Portrait of Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson was one of the primary authors of the Ordinance of 1784. [Wikimedia Commons]

Ordinance of 1784 - Facts

April 23, 1784

Key facts about the Ordinance of 1784, which was the first of several attempts by the Confederation Congress to tackle the tasks of organizing and governing lands ceded to the United States by Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris following the end of the Revolutionary War.

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During the summer of 1783, Congress formed a committee to consider options for governing the land acquired from Great Britain following the Revolutionary War.

On March 1, 1784, “the Committee appointed to prepare a plan for the temporary government of the Western territory” reported back to the Congress.

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia with the help of Jeremiah Townley Chase of Maryland and David Howell of Rhode Island, the committee’s report recommended a systematic means to prepare new areas for statehood.

The committee proposed that as sufficient numbers of male settlers populated large parcels of the new lands, Congress would empower them to form republican governments and apply to enter the Union as new states on equal footing with the original thirteen states.

The committee’s report also recommended:

  1. a method for establishing the boundaries subdividing the new lands based on latitudes and longitudes,
  2. policies for forming temporary territorial governments,
  3. allowing temporary territorial governments to send non-voting delegates to Congress, and
  4. establishing policies and procedures for forming permanent governments and applying for statehood.

Among the requirements for statehood, the committee prescribed that new states would:

  • form only republican governments,
  • forever remain a part of the United States,
  • be subject to the Articles of Confederation and to all acts of Congress,
  • not interfere with the primary disposal of the soil by the United States,
  • be subject to pay a part of the federal debts according to the apportionments established for the other states,
  • not tax lands owned by the United States, and
  • not tax the lands of non-resident proprietors at a higher rate than the lands of state residents.

The committee also recommended prohibiting slavery in the new territory.

On April 23, 1784, Congress enacted a revised version of the committee’s report by a vote of twenty-two to two.

Notably, the final bill, known as the Ordinance of 1784, did not include the recommendation to ban slavery.

The Ordinance of 1784 served as an initial blueprint for governing the lands acquired from Great Britain after the Revolutionary War.

Subsequent Congresses later incorporated many of its provisions and guiding principles of the Ordinance of 1784 into the Land Act of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance, which paved the way for the westward expansion of the United States.

Ordinance of 1784 allowed settlers and land speculators to choose desirable plots of land for purchase before the region was surveyed, a practice that would lead to spotty settlement. That shortcoming was remedied the next year with the enactment of the Land Ordinance of 1785.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 specifically revoked the Ordinance of 1784.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Ordinance of 1784 - Facts
  • Coverage April 23, 1784
  • Author
  • Keywords Ordinance of 1784, Confederation Congress, Treaty of Paris, Revolutionary War
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 27, 2021
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 16, 2021
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