Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Northwest Ordinance

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Northwest Ordinance

For most historians, the experiment of a central government of the United States under the Articles of Confederation was a failure as the U.S. Constitution eventually replaced the government. Nevertheless, the most effective actions of the Articles of Confederation were the Northwest Ordinances, three acts passed by Congress designating how the Northwest Territory would be governed, sold to settlers, and organized into states. What were the Northwest Ordinances? And what were their lasting effects on the creation of the United States?

Northwest Ordinances: Three land ordinances passed in 1784, 1785, and 1787 by the Congress of the Articles of Confederation outlined the process through which the government could sell land in the Northwest Territory to settlers, and formal governments organized and outlined the process for a territory to become a state in the union.

The Northwest Territories

The Articles of Confederation government had some diplomatic issues regarding the territory north of the Ohio River. The United States had acquired the land from Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and state land cessions placed the domain of the territory into congressional jurisdiction.

Ignoring the land claims of indigenous tribes in the area, such as the Shawnee, Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, Congress began to organize the territory bounded by the Great Lakes, Mississippi River, and the Ohio River.

Northwest Ordinance Map

The map below shows the Northwest Territory in green, the boundaries of the states that would come out of the Northwest Territory, and a brief description of how the land would be parceled out to prospective settlers and farmers based on the Northwest Ordinances.

Northwest Ordinances Map

Source: Bryan, D. (2012, April 8). The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and its Effects. American History USA. https://www.americanhistoryusa.com/northwest-ordinance-1787-effects/

The Northwest Ordinances

Ordinances passed by the Congress of the Articles of Confederation in 1784, 1785, and 1787 outlined the process through which the government could sell land in the Northwest Territory to settlers. Formal governments organized and outlined the process for a territory to become a state in the union.

The Ordinance of 1784

Drafted by ThomasThis map by Jay Amos Barrett from 1891, shows the divisions proposed in Jefferson’s draft of the Ordinance of 1784. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain) This map by Jay Amos Barrett from 1891, shows the divisions proposed in Jefferson’s draft of the Ordinance of 1784. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain) Jefferson, the Ordinance of 1784 proposed that the states secede their land claimed west of the Appalachian Mountains and divided the region into territories that could become states as their population grew. These territories would be self-governing until they could meet the requirements for statehood. In addition, Jefferson drafted five articles to structure and govern the region:

  1. Any new states created from the territory would hold the same status in the United States as the original 13 states.

  2. States created from the territory would be a permanent part of the United States.

  3. The territories would be obligated to pay their share of the national debt.

  4. The self-government of the territories must be a form of republican government.

The final article banned slavery in the territory, but that article was denied ratification by one vote.

The Ordinance of 1785

The Land Ordinance of 1785 promoted settlement in the Northwest Territories by mandating a quick rectangular-grid system of surveying and by encouraging large-scale land purchases. The ordinance specified a minimum price of one dollar per acre. The parcels of land were sold in single blocks of 23,040 acres each, pricing out the middle class and poor farmers. The rest of the properties, divided into 640 acres, were sold to mainly well-off farmers. In addition, the sale of the land would be one of the only sources of revenue for the federal government, as the Articles of Confederation did not allow Congress to levy taxes or tariffs.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The most crucial Ordinance in terms of lasting influence on the United States. Made up of fourteen sections and six articles, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 sub-divided the territory, laid the foundation for funding public schools, established how the territory would become a state, protected natural rights, and banned slavery in the Northwest Territory.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787

Territorial Division

The Ordinance created the territories that would eventually become the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Public Education

The Ordinance earmarked funds from the sale of lands to support a system of public schools for religious and moral teachings.

Territorial Governance

The Ordinance specified that Congress would appoint a governor and judges to administer each new territory until the population reached 5,000 free white adult men. Once a territory reached that population threshold, the territory would hold elections for a territorial legislature.

Path to Statehood

The Ordinance stipulated that once a territory reached 60,000 in population, the elected legislature could draft a republican constitution and apply to join the United States, using the Ordinance of 1784 to ensure equal footing with the original states.

Protection of Natural Rights

Even before the creation of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the Ordinance- through charters- guaranteed property rights, protected the freedom of religion and the separation of church and regional governance, protected due process rights, and banned excessive fines, and cruel or unusual punishments.

Abolished Slavery in the region

Article 6 of the Ordinance forbade slavery or involuntary servitude in the territory. Even with efforts in the 1820s to legalize slavery in some states from the territory, the courts upheld the Ordinance.

Northwest Ordinance Significance

The land ordinances of the 1780s are an outstanding and enduring achievement of the Congress of the Articles of Confederation. They are some of the only laws passed by Congress under the Articles that still influence governance in the United States today.

Public education funding through land sales became the basis of how many public school districts in the United States fund themselves to this day through land and property taxes. The system of applying for statehood in the Ordinance of 1787 is the same system used today for territories of the United States to seek admission into the Union. The basic protections of natural rights in the ordinances became the basis, and some amended verbatim, of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.

The Northwest Ordinance: Slavery

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and its provision banning slavery would perpetuate and extend the geographical division between slave and free regions of the United States that would haunt the nation in the 1800s.

Because the ordinance forbade slavery in the territory, southern members of Congress pushed for and received guarantees that the southwestern territories - what would become Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, would allow slavery to maintain a balance of free versus slave state representation in the federal government. The government would duplicate this policy pattern through other territorial ordinances throughout the 1800s. As an enduring legacy of the Ordinance of 1787, the verbiage Article 6, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, became, almost word for word, the 13th Amendment in 1865, banning the practice of slavery in the United States.

