When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
July 13, 1787 NORTHWEST ORDINANCE
The Northwest Ordinance provided for the settlement and sale of lands acquired from Quebec in the Treaty of Paris. The ordinance required the land be divided into geographical miles square. It required surveyors “to divide the said territory into townships seven miles square, by lines running due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles. — The plats of the townships, respectively, shall be marked into sections of one-mile square, or 640 acres.” This law established the concept of fee simple ownership, by which ownership was in perpetuity with unlimited power to sell or give it away. This was called the “first guarantee of freedom of contract in the United States”.
Passage of the ordinance also ceded all unsettled lands to the federal government 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. It provided that at least three but not more than five states would be established in the territory, and that once such a state achieved a population of 60,000 it would be admitted into representation in the Continental Congress on an equal footing with the original thirteen states. 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 portion (about a third) of what later became the state of Minnesota was also part of the territory.
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