinion of the Assembly must be solicited. While this further insured that the voice of the Councils would be heard, it still gave them no power to enact or influence any legislation. This law of 1906 was the last “constitutional” document handed down by the Danes and it reflected the fact that to the very end, the Danish government felt that although the natives should be free to express their opinion, the decision making functions must rest with the government of the “mother country.” To the end of Danish rule, Virgin Islanders had little self-government.

The lack of self-government, along with dire economic straits for the islands led to the widespread native approval of the sale of the islands in 1916 and their subsequent transfer in 1917. The natives assumed that along with the rights of American citizenship, they would also receive a greater measure of self-government. As things turned out, they got neither.

When the United States took over the islands, it was a hasty and forced move for which the sole purpose was to pre-vent the Germans from taking them and thus to improve strategic defense of the Panama Canal. Therefore, the Islands, unlike the Louisiana Purchase or many other territories, were not acquired for purposes of expansion, but simply as a military possession. As a result, the natives were not granted citizenship and the administration of the islands was delegated to the Department of the Navy. The Navy, never known for being socio-politically gifted, decided to leave what seemed to be well enough alone and thus, with the obvious exception of having a Naval officer take the post of governor, there was no significant change in the structure of government.

Under the Administration of the Navy, significant progress was made in the more material aspects of life. New roads and hospitals were built, and efforts were made to improve sanitation and education in the islands. However, the years of the “Naval Regime” from 1917-1931 were long, bitter years for thosewho sought greater self-rule in the Virgin Islands. The training and temperament of the average ranking Naval officer was not at all suited to the running of a popular government for a peaceful group of people. Therefore, according to the natives, the majority of Naval governors conducted island affairs in much the same manner as they would have run a battleship. To make matters worse, the Federal Administration largely lost interest in the islands after World War I as they had served their original purpose. As a result, there was little or no effort on the part of the administration to oversee the affairs of the islands and the governor was thus left quite free from outside interference. This combination of federal neglect, carried over Danish laws, and Naval temperament conspired to effectively stymie any efforts at self-government.