The Foundations Of Our Nation



THE NORTHWEST ORDINANCE:



July 13, 1787  

An Ordinance for the government of the Territory of the United 
States northwest of the River Ohio.   

Be it ordained by the United States in Congress  assembled, 
That the said territory, for the purposes of temporary 
government, be one district, subject, however, to be divided 
into two districts, as future circumstances may, in the opinion 
of Congress, make it expedient.  

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That the estates, 
both of resident and nonresident  proprietors in the said 
territory, dying intestate, shall descent to, and be distributed 
among their children, and the descendants of a deceased child, 
in equal parts; the descendants of a deceased child or grandchild 
to take the share of their deceased parent in equal parts among 
them:  And where there shall be no children or descendants, then 
in equal parts to the next of kin in equal degree; and among 
collaterals, the children of a deceased brother or sister of the 
intestate shall have, in equal parts among them, their deceased 
parents' share; and there shall in no case be a distinction between 
kindred of the whole and half blood; saving, in all cases, to the 
widow of the intestate her third part of the real estate for life, 
and one third part of the personal estate; and this law relative 
to descents and dower, shall remain in full force until altered 
by the legislature of the district. And until the governor and 
judges shall adopt laws as hereinafter mentioned, estates in 
the said territory may be devised or bequeathed by wills in 
writing, signed and sealed by him or her in whom the estate 
may be (being of full age), and attested by three witnesses; 
and real estates may be conveyed by lease and release, or 
bargain and sale, signed, sealed and delivered by the person 
being of full age, in whom the estate may be, and attested by 
two witnesses, provided such wills be duly proved, and such 
conveyances be acknowledged, or the execution thereof duly 
proved, and be recorded within one year after proper 
magistrates, courts, and registers shall be appointed for 
that purpose; and personal property may be transferred by 
delivery; saving, however to the French and Canadian 
inhabitants, and other settlers of the Kaskaskies, St. 
Vincents and the neighboring villages who have heretofore 
professed themselves citizens of Virginia, their laws and 
customs now in force among them, relative to the descent and 
conveyance, of property.  

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That there shall be 
appointed from time to time by Congress, a governor, whose 
commission shall continue in force for the term of three years, 
unless sooner revoked by Congress; he shall reside in the 
district, and have a freehold estate therein in 1,000 acres 
of land, while in the exercise of his office.  

There shall be appointed from time to time by Congress, a 
secretary, whose commission shall continue in force for four 
years unless sooner revoked; he shall reside in the district, 
and have a freehold estate therein in 500 acres of land, while 
in the exercise of his office.  It shall be his duty to keep 
and preserve the acts and laws passed by the legislature, and 
the public records of the district, and the proceedings of the 
governor in his executive department, and transmit authentic 
copies of such acts and proceedings, every six months, to the 
Secretary of Congress:  There shall also be appointed a court 
to consist of three judges, any two of whom to form a court, 
who shall have a common law jurisdiction, and reside in the 
district, and have each therein a freehold estate in 500 acres 
of land while in the exercise of their offices; and their 
commissions shall continue in force during good behavior. 

The governor and judges, or a majority of them, shall adopt and 
publish in the district such laws of the original States, 
criminal and civil, as may be necessary and best suited to the 
circumstances of the district, and report them to Congress from 
time to time:  which laws shall be in force in the district until 
the organization of the General Assembly therein, unless 
disapproved of by Congress; but afterwards the Legislature 
shall have authority to alter them as they shall think fit.   

The governor, for the time being, shall be  commander in chief 
of the militia, appoint and commission all officers in the same 
below the rank of general officers; all general officers shall 
be appointed and commissioned by Congress.  

Previous to the organization of the general assembly, the 
governor shall appoint such magistrates and other civil officers 
in each county or township, as he shall find necessary for the 
preservation of the peace and good order in the same:  After 
the general assembly shall be organized, the powers and 
duties of the magistrates and other civil officers shall be 
regulated and defined by the said assembly; but all 
magistrates and other civil officers not herein otherwise 
directed, shall during the continuance of this temporary 
government, be appointed by the governor.  

