Jefferson, Territory of, in U.S. history, region that roughly encompassed the present-day state of Colorado, although extending 2° farther south and 1° farther north, organized by its inhabitants (1859–61), but never given congressional sanction. After a great increase in emigration in the 1850s, settlers in Arapahoe co., Kansas Territory, felt the need to be closer to the seat of government. They met in convention in Denver on Aug. 1, 1859, to discuss alternatives to the region's status. The 166 delegates present debated the benefits of reorganization as a state or as a territory and submitted the question on Sept. 5 to the public, which voted overwhelmingly for territorial status. Subsequently, Beverly D. Williams was sent as a representative to Congress, which, however, refused his petition. Nevertheless, the constitution of the Territory of Jefferson was adopted on Oct. 24, and the first session of its legislature met on Nov. 7. Robert W. Steele was elected provisional governor. Although illegal, the new government coexisted peacefully with the official county institutions. Laws were passed regarding taxation, and the franchise was denied Native and African Americans. On Feb. 28, 1861, Congress passed the Organic Act, which created the Territory of Colorado. The provisional government quickly dismantled, and William Gilpin replaced Steele as governor.
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