With the decline in the fur trade by the 1840s, Henry Sibley pursued other business and political interests. He received his first major political office in 1838 when he was appointed the first Justice of the Peace west of the Mississippi River. In 1848 Sibley was elected delegate to the U.S. Congress from the Wisconsin Territory (which encompassed much of present-day Minnesota east of the Mississippi River) and worked successfully to have Congress create the Minnesota Territory from a portion of Wisconsin and an additional tract of land west of the Mississippi. The following year Sibley was elected a delegate to Congress from the new Minnesota Territory. Sibley served in this post from 1849 to 1853.
Gov. Henry H. Sibley,
Thomas C. Healy, ca. 1860.
Because of his connections with Dakota communities in Minnesota, Sibley played important roles in treaty negotiations between them and the U.S. Government. In 1849 he was selected to represent “mixed-blood” people (individuals with both American Indian and European ancestry) during treaty negotiations, and he represented fur traders’ interests in the negotiations over the Treaties of Traverse de Sioux and Mendota in 1851. Sibley also testified in U.S. Senate investigations into treaties between the U.S. Government and the Dakota in Minnesota. As Sibley became more involved in politics, he spent less time working within the fur trade. In 1853 he liquidated his holdings and began investing in land at Traverse des Sioux, Mendota, Hastings, and Saint Anthony Falls.
Sibley political poster, 1880.
When the Minnesota Territorial legislature was formed, Sibley was elected representative from Dakota County. In 1857 the territory held a constitutional convention with Sibley as president of the convention’s Democratic wing. That October, the convention adopted a constitution and the following year Sibley was elected the first governor of Minnesota, serving from May 24, 1858 - January 2, 1860. Sibley made his personal office into Minnesota's first governor’s office, which is located in the restored Sibley House in Mendota. After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, in which he served as a colonel and later Brigadier General, Sibley continued to be active in public life. He was a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota, a founding member of the Minnesota Historical Society, and played an active part in regional politics and business until his death in 1891.
- Gilman, Rhoda R. Henry Hastings Sibley: Divided Heart. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2004.
- Lass, William E. Minnesota: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998.
- White, Helen M. Henry Sibley's First Years at St. Peters or Mendota. St. Paul: Turnstone Historical Research, 2002.
- Wingerd, Mary Lethert. North Country: The Making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.