Image of the first page of the Northwest Ordinance

Enacted by the Confederation Congress on July 13, 1787, the Northwest Ordinance established a plan for governing the Northwest Territory. National Archives

Northwest Ordinance - Facts

July 13, 1787

Key facts about the Northwest Ordinance enacted by the Confederation Congress on July 13, 1787.

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The Confederation Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance on On July 13, 1787.

The official name of the Northwest Ordinance is “An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States, North-West of the River Ohio, 1787.”

Rufus King and Nathan Dane drafted the original version of the Northwest Ordinance.

The Northwest Ordinance established a three-stage process for carving new states out of the area northwest of the Ohio River.

The Northwest Ordinance created the pathway for the eventual creation of the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.

The Northwest Ordinance created a bill of rights for residents of the Northwest Territory.

The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory except as a punishment of crimes.

The Northwest Ordinance mandated the return of fugitive slaves who escaped into the Northwest Territory from other states where slavery was legal.

The Northwest Ordinance affirmed the “utmost good faith” towards the Indians, proclaimed that the Indians’ “lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent,” and decreed that the “property, rights, and liberty” of Indians “shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress.” (These provisions were generally ignored or circumvented as white settlers began driving Native Americans off their lands as early as the 1790s).

The Northwest Ordinance revoked the Ordinance of 1784.

After ratification of the United States Constitution, the first U.S. Congress affirmed the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance (with slight changes) on August 7, 1789, by enacting a new bill entitled “An Act to provide for the Government of the Territory Northwest of the river Ohio.”

The Northwest Ordinance and its modified 1789 version established a blueprint for the formation of new states as the United States expanded west. Although the federal government later enacted several laws regarding westward expansion, they all embraced the principle that future states would enter the Union on equal footing with the existing states.

To see a detailed outline of all the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance, click here to visit American History Central’s annotated transcript of the Northwest Ordinance.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Northwest Ordinance - Facts
  • Coverage July 13, 1787
  • Author
  • Keywords Northwest Ordinance, facts, Northwest Territory
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date November 28, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 16, 2021