Skip to main content

Organic Act of 1849


Congress passed the Organic Act on March 3, 1849, to provide for the organization of the territorial government of Minnesota. (The word “organic” means “organizational” in this context.) The boundaries of the territory of Minnesota were Canada on the north, Wisconsin on the east, Iowa on the south, and the Missouri and White Earth rivers on the west.

The movement to create a territorial government arose from the necessity for formal government in the land area remaining after formation of the states of Wisconsin and Iowa.

The formation of the state of Iowa in 1846 left Minnesota’s land area west of the Mississippi without territorial government. The triangular area between the St. Croix River and the Mississippi River was left without territorial government when the state of Wisconsin was admitted to the Union in 1848. By 1848 the land area from the St. Croix River west to the Missouri and White Earth Rivers was without territorial government, a veritable “no man’s land.” Consequently, when Henry H. Sibley was elected delegate to Congress from this area, he worked with Senator Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the senate committee on territories, to bring about passage of an organic act for the establishment of territorial government for Minnesota.

The organic act provided for a governor, secretary, judicial system, legislative assembly, and a delegate to Congress. Legislators and the delegate to Congress were elected; all other officers were appointed.

The legislative assembly consisted of two houses, a council composed of nine members and a house of representatives with 18 members. The first session of the legislature convened on September 3, 1849, in the Central House at the corner of Bench and Minnesota Streets in St. Paul. Since that time St. Paul has been the capital of Minnesota.

An important provision of the organic act was the reservation of sections 16 and 36 of each township for school purposes.