lution, Kentucky's population
exceeded 25,000 ; and when
peace made Indian hostility
less likely, a still larger immi
gration began to crowd the
Wilderness Road and the Ohio.
302. Meanwhile Watauga had
become the mother of a still
more western colony. Popula
tion had increased rapidly, and
some of the earlier " forts "
had grown into straggling
villages. At the end of ten
years, it was no longer a place
for the real frontiersmen ; and,
in 1779, Robertson, with some
of his more restless neighbors,
migrated once more to a new
wilderness home in west-central Tennessee, on the bend of the
These "Cumberland settlements" were the third group of
English-speaking colonists in the Southwest. Population
thronged into the fertile district, with the usual proportion of
undesirable frontier characters ; and the settlers found it need
ful at once to provide a government. May 1, 1780, a conven
tion of representatives at Nashboro adopted a " constitution,"
- which, however, was styled by the makers merely " a tem
porary method of restraining the licentious."
DANIEL BOONK at 85 (in 1819), when
he had moved on into frontier Mis
souri. From a portrait by Chester
Harding, now in the Filson Club,
304] ROBERTSON ON THE CUMBERLAND 253
A few days later, this " social compact " was signed by every
adult male settler, 256 in number. It provided for a court of
twelve "judges," chosen by manhood suffrage in the several
stations. If dissatisfied with its representative, a station
might at any time hold a new election (the modern " recall ").
Like the early Watauga " commissioners," the " judges "
exercised all powers of government. The constitution, how
ever, expressly recognized the right of North Carolina to rule
the district when she should be ready ; and in 1783 that State
organized the Cumberland settlements into Davidson County.
303. A year later (1784) North Carolina ceded her western
lands to the Continental Congress. The Westerners com
plained loudly that the mother-State had cast them off, and
that the dilatory Congress was not ready to accept them. The
three counties of eastern Tennessee (about Watauga) now
numbered 10,000 people. August 23, 1784, a representative con
vention of forty delegates declared this district an independent
State with the name Frankland (" Land of the Free ").
A later convention adopted a constitution, and a full state
government was set up, with Sevier as governor. 1 But North
Carolina " repealed " her cession (Congress not having acted) ; and
after some years of struggle that rose even into war, she suc
ceeded in restoring her authority.
304. For some years, only feeble ties held the Western settle
ments to the Atlantic States. The men of the West made con
tinuous efforts for Statehood ; but these efforts were opposed
not only by Virginia and North Carolina, but also by Congress.
Then, at one time or another, in each of the three groups of
settlements, these legitimate attempts merged obscurely in less
justifiable plots for complete separation from the Eastern
confederacy. For even this extreme phase of the movement,
!The first legislature of Frankland had to fix a currency "in kind": a
pound of sugar was to pass as one shilling ; a fox or raccoon skin for two
shillings ; a gallon of peach brandy for three shillings, and so on. Easterners
laughed contemptuously at this " money which cannot be counterfeited,"
forgetting how their fathers had used like currency ( 208).
254 THE SOUTHWEST TO 1789 [ 305
there was great provocation in the gross neglect shown by
the East toward pressing needs in the West.
The older States had just rebelled against the colonial policy
of Great Britain ; but they showed a strong inclination to retain
a selfish policy toward their own "colonies" in the West.
Even in the matter of protection against Indians, they ham
pered the frontier without giving aid. The Westerners made
many petitions (1) to control directly their own militia ;
(2) to be divided into smaller counties with courts more
accessible ; and (3) to have a " court of appeal " established on
their side of the mountains. Many a poor man found legal
redress for wrong impossible because a richer opponent could
appeal to a seaboard supreme court. These reasonable re
quests were refused contemptuously by North Carolina, and
granted only grudgingly by Virginia. More distant Eastern
communities, too, notably New England, manifested a harsh
jealousy of the West ( 349).
305. In particular the East long neglected to secure for the new
West the right to use the lower Mississippi. For nearly all its
course, one bank of the Mississippi was American ; but, by the
treaties of 1783, toward the mouth both banks were Spain's.
According to the policy of past ages, Spain could close against
us this outlet for our commerce. But the surplus farm produce
of the West could not be carried to the East over bridle paths.
Without some route to the outside world, it was valueless ; and
the only possible route in that day was the huge arterial system
of natural waterways to the Gulf.
