Transcriptions closed on May 15, 2018. Read more details here.

An Ordinance for the Government of the Teritory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio

Sources & Images
Source Name Image(s)
CollectionVirginia State Library: Executive Papers, Office of Governors Letters view image
Document Information
Date July 13, 1787
Author Name Congress of the United States (primary)
Recipient Name [not available]
Summary Land rights of decedents of property owners in the territory north-west of the Ohio River. Outlines duties of governor, commissioner, election of assembly, civil and religious liberty.
Document Format Printed Document Signed
Document Notes [not available]
Content Notes [not available]
Related Persons/Groups Congress; governor; commissioner; settlers; representatives; Charles Thompson; proprietors; children; judges; French; Canadian; commander in chief; militia; general assembly; free male inhabitants; Indians; ;
Related Places territory; frontier; north west; Ohio River; Northwest Territory; Territory Northwest of the River Ohio; Kaskaskies; Saint Vincent's; Virginia; Mississippi River; St Lawrence River; Wabash River; Post Vincents; Canada; United States; lake of the Woods; Great Miami; territorial line; Lake Michigan; ;
Keywords ordinance; districts; estates; real estate; personal estate; laws; lease; term of three years; freehold estate; legislative act; civil and religious liberty; mode or worship; writ of habeas corpus; trial by jury; proportionate representation; judicial proceedings; schools; education; federal debts; Articles of Confederation; tax; navigable waters; boundaries; slavery; involuntary servitude; ;
Key Phrases [not available]

[Note: Transcriptions are works in progress and maybe partial. Please help us correct any errors or omissions by signing up for a transcription account.]
Ordinance for the Government of the Western Territory 13 July 1787
An Ordinance for the Government of the Territo-
ry of the United States, North-West of the River

Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, That the said territory, for the purposes of tempo-

rary 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 non-resident proprietors in the said ter-

ritory, dying intestate, shall descend to, and be distributed among their children, and the descendants of the deceased child
in equal parts; the descendants of a deceased child or grand-child, 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; sa-
ving 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 dis-
trict, -- And until the governor and judges shall adopt laws as herein after 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
fate, signed, sealed, and delivered by the person being of full age, in whom the estate may be, and attested by two wit-
nesses, provided such will be duly proved, and such conveyances be acknowledged,or the execution thereof duly pro-
ved, 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, Saint Vincent's, 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 pro-

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 one thousand 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 five hundred 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 le-
gislature, 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 al-
so be appointed a court to consist of three judges, any two of whom to form a court, who shall have a common law ju-
risdiction, and reside in the district, and have each therein a freehold estate in five hundred acres of land, while in the
exercise of their offices; and their commissions shall continue in force during good behaviour.

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 of-

ficers, 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 magistrates and other civil officers shall be regu-
lated 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 my 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 therefore be made by the

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 representatives from their counties or town-
ships, 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 re-
presentatives shall be regulated by the legislature; provided that no person be eligible or qualified to act as a repre-
sentative, 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 [undecipherable]
ple, 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 resi-
dence 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 Con-
gress; 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 re-
presentatives, shall 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 is 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 of voting, during this temporary government.

And for extending the fundamental principles of civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these repub-

lics, 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 foot-
ing 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 of the said territory, and forever remain unalterable,
unless by common consent, to wit:

Article the First. 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.

Article the Second. The inhabitants of the said territory shall always be entitled to the benefits of the writ of ha-

beus corpus, and of the trial by jury; of a proporiate representation of the people in the legislature, and of judici-
al proceedings according to the course of the common law; all persons shall be bailable unless for capital offences, 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.
Article the Third. 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 proper-
ty, rights and liberty, they never shall 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.

Article the Fourth. 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 such alterations therein
as shall be constitutionally made; and to all the acts and ordinances of the United States in Congress assembled, conform-
able thereto. The inhabitants and settlers in the said territory, shall be subject to pay a part of the federal debts con-
tracted or to be contracted, and a proportional part of the expences 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 Con-
gress 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 non-resident proprietors be taxed higher than residents. The navigable waters leading into the Mis-
sissippi 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 thereof.

Article the Fifth. 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 Vincent's 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 Vincent's 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 lie 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
in all respects whatever; and shall be at liberty to form a permanent constitution and state government: Provided the con-
stitution 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.

Article the Sixth. There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in

punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted: Provided always that any person escaping in-
to the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original states, such fugitive may be law-
fully 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 23d of April 1784, relative to the subject of

this ordinance, be, and the same are hearby repealed and declared null and void.

DONE by the UNITED STATES in CONGRESS assembled, the 13th day of July, in the year of our Lord
1787, and of their sovereignty and independence the 12th.

Chas Thomson sctry