Northwest Ordinances - History

Northwest Ordinances - History

On July 13, 1787, the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. It prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territories. This was the first act in a continuing struggle over the future of slavery in the new territories added to the United States.

The Northwest Ordinance, 13 July 1787

The Northwest Ordinance is one of the great American Founding documents. Often it is considered as the single most important accomplishment under the Articles of Confederation.

The land north and west of the Ohio River became part of the United States by the Treaty of Peace in 1783. Virginia claimed possession of the territory under its colonial charter. Sparingly inhabited mostly by a number of Native American tribes, Virginia ceded the territory to Congress in 1781 and again in 1783. Congress rejected some of the provisions of the first cession, but formally accepted the revised cession on 1 March 1784. Although nothing in the Articles of Confederation specifically gave Congress the authority to administer territories, Congress of necessity passed several measures for the surveying, sale, and administration of the Old Northwest.

Map of the Northwest Territory

The Northwest Ordinance provided for the government of the territory. Congress was to appoint a territorial governor with a three-year term, a secretary of state with a four-year term, and a three-judge court with tenure for good behavior. Once the population of the territory reached 5,000, a territorial general assembly could be appointed consisting of a legislative council with five members with five-year terms and a house of representatives to be apportioned according to the number of free male inhabitants. Representatives were to have two-year terms. The Ordinance provided that “the governor, legislative Council, and house of representatives shall have authority to make laws in all cases for the good government of the district not repugnant to the principles and articles in this Ordinance,” provided that all bills passed by a majority of both the council and the assembly “be referred to the governor for his assent” The Ordinance contained an abbreviated bill of rights consisting of six articles that formed a compact between the original states and “the people and states in the said territory.” Between three and five states were to be created from the territory. Once a population of 60,000 was reached, that portion of the territory could apply for statehood on an equal basis with the original states. Inhabitants of the new state could write their own constitution that had to have a republican form of government.

Nathan Dane

The sixth article of the Ordinance prohibited slavery and indentured servitude in the territory. When Congress considered the Ordinance in July 1787, Massachusetts delegate Nathan Dane, the author of the Ordinance, removed article six because a majority of the states attending Congress were from the South. Southern delegates, however, encouraged Dane to restore the prohibition because Southerners did not want a competing slave economy north of the Ohio River. It was also expected that most immigrants to the territory would come from Northern States and thus would probably oppose slavery. Furthermore, by overtly prohibiting slavery north of the Ohio, Congress tacitly would be allowing slavery in the Southwest Territory. With freedom just across the Ohio River, a fugitive slave clause was added to the sixth article. The Articles of Confederation had an extradition clause aimed at runaway criminals but no fugitive slave clause. When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention then meeting in Philadelphia saw the fugitive slave clause in the Northwest Ordinance they without much debate inserted a similar clause into the draft Constitution. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 proved to be somewhat inconsequential in returning runaway slaves, but the much harsher Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was one of the important steps leading to the Civil War.

Arthur St. Clair

Some Southerners and some long-time residents of the Northwest Territory objected to the prohibition of slavery. Bartholomew Cardiveau expressed such concerns in a long letter to Arthur St. Clair, the first governor of the Northwest Territory. The “obnoxious resolution” was said to be an ex post facto law that would illegally “deprive a considerable number of citizens of their property, acquired and enjoyed long before they were under the dominion of the United States.” Some proponents of the prohibition suggested that it would only prohibit “the future importation of slaves into the Federal country that it was not meant to affect the rights of the ancient inhabitants.” Promises were allegedly made that a clause would be inserted in a re-enacted Ordinance in 1789 “explanatory of its real meaning, sufficient to ease the apprehensions of the people, but it was not done.” Consequently, slave owners in the Northwest Territory, particularly Spanish-speaking residents, swore allegiance to Spain some even moved west of the Mississippi River taking their slaves with them. If the complete prohibition of slavery persisted, “the Western country, will infallibly remain for a long time in a state of infancy.” Cardiveau also suggested that allowing slavery to exist in the Northwest Territory would provide a place to which freedmen could be transported “without violating the right of property, and without endangering the safety, peace and manners of the whites by a promiscuous intermixture of so many blacks turned loose upon society, destitute of industry, and uncontrolled by the principles of morality, or the habits of good society.” Cardiveau hoped that a “gentler annihilation of servitude might be introduced in the United States” (Bartholomew Cardiveau to Arthur St. Clair, Danville, Kentucky, 30 June 1789, William B. Smith, ed., The St. Clair Papers . . . (2 vols., Cincinnati, Ohio, 1882), II, 117–19, 119n–20n.)

Although the prohibition of slavery was never changed, various subterfuges were used that, in essence, allowed slavery to exist in the territory. When the five states came into the Union (Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin), all of their constitutions prohibited slavery.


