Montana is the 41st State Admitted to the Union

Before Montana was a state, it was a territory.

During those early years, the President of the United States appointed territorial governors, justices, and other officials to govern Montana. Sometimes these appointed officials knew little about the West or about the particular problems in Montana. Even though the territory was taxed, its citizens had no vote in Congress. Montanans longed for statehood. As citizens of a state they could elect their own officers and be represented in Congress.

To achieve statehood, Montana Territorial citizens needed to prepare and accept a written constitution of which Congress approved. This important document contained the basic laws of the state, the duties of its elected officials, and the rights of the people governed. Montanans prepared constitutions in 1866, 1884 and 1889. A fourth constitution, written long after statehood, replaced the 1889 document.

In 1866 the Territory was too young and inexperienced to stand much hope of achieving statehood. Nevertheless, motivated by personal gain, Acting Governor Thomas Francis Meagher called a constitutional convention. Delegates reluctantly but dutifully prepared a document. This early constitution never survived a vote of the people or the purview of Congress. It was lost on the way to the printers in St. Louis.

Years passed. Montana Territory matured. In 1883 the Territorial legislative assembly called for a constitutional convention in Helena. Borrowing from the Colorado, California, and New York constitutions, delegates prepared a document that limited the power of the executive branch and placed authority in the legislature. However, the 1884 document stood little chance in Congress. A political stalemate prohibited any discussion of the admission of states that could potentially upset the balance of power.

In 1889, however, that impasse changed abruptly. At once, it was permissible to add not only Montana to the Union, but three additional western states as well. Montana’s Territorial government called a constitutional convention. The 1889 constitution reflected the one written five years before. Voters passed it by an overwhelming majority. Montana gained admittance to the Union on November 8, 1889.

Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the state of Montana. Groups included the Crow in the south-central area, the Cheyenne in the southeast, the Blackfeet, Assiniboine and Gros Ventres in the central and north-central area and the Kootenai and Salish in the west. The smaller Pend d'Oreille and Kalispel tribes lived near Flathead Lake and the western mountains, respectively.

Montana east of the continental divide was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Subsequent to the Lewis and Clark Expedition and after the finding of gold and copper (see the Copper Kings) in the state in the late 1850s, Montana became a United States territory (Montana Territory) on May 26, 1864, and the 41st state on November 8, 1889.