VIRGIN ISLANDS TRANSFER DAY MESSAGE
The Honorable Tregenza A. Roach, Esq.
Senator, 31st Legislature
"On the occasion of the Transfer, we should reflect on the need to grow further in our pursuit of self-government."
The sale and purchase of the Danish West Indies, transferring sovereignty from Denmark to the United States of America, in March of 1917 was several years in the making. It took several treaties and many years of informal negotiations to bring about the sale of these three islands with provisions to protect the civil rights for the inhabitants.
The Treaty of 1867 for the sale and purchase of St. Thomas and St. John was drafted and signed by the King of Denmark, but was not favorably regarded by the United States Senate. The asking price was $7.5 million and incorporated a plebiscite, religious and civil liberties, and citizenship provisions.
The US Senate, however, was recuperating from the Civil War and wanted to focus on that conflict rather than acquiring overseas territories. The Treaty of 1902 which was drafted by the US Senate differed from the previous treaty. It included all three islands; it did not hold the US responsible for any debt resulting from the islands’ failing economy; and it counter offered $5 million.
Additionally, the civil rights and political status of the people would be determined by the United States of America. The Danish Rigsdag or Senate did not favor this treaty and was still embittered by the US Senate’s rejection of their 1867 Treaty. The Monroe Doctrine which prohibited further European colonization of the Americas gave the United States leverage with the Treaty of August 4, 1916.
Under the treaty, the US would have been the preferred body to purchase the Territory. This would defeat the aspirations of Germany which saw the islands as a way to gain a strategic military advantage, a reality which the US could not afford. Finally, the Treaty of August 4, 1916 was ratified by the Danish Rigsdag and signed by the King of Denmark on December 22, 1916, after negotiating the purchase price of $25 million in gold.
The United States President Thomas Woodrow Wilson signed and the US Senate ratified the treaty in January of 1917. The Transfer Day Ceremonies took place on St. Thomas and St. Croix at 4:00 pm on March 31, 1917.
On the occasion of the Transfer, we should reflect on the need to grow further in our pursuit of self-government. We should as well act always to encourage the aspirations of our people in ways which support their diverse talents and unlimited potential.
Transfer Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on our rich heritage even as we aspire to a bright and promising future.