Introduction

The Northwest Ordinance, officially titled "An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States North West of the River Ohio," was adopted by the Confederation Congress on July 13, 1787. Also known as the Ordinance of 1787, the Northwest Ordinance established a government for the Northwest Territory, outlined the process for admitting a new state to the Union, and guaranteed that newly created states would be equal to the original thirteen states. Considered one of the most important legislative acts of the Confederation Congress, the Northwest Ordinance also protected civil liberties and outlawed slavery in the new territories


The Northwest and the Ordinances, 1783-1858

In many respects, the definition of political institutions and provisions for the surveying of land in the Old Northwest set the pattern for the rest of the new nation. Once eastern states renounced their claims in the Ohio country, there was a need to specify how those older states were to relate to whatever took shape in the largely unpopulated area. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set out a process by which land was to be organized as dependent territories and then as states fully equal in status to those already in the union. The right to vote was to be extended to almost all free white males. Rights of habeas corpus, trial by jury and religious freedom were guaranteed. Slavery was prohibited, in principle. (Effective prohibition of slavery was settled on state by state.) The related Ordinance of 1785 defined the process by which title to public lands was to be transferred to the states and to individuals. It instituted a survey system mapping out uniform squares of property (sections and townships) in terms of a uniform set of coordinates, and specified the terms of sale of the surveyed property. It also provided that public land would be set aside to the states to promote the development of education.

Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota constituted what became the northern tier of states in the Northwest Territory. Each went through a territorial phase with boundaries considerably extended beyond those assigned to the state. Each was generous in scale compared to eastern states (like, say, Delaware or Rhode Island), with boundaries set out well in advance of settlement in arbitrary reference to natural features (lakes, rivers) and straight lines. An original provision that the southern tip of Lake Michigan define the southern boundary of the northern tier would have denied lake front to Indiana and Illinois and was substantially amended. Congress added the Upper Peninsula to Michigan as compensation for such amendments at Michigan's expense (with the thought that that area was pretty much worthless anyway!). Only that part of Minnesota east of the Mississippi belonged to the Northwest Territory, but for all practical purposes Minnesota was treated like its sister states in the northern tier. In all of them, traditional English rights were embedded in their institutions and their constitutions provided for universal (white) manhood suffrage and division among executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

A glance at a property or road map of the area or any part of it conveys a sense of how fully the land survey patterns in the Upper Midwest conform to the provisions of the 1785 Ordinance. Unless the topography positively forbids the practice (and often even when it does), properties and boundaries run in the straight lines dictated by the national system. The provision for the support of education through the sale of public lands played an important role in the commitment of the Upper Midwest states to the public support of education at all levels.

The system worked out in the Ordinances has proved to be wise, resilient and practical and applicable to most of the continental United States. The evolution of the Old Northwest pointed the way. By the time Minnesota came into the union in 1858, the process initiated in the 1780s was securely in place.


Northwest Ordinance

Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled that the said territory, for the purposes of temporary government, be one district, subject, however, to be divided into two districts, as future circumstances may, in the opinion of Congress, make it expedient.

Source: Francis Newton Thorpe, ed., The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America, vol. 2 (1909), pp. 957–962.

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid that the estates both of resident and nonresident proprietors in the said territory, dying intestate, shall descend to and be distributed among their children and the descendants of a deceased child in equal parts, the descendants of a deceased child or grandchild to take the share of their deceased parent in equal parts among them and where there shall be no children or descendants, then in equal parts to the next of kin, in equal degree and among collaterals, the children of a deceased brother or sister of the intestate shall have, in equal parts among them, their deceased parent's share and there shall, in no case, be a distinction between kindred of the whole and half blood saving in all cases to the widow of the intestate, her third part of the real estate for life, and one-third part of the personal estate and this law relative to descents and dower shall remain in full force until altered by the legislature of the district. And until the governor and judges shall adopt laws as hereinafter mentioned, estates in the said territory may be devised or bequeathed by wills in writing, signed and sealed by him or her in whom the estate may be (being of full age) and attested by three witnesses—and real estates may be conveyed by lease and release, or bargain and sale, signed, sealed, and delivered by the person, being of full age, in whom the estate may be, and attested by two witnesses, provided such wills be duly proved, and such conveyances be acknowledged, or the execution thereof duly proved, and be recorded within one year after proper magistrates, courts, and registers shall be appointed for that purpose and personal property may be transferred by delivery, saving, however, to the French and Canadian inhabitants, and other settlers of the Kaskaskies, Saint Vincents, and the neighboring villages, who have heretofore professed themselves citizens of Virginia, their laws and customs now in force among them, relative to the descent and conveyance of property.

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid that there shall be appointed from time to time, by Congress, a governor whose commission shall continue in force for the term of three years, unless sooner revoked by Congress he shall reside in the district and have a freehold estate therein, in one thousand acres of land, while in the exercise of his office.

There shall be appointed from time to time, by Congress, a secretary whose commission shall continue in force for four years, unless sooner revoked he shall reside in the district and have a freehold estate therein, in five hundred acres of land, while in the exercise of his office. It shall be his duty to keep and preserve the acts and laws passed by the legislature, and the public records of the district, and the proceedings of the governor in his executive department, and transmit authentic copies of such acts and proceedings every six months to the secretary of Congress. There shall also be appointed a court, to consist of three judges, any two of whom to form a court, who shall have a common-law jurisdiction, and reside in the district and have each therein a freehold estate, in five hundred acres of land, while in the exercise of their offices and their commissions shall continue in force during good behavior.

