Minnesota Secretary Of State - Northwest Ordinance of 1787
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Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was made possible when several states, including Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Connecticut released their claims to the land area west of the Appalachian Mountains extending to the Mississippi River. This area became known as the Northwest Territory.

The Ordinance of 1787 established a government over the Northwest Territory and gave impetus to westward expansion. This outstanding governmental document gave first national recognition to the Bill of Rights, abolished primogeniture, provided for the encouragement of education, prohibited slavery, and established the principle that new states should be admitted to the federal government on equal footing with the original states.

The full effect of the Northwest Ordinance upon Minnesota law has yet to be determined. For example, the question of whether common law in Minnesota dates from the revolution or from the Ordinance of 1787 has been left open by decisions of the Minnesota courts.

The ordinance provided for the formation out of the Northwest Territory of not less than three nor more than five states. The states were to be admitted to the federal government on an equal footing with the original states.

By May of 1848 five states had been formed out of the Northwest Territory: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The state of Wisconsin was organized out of the territory of Wisconsin, the last remnant of the Northwest Territory. Although in 1848 the territory of Wisconsin extended to the Mississippi River, the state of Wisconsin voluntarily limited its western boundary to the St. Croix River. This boundary limitation by the state of Wisconsin left the land area between the St. Croix and the Mississippi available for eventual inclusion in the state of Minnesota.

The state of Minnesota can trace much of its fundamental governmental principles, and a substantial portion of its territory, back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.



The territories northwest and southwest of the Ohio River are depicted on this map of the early United States (1783–1803).