Today, July 13, 1787: Northwest Ordinance Enacted

In December 1800, election results revealed a tie between Thomas Jefferson and his Vice Presidential running mate Aaron Burr.

In February 1801, the House of Representatives, with only 1 vote per state, votes to make Thomas Jefferson the next President of the United States.

On March 4, 1801, Jefferson inaugurated. Among the many things Jefferson strived to accomplish as president, he dearly wanted to expand the United States westward.

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On April 30, 1803, James Monroe and Robert Livingston secured the Louisiana Purchase for Jefferson. At Jefferson’s prompting, the US purchased about 827,000 square miles of territory west of the Mississippi River from France for $15 million. If you look on a modern map, the Louisiana Purchase included the whole of today’s Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, parts of Minnesota and Louisiana west of Mississippi River, including New Orleans, big parts of North and northeastern New Mexico, South Dakota, northern Texas, some parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado as well as portions of Canadian provinces Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In May 1804, Jefferson commissions explorer Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to find a passage, preferably a watery passage from the Ohio River to the Pacific Coast. They completed their famous journey in 1806.

Prior to Jefferson’s presidency, he was instrumental in helping to form terms of government for America’s westward expansion.

On this day, July 13, 1787, the Confederation Congress passed the first set of Northwest Ordinances. The men behind the ordinances were Thomas Jefferson, Manasseh Cutler, Nathan Dane and Rufus King, but it is generally accepted that Jefferson was the chief architect and writer of the ordinance. The Northwest Territory consisted of today’s Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of northeastern Minnesota.

The ordinance was a threefold piece of legislation.

The first part was to establish a form of government to rule over the Northwest Territory. It established a governor, a secretary and three judges. The governor and judges were tasked with selecting laws from existing states to use as the law of the territory. However, Congress reserved the right to approve or disapprove of each law selected.

Secondly, the ordinance established that no fewer than three or more than five free states would be formed from the Northwest Territory. Admission to the Union would be available once the population reached more than 60,000. It also established rules for the admission of all new states.

Thirdly, the ordinance established a Bill of Rights for settlers living within the territory guaranteeing freedom of religion, and right to a jury trial and to a writ of habeas corpus along with a number of other rights, many of which were found in the newly forming US Constitution.

This initial 1787 ordinance was revamped in 1789. The newer version was nearly identical except for a few changes that brought the ordinance in alignment with the newly passed US Constitution.

The two most important provisions of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance were the establishment of admission of new states and setting the Ohio River as a boundary between slave and free states.

Additionally, with the passage of the Northwest Ordinance and establishment of a territorial government, it helped to expand and increase the economy of the territory and the newly formed United States.

There is no doubt that Thomas Jefferson played a major role role in the westward expansion of the United States. Between the Northwest Territories and Louisiana Purchase, he more than doubled the size of the United States.


Sources for the above included: Northwest Ordinance; Northwest Ordinance; Northwest Ordinances; Northwest Ordinance of 1787; Congress Enacts the Northwest Ordinance; Northwest Ordinance; The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and its Effects; Northwest Ordinance; What Was the Purpose of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787?; Lewis and Clark; Louisiana Purchase; Thomas Jefferson Timeline


Dave Jolly

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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