The Northwest Ordinance
THE GREAT LAND ORDINANCES: The Confederation's Major Achievement
During the American Revolution the Americans resolved not to treat their territories as colonies. Following the war Congress sold millions of acres of land to large companies, but those companies had trouble attracting settlers. Congress therefore realized that some form of control was necessary in the territories that were not yet states.
Thomas Jefferson’s Ordinance of 1784 stated that when a territory had a population equal to that of the smallest state it might apply for admission. Jefferson’s Ordinance also provided for the following:
Land Ordinance of 1785 provided details for land surveys and sales, square patterns, 6x6 miles, 36 sections of 640 acres, $1 each minimum, sold at auction. (Speculators were able to take advantage of the law.)
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787
Following the Ordinances of 1784 and 1785, which started the process, in 1787 Congress issued the Northwest Ordinance, which provided government for the area north and west of the Ohio River, the states that now are Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Some historians have claimed that the principles established in the Northwest Ordinance are so important that they actually form part of the Constitution. The reason is that the Northwest Ordinance promised a republican form of government for inhabitants of those territories. It guaranteed that residents in the territories of the United States would not be treated as second class citizens, and that when they were eventually admitted as states, they would enter under the same terms as those states that were already part of the union. The principle behind the Northwest Ordinance was carried into the Constitution in Article IV, Section 4, which states: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.”
The Northwest Ordinance:
It is considered a tragedy that the anti-slavery provision was not extended to later territories. If so, the only slave states would have been the original 6: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In the other 7 original states, provisions were made for the abolition of slavery, either immediately or over time.
Provisions for Admission to Statehood for New Territories was, aside from winning the war, the greatest achievement of the Confederation. Gradually all western lands were ceded to government and quickly became states. The Indian inhabitants were unfortunately forced to move farther westward.