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The Ordinance of 1784

The Ordinance of 1784/tiles/non-collection/l/lfp_050imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


Thomas Jefferson, with the help of Delegates David Howell and Jeremiah Townley Chase, outlined the creation of future states in the Ordinance of 1784. After winning independence from Great Britain and establishing a government under the Articles of Confederation, the United States began planning its expansion. The country looked westward, to the territory situated north and west of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River acquired in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Jefferson proposed that the states be bounded by lines of latitude and longitude or rivers. Moreover, these new states must “for ever remain a part of this confederacy of the United States of America.” Struck from the final version, Jefferson’s original draft also included a provision that prohibited slavery in the territory.

The following year, the Ordinance of 1785 established how the land would be surveyed and divided. The Northwest Ordinance (1787) superseded the Ordinances of 1784 and 1785, outlining temporary governments and the process for attaining statehood.

This copy of the Ordinance of 1784 is part of the records of the Committee on Public Lands. Created in 1805, years after the enactment of the ordinance, the committee oversaw the distribution and settlement of “the lands of the United States.”

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