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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

This Day in History: July 13th

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The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 Was Passed

On July 13, 1787, the Northwest Ordinance, which outlawed slavery in the Northwest territories, was passed. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 also outlined the process for admitting a new state into the Union. 

By the end of the American Revolution in 1783, specific instructions were needed to divide the land from the Northwest territories. Prior to the American Revolution, the land was claimed by existing states such as New York and Virginia. Several states returned the land to the central government by the end of the war and the issue of dividing the land arose.

The land consisted of what is known today as the American Midwest. It is the region west of Pennsylvania, north of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes. 

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 is the last in a line of other ordinances from 1784 and 1785. Thomas Jefferson drafted the Ordinance of 1784 that separated the territory into self-governing districts. The districts could send one representative to Congress after reaching a population of 20,000 and it would be eligible for statehood when its population was equivalent to that of the least-populous state at the time. The Ordinance of 1785 established a system for dividing the land and allowed for the scientific surveying of the land. 

The most important of the three ordinances came at a time when members of Congress were realizing that they must do something to resolve the states’ competing claims to the western territory. The Ordinance of 1787, officially titled “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States Northwest of the River Ohio,” was adopted by the Confederation Congress on July 13, 1787.

With the Ordinance of 1787, each territory would have an appointed governor and council, and when the population reached 5,000 the residents could elect their own assembly. When 60,000 settlers resided in a territory, they could draft a constitution and petition for full statehood. This ordinance laid the basis for the government of the Northwest Territory and gave instruction for admission into statehood. It guaranteed that newly created states would be equal to the original 13 states and it banned slavery in the new states. 

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