So, from the first, the backwoodsmen floated their grain and
stock in flatboats down the smaller streams to the Ohio, and
so on down the great central river to New Orleans. They
encountered shifting shoals, hidden snags, treacherous currents,
savage ambuscades, and the hardships and dangers of weari
some return on foot through the Indian-haunted forests,
These natural perils the frontiersman accepted light-heartedly ;
but he was moved to bitter wrath, when his journey accom
plished fatal harm befell him at his port. He had to have
JEALOUSY AND NEGLECT
"right of deposit" at New Orleans, in order to reship to
ocean vessels. Spanish governors granted or withheld that
privilege at pleasure until 1795, when a treaty secured it,
nominally, for a brief and uncertain period ( 407). Even
A MISSISSIPPI AND OHIO RIVER FLATBOAT.
then, ruinous bribes were still necessary to prevent confiscation
by Spanish officials on some pretense.
Our government showed little eagerness in this life-or-death
matter ; but the West seethed with furious demands for
possession of the mouth of the Mississippi. How to get it
mattered little. The Westerners would help Congress win it
from Spain; or they were ready to try to win it by them
selves, setting up, if need be, as a separate nation ; or some of
them were ready even to buy the essential privilege by putting
their settlements under the Spanish flag.
306. The last measure was never discussed publicly ; but
Sevier, Robertson, and Clark were all at some time concerned
256 THE SOUTHWEST TO 1789 [ 306
secretly in such dubious negotiations with Spanish agents.
American nationality was just in the making. It was natural
for even good men to look almost exclusively to the welfare
of their own section, and the action of these great leaders does
not expose them to charges of lack of patriotism in any shame
ful sense, 1 as would be the case in a later day. Still we
should see that they struggled in this matter on the wrong
AN OLD OHIO MILL, built soon after 1790. Note the log house in the
background, and the stumps unremoved.
side. It was well that, about 1790, they were pushed aside by a
new generation of immigrants, who were able to " think con-
tinentally." Virginia and North Carolina, too, were finally
persuaded to give up their claims. In 1792, Kentucky became
a State of the Union, and, four years later, Tennessee was ad
mitted. The remaining lands south of the Ohio that had been
ceded by that time to the United States ( 311), were then
organized as the Mississippi Territory.
1 Cf. Roosevelt's Winning of the West, III. These men must not be con
founded with a fellow like General Wilkinson, who, while an American
officer, took a pension from Spain for assisting her interests in the West.
THE NORTHWEST : A NATIONAL DOMAIN
307. The Southwest, we have seen, was a self-developed section.
Except for Henderson's futile project, there was no paternalism. No
statesman planned its settlements ; no general directed the conquest of
territory ; no older government, State or Federal, fostered development.
The land was won from savage man and savage nature by little bands
of self-associated backwoodsmen, piece by piece, from the Watauga to
the Rio Grande, in countless bloody but isolated skirmishes, generation
after generation. Settlement preceded governmental organization.
In the Northwest, government preceded settlement. The first colonists
found (i) territorial divisions marked off, and the form of government
largely determined ; (2) land surveys ready for the farmer ; and
(3) some military protection. All this was arranged in advance by the
national government. This child of the nation, therefore, never showed
the tendencies to separatism which we have noted in the Southwest.
I. OWNERSHIP BY THE NATION
308. Six States could make no claim to any part of the
West, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey,
New Hampshire, and Rhode Island; and the title of South
Carolina applied only to a strip of land some twenty miles
wide. But, as soon as the 'Revolution began, the other six
States reasserted loudly old colonial claims to all the vast region
between the mountains and the Mississippi. 1 They planned to
use these lands, too, in paying their soldiers and other war ex
penses, while the small States taxed themselves in hard cash
for the war which was to win the territory from England.
Kentucky and Tennessee, it has been noted, were claimed by Virginia
and North Carolina, and Georgia long insisted upon a flimsy title to a
wide reach of land extending to the Mississippi. So far, there were at
1 The map facing page 259 should be studied as part of the text, for this
topic. Cf. also Source Book, No. 146.
258 THE OLD NORTHWEST [ 309
least no conflicts of title between the States. But north of the Ohio,
there were many conflicting claims. Virginia claimed all the Northwest,
under her old charter ( 32), and she had done much to give real life to
this weak title by taking steps toward actual possession in Dunmore's
War and in Clark's conquest of Illinois, and, from 1779 to 1784, by gov
erning the district from Vincennes to Kaskaskia as the County of Illinois.
New York also claimed all the Northwest, but by the slightest of all
titles. 1 The middle third of the Northwest was claimed also by both
Massachusetts and Connecticut on the basis of their ancient charters.
