Date of Award

Spring 1958

Document Type




First Advisor

Thomas Clinch


This thesis has for its purpose a study of the early-day politics of the Territory of Montana viewed in the light of the career of Thomas Francis Meagher. Much of the material thus far written about the man and his activities as acting governor of Montana Territory between 1865 and 1867 has either been utterly uncomplimentary or entirely partisan in nature. I have thus attempted to draw as objective a view as possible of Meagher and his work and also to show that political strife in Montana at the time mirrored national political struggles at the capital in Washington.

This is the story of one of the most controversial figures in early Montana history, Thomas Francis Meagher. In taking a quick glance at Meagher's life it would seen that he was involved in controversy all of his life. Even his death is clouded in mystery and strife.

The life of Thomas Francis Meagher, the son of a wealthy merchant, began on the 3rd of August, 1823, in the city of Waterford. The first ten years of his life were spent in his native city. When he reached the age of eleven, his father sent him to the Jesuit College of Clongowes Wood at Kildare. Meagher spent six years there. His student life is described by his compatriot and friend John Savage:

“Here his frank and happy nature endeared him to his associates. He was distinguished for his heartiness with which he joined in all the freaks of student life, and the sudden impulses of study that enable him to carry off the honors from those who had paled their brows In months of laborious scrutiny...In English composition and rhetoric he was above all competitors, and already became remarkable for that elegant enthusiasm which afterwards, in so short a space of time, placed his name on the list of the recognized orators who have contributed so largely to make the history and literature of his country."

Even at this early age Meagher was showing the talent for which he was most famous in later life, as he was one of the most outstanding members of the College Debating Society.

After spending six years in Clongowes he was sent to Stonyhurst College in England to finish his education. Here Meagher exhibited a keen mind and studied hard at those subjects which proved interesting, neglecting those which did not.

During his college days two incidents happened that help throw a little light on the personality of Meagher. At Stonyhurst they celebrated the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo with musical offerings and other forms of recreation, and the college band was called upon to play. As it so happened Meagher was the first clarinetist in the band and he absolutely refused to perform. "Never,” he said, “would he sound a note of praise for England’s victory.” As a result of his not playing, there was a serious disarrangement in the musical plans for the day.

The other incident involved one of his teachers whose principal effort seems to have been devoted to the eradication of his “detested Irish brogue." How he eventually succeeded those who were familiar in after years with his pupil’s peculiar foreign mode of expression, (which many mistook for affectation,) can testify. Strange to say, Meagher himself never could believe in the success of his pro-English pedagogue.