Why was the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 important?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Northwest Ordinance was important for two major reasons.  The first of these was that it banned slavery in the territories of the Northwest.  This ensured that these would be free states when they entered the Union.  But that is not the most important thing about this law.  The most important thing is that it created a system whereby territories could become states.  This meant that there would be no situation in which (for example) the Ohio region could be a colony of Virginia.  This meant that the US would not have to worry about fights between states over land or about colonists in new territories feeling abused by whichever state was their "mother country."  This allowed the US to expand in an orderly and stable way.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was passed by the U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation to create the Northwest Territory out of land gained by Great Britain. It was important because it established the precedent by which new states could become part of the union. The ordinance stated that the new territories were to be administered by the Congress, not by other states, and that the territories could petition for statehood once they reached a population of 60,000 people. The ordinance stated that no less than 3 and no more than 5 states could be created out the territories. The first state to be admitted into the union from the Northwest Territory was Ohio in 1803, followed by Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin (about one third of what became Minnesota was also in the territory). 

In addition, many of the rights later given in the Bill of Rights were given by the ordinance, including the freedom of religion, habeas corpus rights, and property rights, among others. Finally, the ordinance prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory, which made the Ohio River (which ran along the southern boundary of the territory) the de facto dividing line between slave and non-slave states as the union developed. 

mkoren's profile pic

mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The Northwest Ordinance was very important. This law created the Northwest Territory. Three judges and a governor would rule the territory. It also stated that from three to five states would be created from this territory. These states were Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. It further stated that no slavery would be allowed. Also, there had to be freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The most significant aspect of the Northwest Ordinance is that it established a process for how a territory could become a state. When the population of a territory reached 5,000 free men, they could elect a legislature. The legislature would work with the governor and the three judges of the territory. When there were 60,000 free citizens living in the territory, the territory could ask to become a state. The Northwest Ordinance established an orderly process for territories to follow in order to become a state.

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