Northwest Territory: Setting a Precedent

A precedent was set in early July for the young and aspiring American republic. A date other than July 4th and in fact, nine days and eleven years later.

July 13, 1787.

Northwest Ordinance (courtesy of

On that date, the United States Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance which set in motion the precedent for how new states would enter the burgeoning United States of America. In 1784 the groundwork for the Northwest Ordinance was laid, rejecting a proposal that new territories, carved from ceded land of current states, would enter as colonies. Congress set up the following parameters. 

Each new territory would have a governor and council that was initially appointed and not be required to follow the legal decrees from an existing state. As the population grew and reached the 5,000 resident quota, the populace of that territory could then elect its own assembly but the governor would retain the chief power; absolute veto. When the population reached 60,000 souls, the territory could draft a constitution and petition Congress for admittance into statehood.

Within the ordinance, civil liberties and a standard for public education was established. The most striking omission from the Northwest Ordinance was the prohibition of the institution of slavery. In a rare instance of acceptance by the Southern pro-slavery contingent, this clause was agreed upon, as pro-slavery advocates believed that Southern settlers would populate the region and keep it aligned with the slave states of the South.

With the passage of the Northwest Ordinance, the United States broke the norm of 18th century expansion. Unlike the powers of Europe, when new territory became available, the land was not carved up as mere colonies, governed by the rulers of the colonizers. Instead, the territories that the United States would acquire in the ensuing years, from the states carved out of the Northwest Ordinance to the states that encompassed the Louisiana Purchase, and further through westward expansion, would eventual stand as equals with the original thirteen.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

Eventually, the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and a portion of Minnesota would enter the Union from the land covered by the Northwest Ordinance. Ironically, these states produced sons that did not connect with the South, as pro-slavery proponents who agreed with the Northwest Ordinance had believed would happen. Instead, the sons of these states would become stalwarts of the Union in the next century.



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