Our founding fathers always intended to expand the nation beyond the original Thirteen Colonies. They fought in King George’s War (1744-1748) and the French and Indian War (1756-1763) in the Northwest. They appreciated the abundant resources and beauty of the region.
The first constitution of the United States, the Articles of Confederation (1781-1789), included a detailed plan, the Northwest Ordinance (1781-1789), to prepare the Northwest for statehood. The ordinance was upgraded in 1784, and the possible creation of 16 new states was approved. The Land Ordinance of 1785 enhanced the Northwest Ordinance, providing for land surveys. In 1787, the ordinance included 14 introductory sections and six articles of compact. After the Constitution was ratified on August 7, 1789, the Northwest Ordinance was reinstated with minor changes.
The Northwest Ordinance governed the region northwest of the Ohio River, west of Pennsylvania, east of the Mississippi River and south of the Canadian border. The land was to be surveyed in six mile square townships, thirty-six miles total. Six hundred forty acre sections were to be sold at auction for $1.00 an acre. This square configuration of townships exists to this day.
The articles of compact listed the rights and duties of Northwestern inhabitants. Articles I and II reiterated the relationship between all the states and guaranteed the Bill of Rights. Article III required public support of education and good faith relations with Native Americans. Article IV required inhabitants to be responsible for their share of federal debt and government expenses. Article V provided for the number of states created. Article VI prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude.
Six states were created according to the Northwest Ordinance—Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), Michigan (1837), Wisconsin (1848) and Minnesota (1858).
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