The governor and judges, or a majority of them, shall adopt and publish in the district such laws of the original states, criminal and civil, as may be necessary and best suited to the circumstances of the district, and report them to Congress from time to time, which laws shall be in force in the district until the organization of the general assembly therein, unless disapproved of by Congress but afterwards the legislature shall have authority to alter them as they shall think fit.

The governor, for the time being, shall be commander in chief of the militia, appoint and commission all officers in the same below the rank of general officers all general officers shall be appointed and commissioned by Congress.

Previous to the organization of the general assembly the governor shall appoint such magistrates and other civil officers in each county or township as he shall find necessary for the preservation of the peace and good order in the same. After the general assembly shall be organized, the powers and duties of magistrates and other civil officers shall be regulated and defined by the said assembly but all magistrates and other civil officers, not herein otherwise directed shall, during the continuance of this temporary government, be appointed by the governor.

For the prevention of crimes and injuries, the laws to be adopted or made shall have force in all parts of the district, and for the execution of process, criminal and civil, the governor shall make proper divisions thereof and he shall proceed from time to time, as circumstances may require, to lay out the parts of the district in which the Indian titles shall have been extinguished, into counties and townships, subject, however, to such alterations as may thereafter be made by the legislature.

So soon as there shall be five thousand free male inhabitants of full age in the district, upon giving proof thereof to the governor they shall receive authority, with time and place, to elect representatives from their counties or townships to represent them in the general assembly: provided that for every five hundred free male inhabitants there shall be one representative, and so on, progressively, with the number of free male inhabitants, shall the right of representation increase until the number of representatives shall amount to twenty-five after which the number and proportion of representatives shall be regulated by the legislature: provided that no person be eligible or qualified to act as a representative unless he shall have been a citizen of one of the United States three years and be a resident in the district, or unless he shall have resided in the district three years and in either case, shall likewise hold in his own right, in fee simple, two hundred acres of land within the same: provided also that a freehold in fifty acres of land in the district, having been a citizen of one of the states, and being resident in the district, or the like freehold and two years' residence in the district, shall be necessary to qualify a man as an elector of a representative.

The representatives thus elected shall serve for the term of two years and in case of the death of a representative, or removal from office, the governor shall issue a writ to the county or township for which he was a member to elect another in his stead, to serve for the residue of the term.

The general assembly or legislature shall consist of the governor, legislative council, and a house of representatives. The legislative council shall consist of five members, to continue in office five years, unless sooner removed by Congress any three of whom to be a quorum: and the members of the council shall be nominated and appointed in the following manner, to wit: As soon as representatives shall be elected the governor shall appoint a time and place for them to meet together, and when met they shall nominate ten persons, residents in the district, and each possessed of a freehold in five hundred acres of land, and return their names to Congress, five of whom Congress shall appoint and commission to serve as aforesaid and whenever a vacancy shall happen in the council, by death or removal from office, the house of representatives shall nominate two persons, qualified as aforesaid, for each vacancy and return their names to Congress, one of whom Congress shall appoint and commission for the residue of the term and every five years, four months at least before the expiration of the time of service of the members of the council, the said house shall nominate ten persons, qualified as aforesaid, and return their names to Congress, five of whom Congress shall appoint and commission to serve as members of the council five years, unless sooner removed. And the governor, legislative council, and house of representatives shall have authority to make laws in all cases for the good government of the district, not repugnant to the principles and articles in this ordinance established and declared. And all bills, having passed by a majority in the house and by a majority in the council, shall be referred to the governor for his assent but no bill or legislative act whatever shall be of any force without his assent. The governor shall have power to convene, prorogue, and dissolve the general assembly when, in his opinion, it shall be expedient.

The governor, judges, legislative council, secretary, and such other officers as Congress shall appoint in the district shall take an oath or affirmation of fidelity and of office the governor before the president of Congress, and all other officers before the governor. As soon as a legislature shall be formed in the district, the council and house, assembled in one room, shall have authority by joint ballot to elect a delegate to Congress who shall have a seat in Congress, with a right of debating, but not of voting, during this temporary government.

And for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions, are erected to fix and establish those principles as the basis of all laws, constitutions, and governments which forever hereafter shall be formed in the said territory to provide also for the establishment of states, and permanent government therein, and for their admission to a share in the Federal councils on an equal footing with the original states, at as early periods as may be consistent with the general interest:

It is hereby ordained and declared by the authority aforesaid that the following articles shall be considered as articles of compact, between the original states and the people and states in the said territory, and forever remain unalterable, unless by common consent, to wit:

ARTICLE I

No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the said territory.

ARTICLE II

The inhabitants of the said territory shall always be entitled to the benefits of the writs of habeas corpus and of the trial by jury of a proportionate representation of the people in the legislature and of judicial proceedings according to the course of the common law. All persons shall be bailable, unless for capital offenses, where the proof shall be evident or the presumption great. All fines shall be moderate and no cruel or unusual punishments shall be inflicted. No man shall be deprived of his liberty or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or the law of the land, and should the public exigencies make it necessary for the common preservation to take any person's property, or to demand his particular services, full compensation shall be made for the same. And in the just preservation of rights and property, it is under-stood and declared that no law ought ever to be made or have force in the said territory that shall in any manner whatever interfere with or affect private contracts, or engagements, bona fide, and without fraud previously formed.

