St. Clair to Harrison Division of the Northwest territory

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St. Clair to Harrison

February 17, 1800

Cincinnati Western Spy, May 28, 1800

A division of the territory [1] is a subject on which I have thought a great deal and have fervently wished and you well know that from the enormous extent of it at present, it is almost impossible to keep even the executive part of the government in order. The great and growing importance of this country seems never to have been attended to. In truth, there were few persons who knew much about it and the concerns of the state they represented together with the great interest of the Union kept it in a great measure out of sight. We may now hope that more attention will be paid to it and it is with great pleasure that I have seen that you have been appointed the chairman of a committee for taking its concerns into consideration.

How much, soever, a division is to be wished, there are difficulties in the way—the increase of expense will form one; but it is an ill calculation to put a little money on the scale against the welfare and happiness of a multitude of people. To render the territory manageable, it would require to be divided into three districts; and there it may be thought that the ordinance [1787] stands in the way that has provided for a division into two only and it is a general supposition that the ordinance cannot be altered but by common consent. This I think a mistake. There is indeed a part of it where the fundamental principles of the states which may hereafter be erected or laid, that is declared to be a compact, not to be changed but by common consent; but every other part of it is a matter in the power of congress to alter or repeal as a law, which may have passed yesterday.

Suppose these difficulties got over, how are the districts to be bounded? The object of such, is that the eastern district should extend from the line of Pennsylvania to the great Miami—the middle district to comprehend the country between the Great Miami and the Wabash and the western district, the country between that and the Mississippi. On that proposition, I would observe that the eastern division would be still too large and in the middle one, there would be very few people and that the Indian title to a great part of it, is not extinguished. The manner that strikes me as most eligible is that the Scioto and a line drawn north from the forks of it, should form the western boundary of the eastern district—a line drawn north from that part of the Indian boundary opposite the mouth of the Kentucky the western boundary of the middle division and the western division to comprehend all the country between that line and the Mississippi. The material advantages would in this manner remain to every part—Marietta would most probably be the seat of the government in the eastern district and sufficiently convenient to every part of it. Cincinnati would continue to be with equal convenience the seat of the middle district and St. Vincennes in the western, not indeed equally convenient, but more so than any other place that could be chosen.

There are many other advantages which would flow from this measure which I will not trouble you with; I will only observe that almost any division into two parts which could be made would ruin Cincinnati.

  1. The Northwest territory was divided by act of congress. May 3. 1800, which organizied that part west of the mouth of the Big Miami river into Indiana territory.

    U. S. Statutes at Large, Sixth Congress, Sec. I, Ch. 41