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Ordinance by the Continental Congress concerning the government of Western Territory
United States. Continental Congress
July 13, 1787
Volume 20, Pages 740-746

(From Executive Letter Book.)

Be it Ordained by the United States in Congress Assembled, That the said Territory, for the purposes of temporary government, be one district; Subject however, to be divided into two Districts, as future circumstances may in the Opinion of Congress make it expedient.

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That the estates both of resident and non-resident proprietors in the said territory, dying intestate, shall descend to and be distributed among their Children, and the descendants of a deceased child in equal parts; the descendants of a deceased child or grand-child to take the share of their deceased parent in equal parts among them; And where there shall be no Children or descendants, then in equal to the next kin, in equal degree; and among collaterals, the children of a deceased brother or sister of the intestate shall have in equal parts among them their deceased parents share; and there shall in no case be distinction between kindred of the whole and half blood; Saving in all cases to the widow of the intestate her third part of the real estate for life, and one-third part of the personal estate, and this Law relative to descendants and dower shall remain in full force until altered by the Legislature of the district.

And until the Governor and Judges shall adopt Laws as hereinafter Mentioned, estates in the said territory may be devised or bequeathed

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by wills in writing, Signed and sealed by him and her, in whom the Estate may be, (being of full age) and attested by three witnesses; and real estates may be conveyed by lease & release, or bargain and Sale, Signed and Sealed & delivered by the person being of full age, in whom the estate may be, and attested by two witnesses, provided such wills be duly proved, and such conveyances be acknowledged, or the execution thereof be duly proved, and be recorded within one year after Proper Majistrates, Courts, and registers shall be appointed for that purpose; and Personal property may be transferred by delivery, saving however, to the French Canadian Inhabitants and other Settlers of the Kaskaskia, Saint Vincents, and neighboring Villages, who have heretofore professed themselves citizens of Virginia, their Laws and Customs now enforced among them, relative to the descent and conveyance of Property.

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That there shall be appointed from time to time by Congress, a governor, whose commission shall continue in force for the term of three years unless sooner revoked by Congress; he shall reside in the district, and have a freehold therein in one thousand acres of Land, while in the exercise of his office. There shall be appointed from time to time, by Congress, a Secretary, whose Commission shall continue in force for four Years, unless sooner revoked; he shall reside in the district, and have a freehold estate therein in five hundred Acres of land, while in the exercise of his office; it shall be his duty to keep & preserve the Acts and Laws passed by the Legislature, and the Public records of the district, and the proceedings of the Governor in the Executive department, and transmit authentic copies of such acts & proceeding every Six Months to the Secretary of Congress: There shall also be appointed a Court to consist of three Judges, any two of whom to form a Court, who shall have a common Law Jurisdiction and reside in the District, and have each therein a freehold of five hundred Acres of Land, while in the exercise of these Offices; and their Commissions shall continue in force during good behavior.

The Governor and Judges or a Majority of them, shall adopt and publish in the district such Laws of the Original States, criminal and civil, as may be necessary and best suited to the circumstances of the District, and report them to Congress from time to time, which Laws shall be enforced in the district until the organization of the General Assembly therein, unless disapproved by Congress, but afterwards