ARTICLE III

Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent and in their property, rights, and liberty they never shall be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

ARTICLE IV

The said territory, and the states which may be formed therein, shall forever remain a part of this confederacy of the United States of America, subject to the Articles of Confederation, and to such alterations therein as shall be constitutionally made and to all the acts and ordinances of the United States in Congress assembled, conformable thereto. The inhabitants and settlers in the said territory shall be subject to pay a part of the Federal debts contracted or to be contracted, and a proportional part of the expenses of government to be apportioned on them by Congress, according to the same common rule and measure by which apportionments thereof shall be made on the other states and the taxes for paying their proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the district, or districts, or new states, as in the original states, within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress assembled. The legislatures of those districts, or new states, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by the United States in Congress assembled, nor with any regulations Congress may find necessary for securing the title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers. No tax shall be imposed on land the property of the United States and in no case shall nonresident proprietors be taxed higher than residents. The navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and Saint Lawrence and the carrying places between the same shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of the said territory as to the citizens of the United States, and those of any other states that may be admitted into the confederacy, without any tax, impost, or duty therefore.

ARTICLE V

There shall be formed in the said territory not less than three nor more than five states and the boundaries of the states, as soon as Virginia shall alter her act of cession and consent to the same, shall become fixed and established as follows, to wit: The western state in the said territory shall be bounded by the Mississippi, the Ohio, and the Wabash rivers a direct line drawn from the Wabash and Post Vincents, due north to the territorial line between the United States and Canada and by the said territorial line to the Lake of the Woods and Mississippi. The middle state shall be bounded by the said direct line, the Wabash from Post Vincents to the Ohio, by the Ohio, by a direct line drawn due north from the mouth of the Great Miami to the said territorial line, and by the said territorial line. The eastern state shall be bounded by the last-mentioned direct line, the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the said territorial line: provided, however, and it is further understood and declared, that the boundaries of these three states shall be subject so far to be altered that, if Congress shall hereafter find it expedient, they shall have authority to form one or two states in that part of the said territory which lies north of an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan. And whenever any of the said states shall have sixty thousand free inhabitants therein, such state shall be admitted by its delegates into the Congress of the United States, on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever and shall be at liberty to form a permanent constitution and state government: provided the constitution and government so to be formed shall be republican, and in conformity to the principles contained in these articles, and, so far as it can be consistent with the general interest of the confederacy, such admission shall be allowed at an earlier period, and when there may be a less number of free inhabitants in the state than sixty thousand.

ARTICLE VI

There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: provided always that any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original states, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid that the resolutions of the 23d of April, 1784, relative to the subject of this ordinance, be, and the same are hereby, repealed and declared null and void.

Done by the United States, in Congress assembled, the 13th day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven, and of their sovereignty and independence the twelfth.


Significance

Abolition and Transfer of Claims by States

The significance of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 comes from the precedent it set, of western expansion by the United States through the inclusion of new states, instead of expanding the existing ones. Its intent was to show that the land north of the Ohio river and east of the Mississippi river would be settled and become a part of the United States, which had been forbidden for development until then. All unsettled lands were ceded by the original states to the federal government, to be administered directly by Congress to create new states. Also, all navigation, transport, and communication routes to be planned in the future were created anticipating expansion beyond the northwest territories. Thus, this Cct significantly accelerated the expansion of the United States to the west.

Creation and Admission of New States

The ordinance set the pattern for rule in the new states through the appointment of governors, secretaries, and legislative councils, who would rule the new states till the population reached 5,000 free male inhabitants, after which the people would be able to elect their representatives. All lands in this area were under the Confederation of the United States, and functioned under the laws of the Confederation Articles, making the area subject to the rules of all the states, rather than any one state. Any state to reach a population of 60,000 or more would be represented in Congress as an equal to the original 13 states. Ohio was the first state to achieve this status.

Establishing Natural Rights

The provisions for natural rights in the ordinance, such as property rights, religious tolerance, and legal rights were created. These provisions were kept in effect until the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were drafted, which incorporated many concepts of the ordinance.

Education

The set up of educational institutions, such as universities and schools, were an important factor in the settlement of these areas. It also allowed Manasseh Cutler and Rufus Putnam, who were part of the Ohio Land Company, to influence the ordinance and allow the company to purchase around half a million acres of land. Two students graduated with Bachelor degrees from the Ohio University, the first of many to come.

Prohibition of Slavery

Due to the clause of the ban on slavery, the Ohio river was officially considered as the free and slave territories, between the Mississippi river and the Appalachian mountain range, which was crucial for balancing pro-slavery and anti-slavery political views, until the Civil War in the 19th Century. However, slave owners from elsewhere were allowed to recover their slaves if they had escaped into the northwest territories.

Provisions for Native Indians:

The ordinance mentioned in some detail about the demarcation of areas which Indian tribes had lost or relinquished. It also mentioned how the law of the government was to be used in such areas, and that the general behavior of the Americans towards the tribes was to be friendly in nature and of good faith. However, many Native Indians did not acknowledge this ordinance, which led to battles, and their eventual defeat at Fallen Timbers.


