In the history of the United States, an organized territory is a territory for which the United States Congress has enacted an Organic Act.
The provisions of an Organic Act typically include the establishment of a Bill of Rights for the territory, as well as the framework of a tripartite government. Such a territory is said to be organized. Historically, an organized territory differed from a state in that although the organic act allowed for limited self-government, a territory had no constitution and ultimate authority over the territory was held not by the territorial government but by the United States Congress. Some contemporary organized territories have constitutions, but such constitutions are distinct from state constitutions in that they do not qualify the territory for becoming a state of the union.
The first organized territory in the United States was the Northwest Territory, organized in 1787 by the passage of the Northwest Ordinance, which is the prototype for subsequent organic acts.
Historically, the organization of a territory by the passage of an organic act was typically a prelude to statehood. In the current lexicon of the United States political insular areas, a "commonwealth" (of which there are two: Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands) is considered a special case of an organized territory. Neither of these territories is an incorporated territory.
List of organized territories
See: Historic regions of the United States
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Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04