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Jefferson Territory


JEFFERSON TERRITORY was established under a spontaneously formed provisional government that had a precarious existence in Colorado from 1859 to 1861. Legally, the new settlements that grew up in Pikes Peak country following the discovery of gold nearby in 1858 were under Kansas' jurisdiction. They were so far from the seat of the Kansas government, however, that the territory was unable to exercise effective authority. Denver residents took the first step toward organizing a new government in November 1858 when they elected a delegate to Congress and asked that a new territory be created. Torn with dissension over slavery, Congress did not act until January 1861. Meanwhile, through several successive conventions and elections, inhabitants formed Jefferson Territory without Congressional authorization. They adopted a constitution, elected officials, determined territorial boundaries, and established a legislature, which created counties and courts and passed laws pertaining to personal and civil rights. The nascent government's attempt to collect taxes generally failed, however, mainly because the nearby Arapahoe County, the Kansas government, and the local miners' courts remained the chief means of maintaining law and order. Jefferson Territory came to an end after Congress created the Territory of Colorado in 1861. Jefferson Territory stands as an example of many similarly short-lived attempts to establish provisional governments in unorganized territories. As was the case in Jefferson Territory, these territories—including Deseret (Utah) and the State of Franklin (Tennessee)—lasted only until settlers used legal channels to establish territorial governments recognized by Congress.


Abbott, Carl, et al. Colorado: A History of the Centennial State. 3rd ed. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1994.

Smith, Duane A. Rocky Mountain West: Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, 1859–1915. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992.

Colin B.Goodykoontz/s. b.

See alsoDeseret, State of ; Franklin, State of ; Mining Towns ; Pikes Peak Gold Rush ; Territorial Governments ; West, American ; Westward Migration .

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