Northwest Ordinance (1787)

Officially titled An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States North-West of the River Ohio, the Northwest Ordinance was passed on July 13, 1787.

The Northwest Ordinance, adopted July 13, 1787, by the Confederation Congress, chartered a government for the Northwest Territory, provided a method for admitting new states to the Union from the territory, and listed a bill of rights guaranteed in the territory. Following the principles outlined by Thomas Jefferson in the Ordinance of 1784, the authors of the Northwest Ordinance (probably Nathan Dane and Rufus King) spelled out a plan that was subsequently used as the country expanded to the Pacific.

The following three principal provisions were ordained in the document: (1) a division of the Northwest Territory into "not less than three nor more than five States" (2) a three-stage method for admitting a new state to the Union—with a congressionally appointed governor, secretary, and three judges to rule in the first phase an elected assembly and one nonvoting delegate to Congress to be elected in the second phase, when the population of the territory reached "five thousand free male inhabitants of full age" and a state constitution to be drafted and membership to the Union to be requested in the third phase when the population reached 60,000 and (3) a bill of rights protecting religious freedom, the right to a writ of habeas corpus, the benefit of trial by jury, and other individual rights. In addition the ordinance encouraged education and forbade slavery.

The copy of the ordinance on this site is a printed document, dated in the last paragraph and signed by the secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson.

(Information excerpted from National Archives Education Staff. The Constitution: Evolution of a Government. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2001.)


Northwest Ordinance

Still, at least Macklemore sounds like a white guy from the Pacific Northwest.

When, in succession, he made Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), and The Birds (1963).

There was a logic to it – many of the wines were from the Pacific Northwest, principally from Oregon and Washington state.

Al Ghabban compared one of these sites, Tayma, in the northwest, to New York City, and another one, Thaj, to Dubai.

The Spanish press reports that she is originally from Galicia in northwest Spain.

Now, the whole Northwest groaned beneath a cast-iron prohibition law at that time, and for some years thereafter.

Henry Hudson sailed from Gravesend on his first voyage for the discovery of a northwest passage to India.

He came nearly doing it, and for a day McNeil was in doubt as to which way he had gone—to the northwest or the north.

Harry rode to the northwest, for he knew it was in that direction Poindexter was rallying his forces.

That is not the case with the one that extends northwest and southeast, for it is flooded with sunlight most of the day.


Northwest Ordinances - History

Northwest Ordinance
Digital History ID 255

Some of the bitterest controversies in post-Revolutionary American involved western land. Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, North and South Carolina, and Virginia insisted that their colonial charters extended their boundaries to the Mississippi River or beyond. Maryland, which had no western land claims, refused to approve the Articles of Confederation unless it received assurance that the other states agreed to yield their claims to the federal government. Between 1781 and 1785, the "landed" states ceded their western land claims to Congress. Virginia ceded the single largest area to the national government. Known as the Northwest Territories, it comprised the present-day states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as part of Minnesota.

In hopes of raising revenue from the sale of western land, Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785. It provided for the division of the Northwest Territory into townships, each of which would be subdivided into lots a mile square, or 640 acres. The cost of a single lot was too high--a minimum of $640--to attract buyers. In the end, Congress agreed to sell over a million acres to a group of New England land speculators, who called themselves the Ohio Company, for less than ten cents an acre.

Another source of controversy involved the governance of the western territories. No one yet knew whether the western lands would remain part of the United States or form a separate confederation or whether any states created out of the West would be equal to the original states. Thomas Jefferson in 1784 proposed that the Northwest Territories be divided into ten units and that any one of them could become a state as soon as its population equalled that of the smallest existing state. Many Easterners opposed this proposal, fearing that western states would quickly dominate Congress.

In 1787, Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance, which provided a model for the organization of future territories. The ordinance gave Congress the power to divide the area into three to five separate territories. Congress would appoint a governor, a secretary, and three judges to govern each territory. When a territory had 5000 free adult males, it could send a non-voting member to Congress and choose a territorial legislature (whose enactments had to be approved by the Congressionally-appointed governor). Once a territory had 60,000 free inhabitants, it could apply for admission as a state, with all the rights of the existing states.

The Northwest Ordinance guaranteed residents' property rights as well as other rights such as trial by jury and freedom of religion. It also prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory.

From the outset, the issue of slavery in the western territories was a major source of controversy. When North Carolina and Georgia ceded their western lands to the federal government, they stipulated that slavery be permitted in any territories made out of those lands. In 1784, Jefferson offered a proposal to prohibit slavery in any new state after 1800. The Continental Congress defeated this measure by a single vote. Just six years later, in stark contrast, Congress omitted any mention of slavery when it set up territorial governments in the Southwest.

Even though the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Ordinance seems clear, it must be emphasized that this provision did not affect slaves already living in the territory and did not prevent some slaveholders from bringing slaves into Indiana and Illinois territories. In parts of the Old Northwest, there was strong pressure for slavery. In 1802, a convention in Indiana Territory asked Congress to allow slaves to be brought into the region. Later, an indentured servant act allowed de facto slavery in the territory. It was only in 1823 that Illinois defeated the efforts of a proslavery party. These antislavery victories drew heavily on the precedent of the Ordinance of 1787.


