Land Ordinance of 1784

On March 1, 1784 the Confederation Congress accepted Virginia’s cession of the lands it had claimed northwest of the Ohio River. The Land Ordinance of 1784 was passed by the Confederation Congress to lay out policy for the governance and eventual statehood of this territory and of anticipated territorial cessions from other states, which together comprised the area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River. The first draft of the ordinance was penned by Thomas Jefferson, who presented a report to the Confederation Congress on March 1, 1784 that suggested state boundaries, allowed for the organization of state governments, and proposed the admission of new states to the Union at an equal status to the original states. Jefferson’s draft included the condition that after 1800 slavery would be outlawed in these territories except as punishment for crimes. During congressional consideration of Jefferson’s report the provision outlawing slavery was removed by an amendment. As passed, the ordinance included seven provisions for the governments of any states created from these lands: that such states would permanently be part of the United States, that they would be subject to the Articles of Confederation and all subsequent acts of Congress, that they would not interfere with the disposal of land by Congress, that they would be subject to a share of federal debts, that lands owned by the United States would not be subject to taxation, that new state governments would be republican in nature, and that lands of non-resident proprietors would not be taxed at a higher rate than that of residents of any new state without a vote in Congress. The 1784 Land Ordinance was followed by the 1785 Land Ordinance and both were superseded by the Northwest Ordinance in 1787.

Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952), 6:581-616; Peter S. Onuf, Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 46-49.