While opposing these "large State" claims, Maryland
invented a new and glorious colonial policy for America, and,
standing alone through a stubborn four-year struggle, she
forced the Union to adopt it. As early as November, 1776,
a Maryland Convention set forth this resolution :
"That the back lands, claimed by the British crown, if secured by the
blood and treasure of all, ought, in reason, justice, and policy, to be con
sidered a common stock, to be parcelled out by Congress into free, con
venient, and independent Governments, as the wisdom of that body shall
A year later, since Congress had failed to adopt this policy,
Maryland made it a condition ivithout which she would not ratify
the Articles of Confederation. 2 By February, 1779, every other
State had ratified. Further delay was in many ways perilous
to the new Union; and other States charged Maryland bit
terly with lack of patriotism. Virginia, in particular, insinu
ated repeatedly that the western lands were only an " ostensible
cause " for her delay. With clear-eyed purpose, however, the
little State held out, throwing the blame for delay where it be
longed, on Virginia and the other States claiming the West.
310. Public opinion gradually shifted to the support of the
view so gallantly championed by Maryland ; and October 10,
1780, the Continental Congress formally pledged the Union to the
1 The Iroquois, who had no ownership, had ceded it to England, in the per
son of the Commander of the English forces in America who happened also
to be just then governor of New York.
2 By the terms of the Articles, that constitution could not become binding
until ratified by each one of the thirteen States.
>l. Connecticut's Western Reserve
B. Virginia's Military Reserve
THE UNITED STATES IN 1783 STATE CLAIMS AND CESSIONS
311] A NATIONAL DOMAIN 259
new policy. A Congressional resolution solemnly urged the
States to cede the western lands to the central government,
to be disposed of "for the common good of the United States"
The resolution guaranteed also that all lands so ceded would
be "formed into separate republican States, which shall become
members of the federal union and have the same rights of free
dom , sovereignty, and independence as the other States."
This completed the American plan of colonization. Previously, the
world had known only two plans : Greek and Phoenician colonies be
came free by separating at once from the mother cities ; the seventeenth
and eighteenth century colonies of European countries had remained
united to the mother countries, but in a condition of humiliating depend
ence. For the United States Maryland had devised a new plan combin
ing permanent union with freedom. This great political invention was
peculiarly adapted to a federal union, such as America was then forming.
311. New York had already promised to give up her west
ern claims, and now Connecticut promised to do likewise. In
January, 1781, Virginia's promise followed, for the lands
north of the Ohio. The formal deeds of cession were delayed
by long negotiations over precise terms, but the general result
was now certain. Maryland had won. Accordingly (March
1, 1781), she ratified the Articles. That constitution at last
went into operation, and the new confederacy possessed a
Kentucky remained part of Virginia until admitted into the Union as
a State in 1792 ; and Virginia did not actually cede the Northwest until
1784, retaining then the " Military Reserve," a triangular tract of sev
eral million acres just north of the Ohio (marked B on the map opposite),
wherewith to pay her soldiers. Connecticut completed her cession in 1785,
and Massachusetts made hers in 1786. Connecticut retained 3,250,000
acres south of Lake Erie, as a basis for a public school fund. This dis
trict was soon settled largely by New Englanders, and was long known
as "The Western Reserve" ; but in 1800, when Connecticut had sold her
property in the lands, she granted jurisdiction over the settlers to the
United States. North Carolina ceded Tennessee in 1790, and South
Carolina had given up her little tract three years earlier; but Georgia
clung to her claims until 1802.
260 THE OLD NORTHWEST [ 312
II. ORGANIZATION BY THE NATION
312. It was now up to Congress to make good its promise in the
resolution of October, 1780 ( 310). Accordingly, when Thomas
Jefferson, as a Virginia delegate in Congress, presented to that
body Virginia's final cession, he also proposed a plan of govern
ment for all territory " ceded or to be ceded." This plan was
soon enacted into law and is commonly known as the Ordinance
Jefferson supposed that the States would complete their ces
sions promptly. Accordingly, the Ordinance of 1784 cut up
all the western territory into proposed States. The old States
were to be bounded on the west by the meridian passing
through the mouth of the Kanawha. West of that line there
were to be two tiers of new States (map opposite). Each State
was to be two degrees in width from north to south ; and the
meridian passing through the Falls of the Ohio was to divide
the eastern from the western tier. To ten of the proposed
States the plan gave peculiar names, Michigania, Metropo-
tamia, Polypotamia, Assenisipia, and so n.