Document: Section 1. Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, That the said territory, for the purposes of temporary government, be one district, subject, however, to be divided into two districts, as future circumstances may, in the opinion of Congress, make it expedient.

Sec 2. Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That the estates, both of resident and nonresident proprietors in the said territory, dying intestate, shall descent to, and be distributed among their children, and the descendants of a deceased child, in equal parts the descendants of a deceased child or grandchild to take the share of their deceased parent in equal parts among them: And where there shall be no children or descendants, then in equal parts to the next of kin in equal degree and among collaterals, the children of a deceased brother or sister of the intestate shall have, in equal parts among them, their deceased parents' share and there shall in no case be a distinction between kindred of the whole and half blood saving, in all cases, to the widow of the intestate her third part of the real estate for life, and one third part of the personal estate and this law relative to descents and dower, shall remain in full force until altered by the legislature of the district. And until the governor and judges shall adopt laws as hereinafter mentioned, estates in the said territory may be devised or bequeathed by wills in writing, signed and sealed by him or her in whom the estate may be (being of full age), and attested by three witnesses and real estates may be conveyed by lease and release, or bargain and sale, signed, sealed and delivered by the person being of full age, in whom the estate may be, and attested by two witnesses, provided such wills be duly proved, and such conveyances be acknowledged, or the execution thereof duly proved, and be recorded within one year after proper magistrates, courts, and registers shall be appointed for that purpose and personal property may be transferred by delivery saving, however to the French and Canadian inhabitants, and other settlers of the Kaskaskies, St. Vincents and the neighboring villages who have heretofore professed themselves citizens of Virginia, their laws and customs now in force among them, relative to the descent and conveyance, of property.

Sec. 3. Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That there shall be appointed from time to time by Congress, a governor, whose commission shall continue in force for the term of three years, unless sooner revoked by Congress he shall reside in the district, and have a freehold estate therein in 1,000 acres of land, while in the exercise of his office.

Sec. 4. There shall be appointed from time to time by Congress, a secretary, whose commission shall continue in force for four years unless sooner revoked he shall reside in the district, and have a freehold estate therein in 500 acres of land, while in the exercise of his office. It shall be his duty to keep and preserve the acts and laws passed by the legislature, and the public records of the district, and the proceedings of the governor in his executive department, and transmit authentic copies of such acts and proceedings, every six months, to the Secretary of Congress: There shall also be appointed a court to consist of three judges, any two of whom to form a court, who shall have a common law jurisdiction, and reside in the district, and have each therein a freehold estate in 500 acres of land while in the exercise of their offices and their commissions shall continue in force during good behavior.

Sec. 5. The governor and judges, or a majority of them, shall adopt and publish in the district such laws of the original States, criminal and civil, as may be necessary and best suited to the circumstances of the district, and report them to Congress from time to time: which laws shall be in force in the district until the organization of the General Assembly therein, unless disapproved of by Congress but afterwards the Legislature shall have authority to alter them as they shall think fit.

Sec. 6. The governor, for the time being, shall be commander in chief of the militia, appoint and commission all officers in the same below the rank of general officers all general officers shall be appointed and commissioned by Congress.

Sec. 7. Previous to the organization of the general assembly, the governor shall appoint such magistrates and other civil officers in each county or township, as he shall find necessary for the preservation of the peace and good order in the same: After the general assembly shall be organized, the powers and duties of the magistrates and other civil officers shall be regulated and defined by the said assembly but all magistrates and other civil officers not herein otherwise directed, shall during the continuance of this temporary government, be appointed by the governor.

Sec. 8. For the prevention of crimes and injuries, the laws to be adopted or made shall have force in all parts of the district, and for the execution of process, criminal and civil, the governor shall make proper divisions thereof and he shall proceed from time to time as circumstances may require, to lay out the parts of the district in which the Indian titles shall have been extinguished, into counties and townships, subject, however, to such alterations as may thereafter be made by the legislature.

Sec. 9. So soon as there shall be five thousand free male inhabitants of full age in the district, upon giving proof thereof to the governor, they shall receive authority, with time and place, to elect a representative from their counties or townships to represent them in the general assembly: Provided, That, for every five hundred free male inhabitants, there shall be one representative, and so on progressively with the number of free male inhabitants shall the right of representation increase, until the number of representatives shall amount to twenty five after which, the number and proportion of representatives shall be regulated by the legislature: Provided, That no person be eligible or qualified to act as a representative unless he shall have been a citizen of one of the United States three years, and be a resident in the district, or unless he shall have resided in the district three years and, in either case, shall likewise hold in his own right, in fee simple, two hundred acres of land within the same Provided, also, That a freehold in fifty acres of land in the district, having been a citizen of one of the states, and being resident in the district, or the like freehold and two years residence in the district, shall be necessary to qualify a man as an elector of a representative.

Sec. 10. The representatives thus elected, shall serve for the term of two years and, in case of the death of a representative, or removal from office, the governor shall issue a writ to the county or township for which he was a member, to elect another in his stead, to serve for the residue of the term.

