Montana Territory

For the film, see Montana Territory (film).
Territory of Montana
Organized incorporated territory of the United States


Coat of arms

Montana Territory, 1879
Capital Bannack (May 28, 1864-February 6, 1865)
Virginia City (February 7, 1865-1875)
Helena (1875–1889)
Government Organized incorporated territory
  Split from Idaho Territory May 26, 1864
  Statehood November 8, 1889

The Territory of Montana was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from May 26, 1864, until November 8, 1889, when it was admitted as the 41st state in the Union as the State of Montana.

Original boundaries

The Montana Territory was organized out of the existing Idaho Territory by Act of Congress and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 26, 1864. The areas east of the Continental Divide had been previously part of the Nebraska Territory and Dakota Territory and had been acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

The territory also included a portion of the Idaho Territory west of the continental divide and east of the Bitterroot Range, which had been acquired by the United States in the Oregon Treaty, and originally included in the Oregon Territory. The part of the Oregon Territory that became part of Montana had been split off as part of the Washington Territory.

The boundary between the Washington Territory and Dakota Territory was the Continental Divide (as shown on the 1861 map); however, the boundary between the Idaho Territory and the Montana Territory followed the Bitterroot Range north of 46°30′ north (as shown on the 1864 map). This change was due in part to Congress unifying the area with the creation of Idaho Territory in 1863, coupled with the subsequent political maneuvering of Sidney Edgerton, soon to be the first Territorial Governor of Montana, and his allies in the Congress. They successfully implemented the boundary change that won the Flathead and Bitterroot valleys for Montana Territory.[1] The Organic Act of the Territory of Montana[2] defines the boundary as extending from the modern intersection of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming at:

The forty-fourth degree and thirty minutes of north latitude; thence due west along said forty-fourth degree and thirty minutes of north latitude to a point formed by its intersection with the crest of the Rocky Mountains; thence following the crest of the Rocky Mountains northward till its intersection with the Bitter Root Mountains; thence northward along the crest of the Bitter Root Mountains to its intersection with the thirty-ninth degree of longitude west from Washington; thence along said thirty-ninth degree of longitude northward to the boundary line of British possessions.

The boundaries of the territory did not change during its existence. It was admitted to the Union as the State of Montana on November 8, 1889.


The act of Congress of 1864 creating Montana, known as the Organic Act,[3] prescribed a somewhat standard organization for the territorial government of Montana. It established executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, however, the federal government held a dominant role in administering the new territory. Particularly, the Congress reserved the right to nullify any laws passed by the citizen-elected territorial legislature. The President of the United States appointed the most powerful positions in the territory, including a governor, secretary of the territory, and three members of the territorial supreme court, with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. The citizens of the territory elected a legislative assembly, consisting of a Council and House of Representatives, which together created the laws for the territory. Citizens also elected a lone delegate to Congress as strictly an advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives; a territorial delegate was not permitted to vote.[4] The territorial government was meant to provide a training ground for a future move to statehood, allowing time for an area's institutions to mature and populations to grow.[5]



The governor served a four-year term, unless removed by the President. Duties of the office included 1) the faithful execution of the laws, 2) to serve as the commander-in-chief of the militia, and 3) to serve as the superintendent of Indian affairs. The governor also had to approve or veto laws within three days of passage by the territorial legislative assembly.[6]


Dem Democratic Rep Republican

Governors of Montana Territory[7]
# Governor Party Term start Term end Appointed by Notes
1 Edgerton, SidneySidney Edgerton Rep June 22, 1864 July 12, 1866 Lincoln, AbrahamAbraham Lincoln Did not find out he had been appointed right away; left the state in September 1865 and did not return for 25 years
2 Smith, Green ClayGreen Clay Smith Dem July 13, 1866 April 9, 1869 Johnson, AndrewAndrew Johnson Did not assume office until October 1866; stopped functioning as governor in summer 1868
3 Ashley, James MitchellJames Mitchell Ashley Rep April 9, 1869 July 12, 1870 Grant, Ulysses S.Ulysses S. Grant Removed from office by President Ulysses S. Grant in mid-December 1869 for unclear reasons.[8]
4 Potts, Benjamin F.Benjamin F. Potts Rep July 13, 1870 January 14, 1883 Grant, Ulysses S.Ulysses S. Grant
5 Crosby, John SchuylerJohn Schuyler Crosby Rep January 15, 1883 December 15, 1884 Arthur, Chester A.Chester A. Arthur
6 Carpenter, B. PlattB. Platt Carpenter Rep December 16, 1884 July 13, 1885 Arthur, Chester A.Chester A. Arthur
7 Hauser, Samuel ThomasSamuel Thomas Hauser Dem July 14, 1885 February 7, 1887 Cleveland, GroverGrover Cleveland
8 Leslie, Preston HopkinsPreston Hopkins Leslie Dem February 8, 1887 April 8, 1889 Cleveland, GroverGrover Cleveland
9 White, Benjamin F.Benjamin F. White Rep April 9, 1889 November 8, 1889 Harrison, BenjaminBenjamin Harrison

Secretary of the territory

The secretary of the territory served a four-year term, unless removed by the President. Duties of the office included 1) the recording of all laws and proceedings of the legislative assembly and the acts of the governor, 2) the transmission of copies of the laws and journals of the legislative assembly to the President and the leaders of Congress, and 3) the transmission of executive proceedings and correspondence twice a year to the President. Importantly, the secretary also served as acting governor in case of the death, removal, resignation, or absence of the governor from the territory.


