The New International Encyclopædia/Northwest Territory

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The New International Encyclopædia
Northwest Territory
Edition of 1905. See also Northwest Territory on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

NORTHWEST TERRITORY. In American history, that portion of the national domain lying, roughly speaking, north of the Ohio River, east of the Mississippi, south of the Great Lakes, and west of Pennsylvania, and embracing territory which constitutes the present States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota — a total area of about 265,878 square miles. This territory passed into the possession of Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, and by her was ceded to the United States of America in 1783. The greater part of it was claimed on the basis of their early charters, by Virginia, New York, Massachnsetts, and Connecticut. The other States refused to recognize these claims, and insisted that this territory should be1ong to the country as a whole. In 1780 Congress gave a solemn pledge that if the lands thus claimed were ceded to the Confederation they should be disposed of for the common benefit of all the States and admitted into the Union as republican States, and on an equal footing with the original States. On the strength of this pledge New York ceded her claims in 1781, Virginia hers in 1784, Massachusetts hers in 1785, and Connecticut hers in 1786. All of those colonies, however, reserved for special purposes certain lands from the cession. Thus Virginia retained in what is now the southern part of Ohio a considerable area, known as the Virginia Military District, and Connecticut retained 3,250,000 acres, known as the Western Reserve (q.v.), in what is now the northern part of Ohio. By an ordinance of 1785 Congress made provision for surveying the lands thus ceded. The lands were then thrown open for sale, and the result was a great influx of immigrants from the older States. On the first of March, 1784, the very day on which Virginia completed her cession, Jefferson, as chairman of a committee, reported to Congress a temporary plan of government which was adopted on April 23d. Jefferson's scheme contemplated the division of the territory into new States, divided by lines of latitude two degrees apart, and intersected by two meridians of longitude to be drawn through the mouth of the Kanawha and the falls of the Ohio, and to the new States thus created were to be given the names of Sylvania, Michigania, Chersonesus, Assenisipia, Mesopotamia, Illinois, Washington, Polypotamia. and Pelisipia. The ordinance further provided that after the year 1800 neither slavery nor involuntary servitude should exist in any of the said States except as a punishment for crime. This ordinance never went into effect, and was repealed by the celebrated ordinance of 1787. This latter ordinance was prepared by a committee of which Nathan Dane, of Massachusetts, was chairman, and received the approval of Congress, July 13, 1787. It was a constitution of government for the Northwest Territory, and contained, besides, six articles of compact between the old States and the new States to be created out of the said territory. It provided that there should be formed out of the territory in question not less than three or more than five States, and undertook to define their boundaries. For the purposes of temporary government this vast domain was constituted into one district, and was committed to the rule of a governor, a secretary, and three judges, all appointed by Congress. Until the election of a legislature, the governor and the judges sitting together were authorized to adopt such laws of the original States as they deemed necessary and suitable, subject to the approval of Congress. Provision was made for a legislature to be called into existence as soon as there were 5000 free male inhabitants of full age in the territory. It was to consist of a legislative Council composed of five members chosen by Congress, and a House of Representatives chosen by freeholders. There were also a number of organic provisions regarding land tenure, taxation, inheritances, and the alienation of property. The articles of compact constituted a sort of bill of rights, and guaranteed freedom of religious worship and belief, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, trial by jury, benefit of the common law, the security of private contracts, and freedom of navigable waters. Finally the Northwest Territory was dedicated to freedom by the famous article that prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude. In October, 1787, General Arthur St. Clair, a veteran of the French and Revolutionary Wars, was appointed the first Governor of the Territory. In July of the following year he reached Marietta, the seat of government for the Territory, and his first act was an order for the creation of Washington County. Shortly thereafter he appointed a number of magistrates and established a Court of Quarter Sessions. In 1798, the population having far exceeded the required number, a legislature was called and met for the first time at Cincinnati, September 24, 1799. The Lower House consisted of 22 members, representing the nine counties of the Territory. In July, 1800, the western part of the Territory was constituted into the District of Indiana, with William Henry Harrison as Governor, and with Vincennes as capital. In January, 1805, Michigan Territory was created, with Gen. William Hull as Governor; in February, 1809, the Illinois Territory was organized, with Kaskaskia as its seat of government, and in April, 1836, part of Michigan Territory was organized into the Territory of Wisconsin. Consult: Hinsdale, The Old Northwest (New York, 1891); and Moore, The Northwest Under Three Flags (New York, 1900).