Organized incorporated territories are territories of the United States that are both incorporated (part of the United States proper) and organized (having an organized government authorized by an Organic Act passed by the U.S. Congress, usually consisting of a territorial legislature, territorial governor, and a basic judicial system). There have been no such territories since Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as states in 1959.

Through most of U.S. history, regions that were admitted as U.S. states were, prior to admission, territories or parts of territories of this kind. As the United States grew, the most populous parts of the organized territory would achieve statehood. The remainder frequently kept at least some of the governing structure of the old legal entity (territory) and would be renamed to avoid confusion.

Some territories existed only a short time before becoming states, while others remained territories for decades. The shortest-lived was Alabama Territory at two years, while New Mexico Territory and Hawaii Territory both lasted more than 50 years.


Of the current 50 U.S. states, 31 were at one time or another part of a U.S. territory (see list below). The exceptions include: the original Thirteen Colonies; Kentucky and West Virginia (both split off from Virginia); Maine (split off from Massachusetts); California (created as a state out of the unorganized territory of the Mexican Cession); and Vermont and Texas (both previously self-declared republics).

Common regional names such as Louisiana Purchase, Indian Territory, and Oregon Country were never formally organized as territories.

During the American Civil War, there was (at least nominally) a Confederate-established Arizona Territory (1861–1865), which split Arizona and New Mexico along an east–west line, rather than the Union-established north–south line that persists today. See article for map.

Current situation

Since 1959, there have been no incorporated U.S. territories formally organized by an Organic Act. When Hawaii was admitted as a state in 1959, the Hawaii Admission Act specifically excluded Palmyra Island which had been part of the Territory of Hawaii, and Palmyra remains today as the only incorporated U. S. territory, the United States Territory of Palmyra Island. Although it still has private landowners, Palmyra is uninhabited, and no Palmyra Island government has been organized under an act of Congress. Palmyra is currently governed as a territory by the United States Department of the Interior.[1] All other U. S. territories except Palmyra are unincorporated (meaning that they are not fully part of the United States and that all aspects of the United States Constitution do not automatically apply), whereas other former incorporated territories (excepting only Palmyra Island) are now states. While the District of Columbia functions similarly to an organized incorporated territory, it is governed by entirely different provisions of the United States Constitution as a federal district.

List of organized incorporated territories

Territorial Acquisitions of the United States from the 1783 peace with the Kingdom of Great Britain to the 1853 Gadsden Purchase.
Political changes in the continental west and the Louisiana Country of the young United States in 1805–1809 after the Louisiana Purchase was ratified in October 1803.

The following territories within the United States were officially organized by Congress with an Organic Act on the first date listed. Each was admitted as a U.S. state (of the same name, except where noted) on the second date listed. Often, larger outlying portions of an organized territory were not included in the new state.

For maps, see Territorial evolution of the United States.

See also