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the Legislature shall have authority to alter them as they shall think fit. The Governor for the time being, shall be commander-in-chief of the Militia, appoint and Commission all Officers in the same, below the rank of General Officers; all General Officers shall be appointed & Commissioned by Congress previous to the Organization of the General Assembly. The Governor shall appoint all such Majistrates and other civil Officers, in each County or Township, as he shall find necessary for the Preservation of Peace and good Order of the same. After General Assembly shall be organized the Powers and duties of Majistrates and other civil Officiers shall be regulated and defined by the said Assembly; but all Majistrates & other Civil Officers, not herein otherwise directed, shall, during the Continuance of the temporary Government, be appointed by the Governor. For the prevention of crimes and injuries the laws to be adopted or made shall have force in all parts of the district, and for the execution of process, criminal and civil, the governor shall make proper divisions thereof; and he shall proceed from time to time, as circumstances may require, to lay out the parts of the District in which the Indian titles shall have been extinguished, into Counties & Townships, Subject however, to such alterations as may be made by the Legislature. So soon as there shall be five thousand free male Inhabitants of full age in the district, upon giving proof thereof to the Governor, they shall receive Authority, with time & place, to elect representatives from their Counties or Townships to represent them in the General Assembly; provided, that for five hundred free male Inhabitants there shall be one representative, and so on progressively with the Number of free male Inhabitants, shall the right of Representation Increase until the number of Representatives shall amount to twenty-five, after which the number and proportion of Representatives shall be Regulated by the Legislature; provided, that no person be eligible or qualified to act as a Representative unless he shall have been a citizen of one of the United States three years & be a resident in the District, or unless he shall have resided in the District three years, and in either Case shall likewise hold in his own Right, in fee simple, two hundred Acres of land within the same; provided also, that a freeholder in fifty Acres of Land in the District, having been a Citizen of one of the States and being resident in the district, or the like free hold and two years resident in the district shall be necessary to qualify a man as an elector of a representation.
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The representatives thus elected shall serve for the term of two years and in case of the death of a Representative or removal from Office, the Governor shall issue a writ to the County or township for which he was a Member, to elect another in his stead to serve for the residue of the term. The General Assembly or Legislature shall consist of the Governor, Legislative Council, and a house of representatives. The Legislative Council shall consist of five Members, to continue in office five years unless sooner removed by Congress, and three of whom to be a quorum; and the members of the Council shall be nominated and appointed in the following manner, to-wit: as soon as representatives shall be elected the Governor shall appoint a time and place for them to meet together, and when met, they shall nominate ten persons, residents in the Districts, and each possessed of a free hold in five hundred acres of Land, and return their Names to Congress, five of whom Congress shall appoint and Commission to serve as aforesaid; and whenever a vacancy shall happen in the council by death or removal from Office, the House of Representatives shall Nominate two persons, qualified as aforesaid, for each vacancy, and return their names to Congress, one of whom Congress shall appoint and commission for the residue of the term; and every five years, four Months at least before the expiration of the time of Service of the Members of Council, the said house shall nominate ten persons, qualified as aforesaid, and return their Names to Congress, five of whom Congress shall appoint and Commission to serve as members of the council five years, unless sooner removed. And the Governor, Legislative Council and House of Representatives, shall have authority to make Laws in all cases for the good Government of the district, not repugnant to the principles and articles in this ordinance established & declared. And all Bills having passed by a Majority in the house, and by a majority in the council shall be referred to the Governor for his assent, but no bill or Legislative Act whatsoever shall be any force without his assent. The Governor shall have power to convene, prorogue & dissolve the General Assembly, when in his Opinion it shall be expedient.

The Governor, Judges, Legislative Council, Secretary, and such other Officers as Congress shall appoint in the district, shall take an Oath or affirmation of fidelity and of office; the Governor before the President of Congress, and all other Officers before the Governor. As soon as a Legislature shall be formed in the district the council &

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house, assembled in one room, shall have authority by joint ballot to elect a delegate to Congress, who shall have a seat in Congress with a right of debating, but not of voting, during this temporary Government.

And for extending the fundamental principles of Civil and religious liberty, which form the basis whereon these republics, their Laws and Constitutions are erected, to fix and establish those principles as the basis of all Laws, Constitutions & Governments which forever hereafter shall be formed in the said territory, to provide also for the establishment of States, and Permanent Government therein, & for their admission to a share in the Federal Councils on an equal footing with the Original States, at as early periods as may be consistent with the general interest; it is hereby ordained and declared by the authority aforesaid, that the following Articles shall be considered as articles of Compact between the original States in the said Territory, and forever remain unalterable unless by common consent, to-wit.:

Article first. No person demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments in the said territory.

