What is the Land Ordinance of 1785 and its importance?

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mkoren's profile pic

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

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The Land Ordinance of 1785 was a very important law that was developed by the government while the Articles of Confederation was our plan of government. This law helped to organize the sale of western lands. Western lands were divided into townships that were six miles wide and six miles long. There were 36 squares in each township. Most of the land in a township could be sold to people at a cost of at least one dollar an acre. This law was an excellent way to organize the sale of western land.

Another important element of this law is that it generated revenue for the government. Since the federal government didn’t have the power to levy taxes, selling western land was a good source of revenue. If all the land in each square was sold, the government could raise at least 640 dollars from each square. The government desperately needed revenue. The sale of western land helped provide revenue for the federal government.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Because the United States Congress did not originally possess the power to directly tax its citizens in order to raise revenue, a means of raising money through the sale of land was devised. The Land Ordinance of 1785 was, therefore, passed to enable the government to sell land west of the Appalachian Mountains, north of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River. This Ordinance, unlike the one of 1784, also laid out how the land would be first sold, then settled and governed. With this plan, the Land Ordinance of 1785 paved the way for the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which addressed the political needs of this territory.

Another advancement made by the 1785 Land Ordinance was the establishment of the foundation for the Public Land Survey System which provided a mechanism for the division of land into rectangular sections, a methodology used in future U.S. lands. Another way in which the Land Ordinance was also important was because it provided a means for free public education to be financed by the sale of the sixteenth section of townships.

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