Center for the American Idea

THE NORTHWEST ORDINANCE
(Courtesy of the U.S. Historical Documents Archive)

 


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.