Northwest Ordinances - Key takeaways

  • Northwest Ordinances: Three land ordinances passed in 1784, 1785, and 1787 by the Congress of the Articles of Confederation outlined the process through which the government could sell land in the Northwest Territory to settlers, and formal governments organized and outlined the process for a territory to become a state in the union.
  • The Articles of Confederation government had some diplomatic issues regarding the territory north of the Ohio River. The United States had acquired the land from Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and state land cessions placed the domain of the territory into congressional jurisdiction.
  • Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Ordinance of 1784 proposed that the states secede their land claimed west of the Appalachian mountains and divided the region into territories that could become states as their population grew.
  • The Land Ordinance of 1785 promoted settlement in the Northwest Territories by mandating a quick rectangular-grid system of surveying and by encouraging large-scale land purchases.
  • The most crucial Ordinance in terms of lasting influence on the United States. Made up of fourteen sections and six articles, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 sub-divided the territory, laid the foundation for funding public schools, established how the territory would become a state, protected natural rights, and banned slavery in the Northwest Territory.
  • The land ordinances of the 1780s are an outstanding and enduring achievement of the Congress of the Articles of Confederation. They are some of the only laws passed by Congress under the Articles that still influence governance in the United States today.

Frequently Asked Questions about Northwest Ordinance

Three land ordinances passed in 1784, 1785, and 1787 by the Congress of the Articles of Confederation outlined the process through which the government could sell land in the Northwest Territory to settlers, and formal governments organized and outlined the process for a territory to become a state in the union. 

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Ordinance of 1784 proposed that the states secede their land claimed west of the Appalachian mountains and divided the region into territories that could become states as their population grew. The Land Ordinance of 1785 promoted settlement in the Northwest Territories by mandating a quick rectangular-grid system of surveying and by encouraging large-scale land purchases. The most crucial Ordinance in terms of lasting influence on the United States. Made up of fourteen sections and six articles, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 sub-divided the territory, laid the foundation for funding public schools, established how the territory would become a state, protected natural rights, and banned slavery in the Northwest Territory. 

The most crucial Ordinance in terms of lasting influence on the United States. Made up of fourteen sections and six articles, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 sub-divided the territory, laid the foundation for funding public schools, established how the territory would become a state, protected natural rights, and banned slavery in the Northwest Territory. 

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and its provision banning slavery would perpetuate and extend the geographical division between slave and free regions of the United States that would haunt the nation in the 1800s. 


Because the ordinance forbade slavery in the territory, southern members of Congress pushed for and received guarantees that the southwestern territories - what would become Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, would allow slavery to maintain a balance of free versus slave state representation in the federal government. The government would duplicate this policy pattern through other territorial ordinances throughout the 1800s. As an enduring legacy of the Ordinance of 1787, the verbiage Article 6, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude, became, almost word for word, the 13th Amendment in 1865, banning the practice of slavery in the United States. 

The land ordinances of the 1780s are an outstanding and enduring achievement of the Congress of the Articles of Confederation. They are some of the only laws passed by Congress under the Articles that still influence governance in the United States today. 


Public education funding through land sales became the basis of how many public school districts in the United States fund themselves to this day through land and property taxes. The system of applying for statehood in the Ordinance of 1787 is the same system used today for territories of the United States to seek admission into the Union. The basic protections of natural rights in the ordinances became the basis, and some amended verbatim, of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. 

Final Northwest Ordinance Quiz

Question

What years were the Northwest Ordinances passed by Congress? 

Show answer

Answer

1784

Show question

Question

How did the United States acquire the Northwest Territory? 

Show answer

Answer

A land cession from Britain in the Treaty of Paris following the American Revolutionary War. 

Show question

Question

The Land Ordinance of 1784 guaranteed all of the following except? 

Show answer

Answer

Banned Slavery in the Northwest Territory 

Show question

Question

What was the purpose of the Land Ordinance of 1785? 

Show answer

Answer

The Land Ordinance of 1785 promoted settlement in the Northwest Territories by mandating a quick rectangular-grid system of surveying and by encouraging large-scale land purchases

Show question

Question

What was the largest size parcel of land sold under the Land Ordinance of 1785?

Show answer

Answer

23,040 Acres of Land

Show question

Question

What size parcel of land was sold as divided properties under the Land Ordinance of 1785?

Show answer

Answer

640 Acres

Show question

Question

What was the price per acre of land sold in the Northwest Territory? 

Show answer

Answer

one dollar an acre

Show question

Question

What did Article 6 of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 do? 

Show answer

Answer

Article 6 of the Ordinance forbade slavery or involuntary servitude in the territory. Even with efforts in the 1820s to legalize slavery in some states from the territory, the courts upheld the Ordinance.

Show question

Question

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 earmarked funds from the sale of land for which purpose? 

Show answer

Answer

Public Education 

Show question

Question

Who drafted the Ordinance of 1784? 

Show answer

Answer

Thomas Jefferson 

Show question

Question

What was the path to statehood as described by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787? 

Show answer

Answer

The Ordinance stipulated that once a territory reached 60,000 in population, the elected legislature could draft a republican constitution and apply to join the United States, using the Ordinance of 1784 to ensure equal footing with the original states. 

Show question

More about Northwest Ordinance
60%

of the users don't pass the Northwest Ordinance quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.