||The Northwest Ordinance established a means and precedence by which the United
States could expand westward. For a collection of former colonies, extremely
sensitive—to say the least—to the fashion in which they'd been governed by
England, this was a crucial piece of egaliterian legislation.
The final of four Ordinances was adopted by the Confederation Congress sitting
in its last session, in 1787. In sum, the Northwest Ordinance dealt with the
territory aquired from Great Britain in the aftermath of the war—land north
of the Ohio River and east of Mississippi. It made four crucial promises to
prospective states in this region.
First, that each would enter the union "on an equal footing with the original
states." Second, that revenue generated from the sale of a portion of each
township in the state would go to fund public education—the first instance of
federal aid for education in American history. Third, "neither slavery nor
involuntary servitude" were to be allowed. And four, that a good faith effort
would be made to respect the Indians in the territory.
In time, the Northwest Territories would become the states of Ohio, Indiana,
Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. While the last of the ordinances
was the most ill-kept, the third would prove crucial to the future history of
the country. By federal mandate, each of the states in the Northwest
Territories entered the union slave-free—a fact that would weigh heavily
against the institution of slavery for years, and would help bring about its
ultimate end by providing vast resources to the War Between the States to