Dem Democratic Rep Republican

Secretaries of Montana Territory[9][10]
# Secretary Party Commissioned Appointed by Notes
1 Torsey, Henry P.Henry P. Torsey Rep June 22, 1864 Lincoln, AbrahamAbraham Lincoln Declined appointment due to poor health.[11]
2 Coburn, JohnJohn Coburn Rep March 3, 1865 Lincoln, AbrahamAbraham Lincoln Did not assume office as he resigned almost immediately upon being appointed; later in 1884 appointed a justice to the Supreme Court of Montana Territory
3 Meagher, Thomas FrancisThomas Francis Meagher Dem August 4, 1865 Johnson, AndrewAndrew Johnson He served as acting governor from Sep. 1865, when Gov. Edgerton left the territory, until Oct. 1866, when Gov. Smith arrived.[12] He served again as acting governor from early 1867, when Gov. Smith went to Washington D.C., until Meagher's death on July 1, 1867.[13]
4 Tufts, JamesJames Tufts Rep March 28, 1867 Johnson, AndrewAndrew Johnson He served as acting governor from the summer of 1868, when Gov. Smith left the territory, until the summer of 1869 when his replacement arrived.[14]
5 Scribner, Wiley S.Wiley S. Scribner Rep April 20, 1869 Grant, Ulysses S.Ulysses S. Grant He served as acting governor from mid-December 1869, when Ashley was removed, until the end of August 1870, when Gov. Potts arrived in Virginia City.[15]
6 Sanders, Addison HiattAddison Hiatt Sanders Rep July 19, 1870 Grant, Ulysses S.Ulysses S. Grant Withdrew before taking office since he took another appointment as register of the Land Office in Montana.[16]
7 Callaway, James E.James E. Callaway Rep January 27, 1871 Grant, Ulysses S.Ulysses S. Grant He did not arrive in Montana until mid-April 1871 to take up his duties;[17] he was the longest serving secretary of the territory.
8 Mills, James HamiltonJames Hamilton Mills Rep May 10, 1877 Hayes, Rutherford B.Rutherford B. Hayes
9 McCutcheon, Isaac D.Isaac D. McCutcheon Rep May 28, 1882 Arthur, Chester A.Chester A. Arthur date is given as the date he arrived in Helena; he resigned under scandal in Sep. 1883[18]
10 Tooker, John S.John S. Tooker Rep 1883 Arthur, Chester A.Chester A. Arthur He appears to have been commissioned sometime during the last three months of 1883 after McCutcheon's resignation,[19][20] though one source reports him being appointed in Jan. 1884,[21] and another on April 21, 1884.[22]
11 Webb, William B.William B. Webb Dem October 23, 1885 Cleveland, GroverGrover Cleveland One source has Webb appointed in 1886.[23]
12 Walker, Louis A.Louis A. Walker Rep April 15, 1889 Harrison, BenjaminBenjamin Harrison

Congressional delegation

The eligible citizens of Montana Territory voted for a delegate to Congress, electing them to a two-year term. The territorial delegate had a seat in the House of Representatives and, as any other representative, participated in debates, yet they did not have the right to vote.[24] During the time Montana was a territory, some delegates to Congress were allowed to sit on select committees and even standing committees of the House, yet as on the floor of the House, they were not permitted to vote.[25]


Dem Democratic Rep Republican

Delegates to Congress from Montana Territory[26]
# Delegate Party Term start Term end Congress Notes
1 McLean, SamuelSamuel McLean Dem January 6, 1865 March 3, 1867 38th, 39th
2 Cavanaugh, James M.James M. Cavanaugh Dem March 4, 1867 March 3, 1871 40th, 41st
3 Clagett, William H.William H. Clagett Rep March 4, 1871 March 3, 1873 42nd
4 Maginnis, MartinMartin Maginnis Dem March 4, 1873 March 3, 1885 43rd, 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th, 48th
5 Toole, JosephJoseph Toole Dem March 4, 1885 March 3, 1889 49th, 50th
6 Carter, Thomas H.Thomas H. Carter Rep March 4, 1889 November 8, 1889 51st

See also


  1. Malone, Roeder, and Lang 1991, p. 95.
  2. An Act to provide a temporary government, 1864.
  3. An Act to provide a temporary government, 1864.
  4. Renne 1958, p. 20-23.
  5. Renne 1958, p. 19.
  6. Renne 1958, p. 20-21.
  7. Owings 1956, p. 62.
  8. Spence 1968, p. 33.
  9. Owings 1956, p. 62-63.
  10. Spence 1975, p. 234.
  11. Spence 1975, p. 18.
  12. Spence 1975, p. 34, 43.
  13. Spence 1975, p. 51.
  14. Spence 1975, p. 55.
  15. Spence 1975, p. 68, 75.
  16. Spence 1975, p. 77-78, 234.
  17. Spence 1975, p. 78.
  18. Spence 1975, p. 156.
  19. Spence 1975, p. 234.
  20. Miller 1894, p. 74.
  21. Leeson 1885, p. 1256.
  22. Owings 1956, p. 63.
  23. Spence 1975, p. 234.
  24. Palmer 2011, p. 3-4.
  25. Palmer 2011, p. 6-8.
  26. Owings 1956, p. 63.


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Coordinates: 46°47′N 109°22′W / 46.78°N 109.37°W / 46.78; -109.37

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