Article second. The Inhabitants of the said territory shall always be entitled to the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus, and of the trial by jury; of a proportionate representation of the people in the Legislature, and of judicial proceedings according to the course of the common law; all persons shall be bailable unless for Capital offences, where the proof shall be evident, or the presumption great; all fines shall be moderate, and no cruel or unusual punishment shall be inflicted; no man shall be deprived of his liberty or property but by the judgment of his peers or the law of the land; and should the public exigencies make it necessary for the common preservation to take any person’s property, or to demand his particular services, full compensation shall be made for the same and in the just preservation of the rights and property it is understood and declared, that no law ought ever to be made or have force in the said Territory that shall in any manner whatever interfere with or affect private Contracts or engagements, bona fide and without fraud previously formed.

Article the third. Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and means of education shall be forever encouraged. The utmost

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good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and in their property, rights and liberty they shall never be invaded or disturbed unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity shall from time to time be made for preventing wrong being done them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

Article the fourth. The said territory, and the states which may be formed therein, shall forever remain a part of this confederacy of the United States of America, Subject to the articles of confederation and to such alterations therein as shall be constitutionally made, and to all the Acts and ordinances of the United States in Congress Assembled, conformable thereto. The inhabitants and settlers on the said territory shall be subject to pay a part of the Federal debts contracted or to be contracted, and a proportional part of the expences of government to be apportioned on them by Congress, according to the same common rule and measures by which apportionments thereof shall be made on the other States; & the taxes for paying their proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the district or districts, or new States, as in the original States within the time agreed upon by the United States in Congress Assembled. The Legislatures of those districts, or new States, shall never interfere with the primary disposal of the Soil by the United States in Congress assembled, nor with any regulation Congress may find necessary for securing the title in such soil to the bona fide purchasers. No Tax shall be imposed on Lands the property of the United States; and in no case shall non-resident proprietors be taxed higher than residents. The navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the Inhabitants of the said Territory as to the citizens of the United States, and those of any other States that may be admitted into the confederacy, without any tax, impost or duty therefor.

Article the fifth. There shall be formed in the said territory not less than three, nor more than five States; and the boundaries of the States, as soon as Virginia shall alter her act of Cession and consent to the same, shall become fixed and established as follows, to-wit:

The western State in the said territory shall be bounded by the Mississippi, the Ohio, and Wabash rivers; a direct line drawn from

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the Wabash and Fort Vincennes due North to the territorial line between the United States and Canada, and by the said territorial line to the lake of the woods & Mississippi. The Middle State shall be bounded by the said direct line, the Wabash from Fort Vincennes to the Ohio; by the Ohio, by a direct line drawn due North from the Mouth of the Great Miami to the said territorial line, and by the said territorial line. The eastern State shall be bounded by the last mentioned direct line, the Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the said territorial line; provided however, & it is further understood and declared, that the bounding of three States, shall be subject so far to be altered, that if Congress shall hereafter find it expedient, they shall have authority to form one or two States in that part of the said territory which lies north of an east & west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan; and when any of the said States shall have sixty thousand free Inhabitants therein, such State shall be admitted by its Delegates into the Congress of the United States, on an equal footing with the original States in all respect whatever, and shall be at liberty to form a permanent constitution & State Government; provided the Constitution & Government so formed shall be republican, and in conformity to the principles contained in these Articles; and so far as it can be consistent with the general interest of the confederacy, such admission shall be allowed at an earlier period, and when there may be a less number of free Inhabitants in the State than Sixty thousand.

Article the Sixth. There shall be neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted; provided always, that any person escaping into the same, from whom labor or service is lawfully claimed in any one of the original States, such fugitive may be lawfully reclaimed and conveyed to the person claiming his or her labor or service are aforesaid.

Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid. That the Resolution of the 23d of April, 1784, relative to the subject of this Ordinance be, and the same is hereby repealed and declared null and void.

Done by the United States in Congress Assembled the 13th day of July, in the year of our Lord 1787, and of their Sovereignty and independence the 12th.