NORTHWEST TERRITORY. Part of the vast domain ceded by Great Britain to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783), the Northwest Territory encompassed the area west of Pennsylvania, east of the Mississippi River, and north of the Ohio River to the border with British Canada. The "Old Northwest, " as the region later came to be known, eventually included the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the part of Minnesota east of the Mississippi River. The creation of the Northwest Territory was first implied in the Articles of Confederation (1780), which stipulated that all lands beyond the bounds of the original thirteen states would be owned and administered by the national government.
The establishment of a federal public domain reconciled and negated the competing claims of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, and New York to lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains. While this cleared the way for confederation, the means for administering these lands was not fully established until 1787, when Congress passed An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory
of the United States Northwest of the River Ohio. This Northwest Ordinance provided for the orderly survey of all lands into square sections of 640 acres and established the procedures for their sale to individuals and corporations. Besides the grid pattern of states, counties, towns, farms, and roads that would spread out across the continent, the ordinance also established the methods for creating new states and their admission into the Union "on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever."
Although some form of territorial governance continued in the Old Northwest until Minnesota achieved statehood in 1858, the administrative history of the Northwest Territory is fairly brief. The celebrated revolutionary war general Arthur St. Clair established the first territorial government on 15 July 1788. Because of increased migration, Congress in 1800 divided the Northwest Territory for administrative purposes and designated the western portion as the territory of Indiana. The reduced Northwest Territory ceased to exist as an official geopolitical entity in 1803, when the state of Ohio was admitted to the Union and Congress designated the region to the north as the territory of Michigan.
Despite its short duration, the history of the Northwest Territory is marked by some of the most brutal and aggressive warfare in U.S. history. Based on a vision of expanding agricultural settlement and motivated by a desperate need for the revenue that would come from the sale of public lands, federal policy was geared toward the rapid conversion of Indian lands into private property. Native alliances initially took a severe toll on U.S. forces, and at times as much as 80 percent of the entire federal budget went to fighting and removing Indians from their lands. By the end of the short territorial period, Native communities decimated by warfare and disease had moved beyond the bounds of Ohio to areas farther west. The scenario was repeated over the course of three decades, as new states entered the Union and the fertile soils of the Old Northwest were converted into the vast expanse of farms and towns that became a hallmark of the region.
Cayton, Andrew R. L., and Peter S. Onuf. The Midwest and the Nation: Rethinking the History of an American Region. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
NORTHWEST TERRITORIESLegislative Assembly - Northwest Territories
Commissioners - Northwest Territories
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TERRITOIRES DU NORD-OUEST
Reconstituted / Reconstitué
September 1, 1905 / le 1er septembre 1905
Area / Superficie
Land / Terre - 1,183,085 sq.km/km2
Water / Eau - 163,021 sq.km/km2
Total - 1,346,106 sq.km/km2
(Census / Recensement): 1891 - 99,000; 1901 - 20,000; 1911 - 7,000; 1921 - 8,000; 1931 - 9,300; 1941 - 12,000; 1951 - 16,000; 1956 - 19,300; 1961 - 23,000; 1966 - 28,700; 1971 - 34,800; 1976 - 42,600; 1981 - 45,700; 1986 - 52,200; 1991 - 57,649; 1996 - 66,568; 2001 - 37,360; (Estimate / Estimation 2004) - 42,810
Capital / Capitale
Major Centres / Centres principaux (2001)
Hay River: 3,510
Fort Smith: 2,185