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Northwest Ordinance of 1787

Northwest Ordinance Timeline

Taken from Lessons on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787
Learning materials for secondary school courses in American history, government, and civics
by John J. Patrick
developed by the ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education
September 1987

Main events associated with the Northwest Ordinance appear below in chronological order. This list includes three parts:

(1) events preceding 1787,

(2) events of 1787 (when the Northwest Ordinance was passed) until 1791, and

(3) events from 1800 to 1858.

I. Events Preceding 1787

January 2, 1778.

Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia wrote to Colonel George Rogers Clark to instruct him in a mission to Kentucky and lands north and west of the Ohio River. By carrying out this mission, Clark and his men kept the British from occupying Kentucky during the American War of Independence and enabled the United States to claim land north and west of the Ohio River at the end of the war.

July 4, 1778.

American forces led by George Rogers Clark captured the British garrison at Kaskaskia in the Illinois country (at the junction of the Mississippi and Kaskaskia rivers).

February 25, 1779.

American forces led by George Rogers Clark took Vincennes and Fort Sackville (at the junction of the Ohio and Wabash rivers) from the British.

October 10, 1780.

The Continental Congress passed a "Resolution on Public Lands" saying that land ceded to the United States by particular states would be settled and formed eventually into separate states.

March 1, 1781.

All thirteen states of the United States of America ratified (approved) the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the new country.

September 3, 1783.

The United States and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, officially ending the War of Independence. The British government recognized the sovereignty (independence) of the United States, and the Treaty established the boundaries of the new nation.

December 20, 1783.

The legislature of Virginia passed the Virginia Act of Cession, which yielded the state's claims to lands in the western part of the country to the United States.

March 1, 1784.

The United States Congress accepted the Virginia Act of Cession.

April 23, 1784.

Congress approved the Territorial Ordinance of 1784, written by Thomas Jefferson, to serve as a plan for temporary government of the western territories. Although it was never put into effect, this plan influenced the content of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance.

May 20, 1785.

Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785, which was a plan for dividing and selling land in the western territories.

May 9, 1786.

A committee of Congress, headed by James Monroe of Virginia, made a report about a plan for governance of the Northwest Territory that would be the basis for the subsequent Ordinance of 1787.

September 11-14, 1786.

The Annapolis Convention was held. Delegates from five states - New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Virginia - attended this meeting in Annapolis, Maryland. The convention issued a report that called upon the thirteen states to send representatives to a new convention to be held in Philadelphia in May, 1787, for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.

September 18, 1786.

Monroe's committee on government in the Northwest Territory was reorganized; William Johnson of Connecticut became chairman, and Nathan Dane of Massachusetts joined the committee. Dane made important contributions to the Ordinance of 1787 and was the compiler of the final draft of the ordinance.

II. Events of 1787 to 1791

February 21, 1787.

Congress approved a convention in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation.

May 25, 1787.

A quorum of delegates from seven states arrived in Philadelphia to start the meeting known as the Constitutional Convention.

July 13, 1787.

While the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, the Congress of the Confederation enacted the Northwest Ordinance, which was a plan for governing the territory north and west of the Ohio River. Freedom of religion, right to trial by jury, and public education were asserted as rights of the people. Slavery was banned.

September 17, 1787.

Each of the twelve state delegations voted to approve the final copy of the Constitution, which had been written by participants in the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia. The Convention ended.

September 20, 1787.

Congress received the proposed Constitution from the Philadelphia Convention.

September 28, 1787.

Congress voted to send the Constitution to the legislature of each state. Congress asked each state to hold a special convention, which would either ratify (approve) or reject the Constitution.

October 5, 1787.

Congress selected a governor and other officers for the Northwest Territory according to the terms of the Ordinance of 1787. The first governor was Arthur St. Clair.

April 7, 1788.

Veterans of the War of Independence founded Marietta, at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingam rivers. This was the first permanent settlement of the Northwest territory after it was organized under the Ordinance of 1787.

June 21, 1788.

New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify the Constitution. According to Article VII of the Constitution, nine states had to ratify the Constitution to make it the law of the land.

April 1, 1789.

The House of Representatives, elected under the new Constitution, was organized, with thirty of its fifty-nine members present.

April 6, 1789.

The Senate met, with nine of its twenty-two members present. As required by the Constitution, senators counted ballots that had been cast by presidential electors and declared George Washington first president of the United States.

April 30, 1789.

George Washington was inaugurated as first president of the United States under the constitution of 1787.

September 25, 1789.

Congress approved twelve proposed amendments to the Constitution, which would provide certain civil liberties and rights to the people.

December 15, 1791.

Virginia was the eleventh state to ratify ten of the constitutional amendments proposed by Congress. Three fourths of the states had now approved them, as required by Article V of the Constitution. These ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.

III. Events of 1800 to 1858

May 7, 1800.

A law was enacted by the federal government that established the Indiana Territory.

February 19, 1803.

Ohio became the first state formed from the Northwest Territory. Ohio entered the Federal Union as the seventeenth state.

December 5, 1804.

Governor Harrison proclaimed that the Indiana Territory had advanced to the "second or representative grade of Government" under provisions of the Northwest Ordinance.

January 11, 1805.

An act of Congress created the Territory of Michigan.

February 3, 1809.

An act of Congress created the Territory of Illinois.

December 11, 1815.

A petition for statehood was approved by the Indiana legislature and sent to the Congress of the United States. The petition claimed that Indiana Territory had met conditions required for statehood established by the Northwest Ordinance.

April 19, 1816.

The federal government passed an Enabling Act that provided for election of delegates to a convention to write a constitution for state government in Indiana.

June 10, 1816.

Delegates assembled at Corydon to write a constitution for state government in Indiana.

June 29, 1816.

Delegates to the Indiana Constitutional Convention signed the new constitution.

December 11, 1816.

James Madison, president of the United States, approved a resolution by Congress admitting Indiana to the Federal Union as the nineteenth state.

December 3, 1818.

Illinois was admitted to the Federal Union as the twenty-first state.

April 20, 1836.

An act of Congress created the Territory of Wisconsin.

January 22, 1837.

Michigan was admitted to the Federal Union as the Twenty-sixth state.

May 29, 1848.

Wisconsin was admitted to the Federal Union as the thirtieth state.

May 11, 1858.

Minnesota became the thirty-second state. A portion of the state, east of the Mississippi River, had been part of the original Northwest Territory.