Sec. 11. The general assembly or legislature shall consist of the governor, legislative council, and a house of representatives. The Legislative Council shall consist of five members, to continue in office five years, unless sooner removed by Congress any three of whom to be a quorum: and the members of the Council shall be nominated and appointed in the following manner, to wit: As soon as representatives shall be elected, the Governor shall appoint a time and place for them to meet together and, when met, they shall nominate ten persons, residents in the district, and each possessed of a freehold in five hundred acres of land, and return their names to Congress five of whom Congress shall appoint and commission to serve as aforesaid and, whenever a vacancy shall happen in the council, by death or removal from office, the house of representatives shall nominate two persons, qualified as aforesaid, for each vacancy, and return their names to Congress one of whom congress shall appoint and commission for the residue of the term. And every five years, four months at least before the expiration of the time of service of the members of council, the said house shall nominate ten persons, qualified as aforesaid, and return their names to Congress five of whom Congress shall appoint and commission to serve as members of the council five years, unless sooner removed. And the governor, legislative council, and house of representatives, shall have authority to make laws in all cases, for the good government of the district, not repugnant to the principles and articles in this ordinance established and declared. And all bills, having passed by a majority in the house, and by a majority in the council, shall be referred to the governor for his assent but no bill, or legislative act whatever, shall be of any force without his assent. The governor shall have power to convene, prorogue, and dissolve the general assembly, when, in his opinion, it shall be expedient.

Sec. 12. The governor, judges, legislative council, secretary, and such other officers as Congress shall appoint in the district, shall take an oath or affirmation of fidelity and of office the governor before the president of congress, and all other officers before the Governor. As soon as a legislature shall be formed in the district, the council and house assembled in one room, shall have authority, by joint ballot, to elect a delegate to Congress, who shall have a seat in Congress, with a right of debating but not voting during this temporary government.

Sec. 13. And, for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their laws and constitutions are erected to fix and establish those principles as the basis of all laws, constitutions, and governments, which forever hereafter shall be formed in the said territory: to provide also for the establishment of States, and permanent government therein, and for their admission to a share in the federal councils on an equal footing with the original States, at as early periods as may be consistent with the general interest:

Sec. 14. It is hereby ordained and declared by the authority aforesaid, That the following articles shall be considered as articles of compact between the original States and the people and States in the said territory and forever remain unalterable, unless by common consent, to wit:

Art. 1. No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments, in the said territory.

Art. 2. The inhabitants of the said territory shall always be entitled to the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus, and of the trial by jury of a proportionate representation of the people in the legislature and of judicial proceedings according to the course of the common law. All persons shall be bailable, unless for capital offenses, where the proof shall be evident or the presumption great. All fines shall be moderate and no cruel or unusual punishments shall be inflicted. No man shall be deprived of his liberty or property, but by the judgment of his peers or the law of the land and, should the public exigencies make it necessary, for the common preservation, to take any person's property, or to demand his particular services, full compensation shall be made for the same. And, in the just preservation of rights and property, it is understood and declared, that no law ought ever to be made, or have force in the said territory, that shall, in any manner whatever, interfere with or affect private contracts or engagements, bona fide, and without fraud, previously formed.

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

Art. 4. The said territory, and the States which may be formed therein, shall forever remain a part of this Confederacy of the United States of America, subject to the Articles of Confederation, and to such alterations therein as shall be constitutionally made and to all the acts and ordinances of the United States in Congress assembled, conformable thereto. The inhabitants and settlers in the said territory shall be subject to pay a part of the federal debts contracted or to be contracted, and a proportional part of the expenses of government, to be apportioned on them by Congress according to the same common rule and measure by which apportionments thereof shall be made on the other States and the taxes for paying their proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the district or districts, or new States, as in the original States, within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress assembled. The legislatures of those districts or new States, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by the United States in Congress assembled, nor with any regulations Congress may find necessary for securing the title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers. No tax shall be imposed on lands the property of the United States and, in no case, shall nonresident proprietors be taxed higher than residents. The navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same, shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of the said territory as to the citizens of the United States, and those of any other States that may be admitted into the confederacy, without any tax, impost, or duty therefor.

Art. 5. There shall be formed in the said territory, not less than three nor more than five States and the boundaries of the States, as soon as Virginia shall alter her act of cession, and consent to the same, shall become fixed and established as follows, to wit: The western State in the said territory, shall be bounded by the Mississippi, the Ohio, and Wabash Rivers a direct line drawn from the Wabash and Post Vincents, due North, to the territorial line between the United States and Canada and, by the said territorial line, to the Lake of the Woods and Mississippi. The middle State shall be bounded by the said direct line, the Wabash from Post Vincents to the Ohio, by the Ohio, by a direct line, drawn due north from the mouth of the Great Miami, to the said territorial line, and by the said territorial line. The eastern State shall be bounded by the last mentioned direct line, the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the said territorial line: Provided, however, and it is further understood and declared, that the boundaries of these three States shall be subject so far to be altered, that, if Congress shall hereafter find it expedient, they shall have authority to form one or two States in that part of the said territory which lies north of an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan. And, whenever any of the said States shall have sixty thousand free inhabitants therein, such State shall be admitted, by its delegates, into the Congress of the United States, on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever, and shall be at liberty to form a permanent constitution and State government: Provided, the constitution and government so to be formed, shall be republican, and in conformity to the principles contained in these articles and, so far as it can be consistent with the general interest of the confederacy, such admission shall be allowed at an earlier period, and when there may be a less number of free inhabitants in the State than sixty thousand.

