- The Ordinance of 1784 called for the land east of the Mississippi River to be divided into separate states. The Ordinance of 1785 put the 1784 resolution in operation by providing a mechanism for selling and settling the land, while the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 addressed political needs.
- The immediate goal of the ordinance was to raise money through the sale of land in the largely unmapped territory west of the original states acquired via the Treaty of Paris.
- The passage of the ordinance, which ceded all unsettled lands to the federal government, followed the relinquishing of all such claims over the territory by the states. These territories were to be administered directly by Congress, with the intent of their eventual admission as new states.
- Northwest Territory
The territory northwest of the River Ohio; an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 13, 1787, until March 1, 1803, when the southeastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the state of Ohio.
- Land Ordinance of 1785
The Land Ordinance of 1785 was adopted by the United States Congress on May 20, 1785, and allowed Congress to raise money through the sale of land in the acquired via the 1783 Treaty of Paris after the end of the Revolutionary War.
- Northwest Ordinance
Created and organized the Northwest Territory, which was arguably the most important achievement of the Congress of Confederation outside of the Revolutionary War; passed on July 13, 1787.
The Land Ordinance of 1784, as outlined by Thomas Jefferson, called for the land west of the Appalachian Mountains, north of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River to be divided into separate states. However, the ordinance did not define the mechanism by which the land would become states, or how the territories would be governed or settled before they became states. The Ordinance of 1785 put the 1784 resolution in operation by providing a mechanism for selling and settling the land, while the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 addressed political needs.
Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress did not have the power to raise revenue by direct taxation. Therefore, the immediate goal of the ordinance was to raise money through the sale of land in the largely unmapped territory west of the original states acquired in the Treaty of Paris. Over three-fourths of the area of the continental United States ultimately came under the rectangular survey. This was important because it provided easily recognized land descriptions, which in turn contributed enormously to the orderly and largely peaceful occupation of the land. The rectangular survey also provided the units within which economic, political, and social development took place.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 laid the foundations of land policy until passage of the The Homestead Act of 1862. Land was to be systematically surveyed into square townships, six miles (9.656 km) on a side. Each of these townships were sub-divided into thirty-six sections of one square mile (2.59 km²) or 640 acres. These sections could then be further subdivided for re-sale by settlers and land speculators.
The ordinance was also significant for establishing a mechanism for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. Many schools today are still located in section sixteen of their respective townships, although a great many of the school sections were sold to raise money for public education. In later states, section 36 of each township was also designated as a “school section”
The primary effect of the Northwest Ordinance was the creation of the Northwest Territory as the first organized territory of the United States out of the region south of the Great Lakes, north and west of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. On August 7, 1789, President George Washington signed the Northwest Ordinance of 1789 into law after the newly created U.S. Congress reaffirmed the Ordinance with “slight modifications” under the Constitution.
Arguably the single most important piece of legislation passed by members of the earlier Continental Congresses other than the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance established the precedent by which the federal government would be sovereign and expand westward across North America with the admission of new states, rather than with the expansion of existing states and their established sovereignty under the Articles of Confederation. It is the most important legislation that Congress has passed with regard to American public domain lands.
Further, the Prohibition of Slavery in the territory had the “practical effect” of establishing the Ohio River as the boundary between free and slave territory in the region between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. This division helped set the stage for national competition over admitting free and slave states, the basis of a critical question in American politics in the 19th century until the Civil War.
The passage of the ordinance, which ceded all unsettled lands to the federal government, followed the relinquishing of all such claims over the territory by the states. These territories were to be administered directly by Congress, with the intent of their eventual admission as newly created states. The legislation was revolutionary in that it established the precedent for new lands to be administered by the central government (albeit temporarily) rather than under the jurisdiction of the individually sovereign original states, as it was with The Articles of Confederation. The legislation also broke colonial precedent by defining future use of the natural navigation, transportation, and communication routes; it did so in a way that anticipated future acquisitions beyond the Northwest Territories, and established federal policy.
The most significant intended purpose of this legislation was its mandate for the creation of new states from the region, once a population of 60,000 had been achieved within a particular territory. The actual legal mechanism of the admission of new states was established in the Enabling Act of 1802. The first state created from the Northwest Territory was Ohio, in 1803, at which time the remainder was renamed Indiana Territory. The other four states were Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A significant portion of Minnesota was also part of the territory.