For the prevention of crimes and injuries, the laws to be 
adopted or made shall have force in all parts of the district, 
and for the execution of process, criminal and civil, the 
governor shall make proper divisions thereof; and he shall 
proceed from time to time as circumstances may require, to lay 
out the parts of the district in which the Indian titles shall 
have been extinguished, into counties and townships, subject, 
however, to such alterations as may thereafter be made by the 
legislature.  

So soon as there shall be five thousand free male inhabitants 
of full age in the district, upon giving proof thereof to the 
governor, they shall receive authority, with time and place, 
to elect a representative from their counties or townships 
to represent them in the general assembly:  Provided, That, 
for every five hundred free male inhabitants, there shall be 
one representative, and so on progressively with the number 
of free male inhabitants shall the right of representation 
increase, until the number of representatives shall amount 
to twenty five; after which, the number and proportion of 
representatives shall be regulated by the legislature: 
Provided, That no person be eligible or qualified to act as 
a representative unless he shall have been a citizen of one 
of the United States three years, and be a resident in the 
district, or unless he shall have resided in the district 
three years; and, in either case, shall likewise hold in his 
own right, in fee simple, two hundred acres of land within 
the same; Provided, also, That a freehold in fifty acres of 
land in the district, having been a citizen of one of the 
states, and being resident in the district, or the like 
freehold and two years residence in the district, shall be 
necessary to qualify a man as an elector of a representative.  

The representatives thus elected, shall serve for the term of 
two years; and, in case of the death of a representative, or 
removal from office, the governor shall issue a writ to the 
county or township for which he was a member, to elect another 
in his stead, to serve for the residue of the term. 

The general assembly or legislature shall consist of the 
governor, legislative council, and a house of representatives.  
The Legislative Council shall consist of five members, to continue 
in office five years, unless sooner removed by Congress; any 
three of whom to be a quorum:  and the members of the Council 
shall be nominated and appointed in the following manner, to wit:  
As soon as representatives shall be elected, the Governor shall 
appoint a time and place for them to meet together; and, when 
met, they shall nominate ten persons, residents in the district, 
and each possessed of a freehold in five hundred acres of land, 
and return their names to Congress; five of whom Congress shall 
appoint and commission to serve as aforesaid; and, whenever a 
vacancy shall happen in the council, by death or removal from 
office, the house of representatives shall nominate two persons, 
qualified as aforesaid, for each vacancy, and return their names 
to Congress; one of whom congress shall appoint and commission 
for the residue of the term.  And every five years, four months 
at least before the expiration of the time of service of the 
members of council, the said house shall nominate ten persons, 
qualified as aforesaid, and return their names to Congress; 
five of whom Congress shall appoint and commission to serve as 
members of the council five years, unless sooner removed.  And 
the governor, legislative council, and house of representatives, 
shall have authority to make laws in all cases, for the good 
government of the district, not repugnant to the principles and 
articles in this ordinance established and declared.  And all 
bills, having passed by a majority in the house, and by a 
majority in the council, shall be referred to the governor for 
his assent; but no bill, or legislative act whatever, shall be 
of any force without his assent. The governor shall have power 
to convene, prorogue, and dissolve the general assembly, when, 
in his opinion, it shall be expedient.  

The governor, judges, legislative council, secretary, and such 
other officers as Congress shall appoint in the district, shall 
take an oath or affirmation of fidelity and of office; the 
governor before the president of congress, and all other 
officers before the Governor.  As soon as a legislature shall be 
formed in the district, the council and house assembled in one 
room, shall have authority, by joint ballot, to elect a delegate 
to Congress, who shall have a seat in Congress, with a right of 
debating but not voting during this temporary government.  

And, for extending the fundamental principles of civil and 
religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, 
their laws and constitutions are erected; to fix and establish 
those principles as the basis of all laws, constitutions, and 
governments, which forever hereafter shall be formed in the said 
territory:  to provide also for the establishment of States, 
and permanent government therein, and for their admission to a 
share in the federal councils on an equal footing with the 
original States, at as early periods as may be consistent with 
the general interest:  

It is hereby ordained and declared by the authority aforesaid, 
That the following articles shall be considered as articles 
of compact between the original States and the people and 
States in the said territory and forever remain unalterable, 
unless by common consent, to wit:   

Art. 1.  No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly 
manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship 
or religious sentiments, in the said territory.