Art. 6. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided, always, That any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service as aforesaid.

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That the resolutions of the 23rd of April, 1784, relative to the subject of this ordinance, be, and the same are hereby repealed and declared null and void.

Done by the United States, in Congress assembled, the 13th day of July, in the year of our Lord 1787, and of their soveriegnty and independence the twelfth.


Northwest Ordinance

The Northwest Territory was largely inhabited by Native Americans when Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance in 1787.

After gaining independence from Great Britain, one of the many contentious issues facing the United States were competing claims to western lands. These lands were generally referred to as the Northwest Territory and included the current states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance (1787) was the third in a series of Congressional acts to outline the plan for organizing the territory into new states and their subsequent incorporation into the larger framework of American federalism. Congress passed the ordinance without discussion or comment. This might have been because congressional passage of the ordinance coincided with the Constitutional Convention taken in combination with the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, the law helped establish the national government over the state governments, while removing western lands as a point of contention from national discourse.

The Northwest Ordinance was desperately needed for several reasons. Virginia claimed much of the territory based on a reading of the state&rsquos original, colonial charter dating back to 1607. Smaller states blocked from expanding west rejected these claims to western lands. Debate over frontier territories was a key point of discussion at the Constitutional Convention, with representatives from smaller states such as Connecticut and Rhode Island insisting that Virginia and other states claiming large tracts of western land cede their privileges to the national government. Yielding to Congress allowed the Northwest Territory to be sold off, settled, and organized as new states without advantaging any single state over complication arose from states that used land bounties to recruit men for military service during the revolution. The use of land bounties created additional conflict because both individual states and the Continental Congress used them to fill the ranks of Continental forces. After the war, competing claims for lands in the west, especially in Kentucky, prompted feuds and legal disputes that took years to resolve in the court system. Finally, speculators and squatters claimed lands in the territory arguing that they had directly purchased land from Native Americans west of the Appalachian Mountains. In sum, there was no clear legal process for obtaining western lands prior to the Northwest Ordinance nor was political authority clear in the territories. Without clear, established authority and an equally clear process laying out the procedure of settling the frontier, the Northwest Territory would remain a bubbling cauldron of conflict between white settlers, squatters, speculators, and Native Americans seeking to assert their rights to frontier lands.

The Northwest Ordinance established clear processes for acquiring, settling and organizing western lands, while legitimizing the powers of the United States government. The Ordinance solidified federal power early in the ratification era by establishing Congress as the only authority controlling territories held by the United States. Further, the fact that the ordinance banned slavery in the territory asserted the supremacy of the new federal government to decide issues that generated sectional tensions. The prohibition of slavery in the territory, combined with ratification of the Constitution, effectively set up the conditions to suppress conflict over western expansion and the place of slavery in the territories until Missouri, the first state carved out of the Louisiana Purchase, applied for statehood. Slavery was fully protected in the original states, excepting those which abandoned the institution when they drafted new state constitutions during the Revolutionary War. It was demonstrably clear that the states carved from the Northwest Territory would not be slave states.

That the 1787 ordinance prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude was not as controversial as it might appear in the context of American history. Previous editions of the ordinance aimed to gradually end slavery in the territories. The 1784 version was supported by Thomas Jefferson and influential members of Congress their hope was that slavery and involuntary servitude would slowly fade away as the nation grew and settlers moved west.

The Northwest Ordinance was a highly technical piece of legislation designed to bring order to a process the U.S. government could not really control, though the law ultimately benefitted large landholders who were able to establish their claims to tracts in the Ohio Valley. George Washington held substantial tracts of land in fact, these lands were a considerable portion of his personal wealth by the time he became president. Thus, the ordinance protected the claims of those speculators who were able to verify their holdings. All three land ordinances defined the processes for settling western lands, though the 1787 version was the most detailed, specifying the population needed to become a state, for example. The ordinance also explained how townships were to be laid out and the formula for distributing town lots to settlers.

In addition to solving many frontier problems, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was critically important in the context of the Constitutional Convention. The ordinance was the answer to those who questioned the process of expansion, which some believed impossible if the nation grew too large physically. However, the law provided a workable solution to include new states as full and equal members of the republic and removed the issue of slavery, temporarily, from national discourse. The proposal enabled the infant republic to grow in a less chaotic way without contributing to the sectional tensions that emerging between the original thirteen states.

Bibliography:

Countryman, Edward. The American Revolution. Revised Edition. New York: Hill and Wang, 2003.

Ellis, Joseph. American Creation Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

Jensen, Merrill. The Articles of Confederation An Interpretation of the Social-Constitutional History of the American Revolution 1774-1781. Madison, Milwaukee, and London: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.

Van Cleve, George William. A Slaveholders&rsquo Union Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2010.


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