Art. 2.  The inhabitants of the said territory shall always be 
entitled to the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus, and of 
the trial by jury; of a proportionate representation of the 
people in the legislature; and of judicial proceedings 
according to the course of the common law.  All persons shall 
be bailable, unless for capital offenses, where the proof shall 
be evident or the presumption great.  All fines shall be 
moderate; and no cruel or unusual punishments shall be 
inflicted.  No man shall be deprived of his liberty or property, 
but by the judgment of his peers or the law of the land; and, 
should the public exigencies make it necessary, for the common 
preservation, to take any person's property, or to demand his 
particular services, full compensation shall be made for the 
same.  And, in the just preservation of rights and property, 
it is understood and declared, that no law ought ever to be 
made, or have force in the said territory, that shall, in any 
manner whatever, interfere with or affect private contracts 
or engagements, bona fide, and without fraud, previously formed.   

Art. 3.  Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to 
good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the 
means of education shall forever be encouraged.  The utmost 
good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their 
lands and property shall never be taken from them without their 
consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall 
never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars 
authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and 
humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs 
being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.   

Art. 4.  The said territory, and the States which may be formed 
therein, shall forever remain a part of this Confederacy of the 
United States of America, subject to the Articles of Confederation, 
and to such alterations therein as shall be constitutionally made; 
and to all the acts and ordinances of the United States in Congress 
assembled, conformable thereto.  The inhabitants and settlers 
in the said territory shall be subject to pay a part of the 
federal debts contracted or to be contracted, and a proportional 
part of the expenses of government, to be apportioned on them by 
Congress according to the same common rule and measure by which 
apportionments thereof shall be made on the other States; and 
the taxes for paying their proportion shall be laid and levied 
by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the 
district or districts, or new States, as in the original States, 
within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress 
assembled.  The legislatures of those districts or new States, 
shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by 
the United States in Congress assembled, nor with any 
regulations Congress may find necessary for securing the title 
in such soil to the bona fide purchasers.  No tax shall be 
imposed on lands the property of the United States; and, in no 
case, shall nonresident proprietors be taxed higher than 
residents.  The navigable waters leading into the Mississippi 
and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same, 
shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the 
inhabitants of the said territory as to the citizens of the 
United States, and those of any other States that may be 
admitted into the confederacy, without any tax, impost, or 
duty therefor.   

Art. 5.  There shall be formed in the said territory, not 
less than three nor more than five States; and the boundaries 
of the States, as soon as Virginia shall alter her act of 
cession, and consent to the same, shall become fixed and 
established as follows, to wit:  The western State in the 
said territory, shall be bounded by the Mississippi, the 
Ohio, and Wabash Rivers; a direct line drawn from the Wabash 
and Post Vincents, due North, to the territorial line between 
the United States and Canada; and, by the said territorial 
line, to the Lake of the Woods and Mississippi.  The middle 
State shall be bounded by the said direct line, the Wabash 
from Post Vincents to the Ohio, by the Ohio, by a direct 
line, drawn due north from the mouth of the Great Miami, 
to the said territorial line, and by the said territorial 
line. The eastern State shall be bounded by the last 
mentioned direct line, the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the said 
territorial line:  Provided, however, and it is further 
understood and declared, that the boundaries of these three 
States shall be subject so far to be altered, that, if 
Congress shall hereafter find it expedient, they shall have 
authority to form one or two States in that part of the said 
territory which lies north of an east and west line drawn 
through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan.  And, 
whenever any of the said States shall have sixty thousand 
free inhabitants therein, such State shall be admitted, by its 
delegates, into the Congress of the United States, on an equal 
footing with the original States in all respects whatever, and 
shall be at liberty to form a permanent constitution and State 
government:  Provided, the constitution and government so to 
be formed, shall be republican, and in conformity to the 
principles contained in these articles; and, so far as it can 
be consistent with the general interest of the confederacy, 
such admission shall be allowed at an earlier period, and when 
there may be a less number of free inhabitants in the State than 
sixty thousand.   

Art. 6.  There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary 
servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the 
punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly 
convicted:  Provided, always, That any person escaping into the 
same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any 
one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully 
reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her 
labor or service as aforesaid.  

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That the resolutions 
of the 23rd of April, 1784, relative to the subject of this 
ordinance, be, and the same are hereby repealed and declared 
null and void.







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