As in all our later organization of Territories, certain pro
visions were to be made a matter of compact between each new
State and the United States. Thus, the State was forever to
remain part of the United States, and to preserve a republican
form of government ; it was to take over its share of the public
debt, and not to tax United States lands within its borders,
nor to tax non-residents more heavily than its own citizens.
A remarkable attempt ivas made also to exclude slavery from all
the Western territory after the year 1800 : this provision, however,
received the votes of only six States, and so failed of adoption. 1
313. In 1787, the Ordinance of 1784 was replaced by the great
Northwest Ordinance. During the three years which had passed
1 Virginia (in spite of Jefferson) and South Carolina voted No ; North
Carolina was "divided" and so not counted; New Jersey, Delaware, and
Georgia were absent. Jefferson stated later that, but for the sickness of a
delegate from New Jersey, that State would have been present and in the
affirmative ; so that the proposition " failed for want of one vote."
JEFFERSON'S ORDINANCE OF 1784
"CEDED OR TO BE CEDED"
According to Ordinance of 1784
Longitude Ri West from Greenwich
THE OLD NORTHWEST
since the adoption of the first ordinance, there had been no
district in the ceded territory populous enough to organize
under the law. Meantime, some parts of the East had begun
to look jealously at the prospect of so many new States, to
outvote the Atlantic section in Congress. Congress, therefore,
appointed a committee to prepare a new plan of organization,
with view particularly to
reducing the number of
There was also another
thread to the story. In
1786 a number of New
soldiers had organized a
" company of associates,' 7
to establish themselves in
new homes on the Ohio.
Early in 1787 this Ohio
Company sent the shrewd
Manasseh Cutler (one of
their directors) to buy a
large tract of western land
from Congress. Cutler
found the proposed Terri
torial ordinance under dis
cussion. Negotiations for
the land deal and for the
new Territorial law (under which the settlers would have to
place themselves) became intermingled. Cutler proved an
adroit lobbyist. 1 On one occasion he had to frighten the
hesitating Congress into action by pretending to take leave ;
but finally both measures were passed. The ordinance, with a
number of new provisions satisfactory to the New Englanders,
MANASSEH CUTLER. From a woodcut in
Harper's Magazine for September, 1885,
illustrating an article on early Ohio
1 Hart's Source Book, 169-172, has an interesting selection from Cutler's
313] NORTHWEST ORDINANCE OF 1787 263
became law on July 13; and a few days later the land sale
The Ohio Company bought for itself 1,500,000 acres, at "two-thirds of
a dollar an acre." Payment was accepted, however, in depreciated " cer
tificates" with which Congress had paid the Revolutionary soldiers, so
that the real cost was only eight or nine cents. Unhappily, the purchase
was carried through by connecting it with a "job." Influential members
of Congress, as the price of their support, induced Cutler to take, at this
rate, not merely the million and a half acres which he wanted, but also
three and a half million more, which were afterward privately transferred
to another " company " composed of these congressmen and their friends.
The " Northwest Ordinance " l (so-called because, unlike its
predecessor, it applied only to the territory north of the Ohio)
has been styled second in importance only to the Declaration
of Independence and the Constitution. Under it, the new
type of American " colony " (" territory ") was first actually
established. Not less than three, nor more than five states
were to be formed from the region, but, until further Con
gressional action, the whole district was to be one unit. Three
stages of government were provided.
(1) Until the district should contain five thousand free male
inhabitants, there was no self-government. Congress a appointed
a " governor " and three " judges." The governor created and
filled all local offices ; and governor and judges together
selected laws suitable for Territorial needs from the codes of
older States, subject, however, to the veto of Congress.
(2) In the second stage Congress still appointed the gov
ernor ; but there was now to be a two-House legislature, a
House of Representatives elected by the people, and a Legisla
tive Council of five men selected by Congress from ten nomi-
1 Source Book, No. 149, 6. The class should study the document at least
far enough to verify the statements made in the text regarding it. The prin
ciples of this law became so fixed during the next century that students are in
danger of thinking of the Ordinance as part of the Constitution.
2 This law was passed, of course, by the Continental Congress. After the
adoption of the Constitution, the next year, many powers here given to Con
gress were transferred to the President of the United States.
264 NORTHWEST ORDINANCE OF 1787 [ 313
nated by the Territorial lower House. This legislature was to
send a Territorial delegate to Congress, with right to debate
but not to vote. The appointed governor had an absolute veto
upon all acts of the legislature and controlled its sittings, call
ing and dissolving sessions at will. Thus, in this stage, the
inhabitants had about the same amount of self-government as
in a royal province before the Revolution. 1 Political rights
were based upon a graded ownership of land : to vote for a
Representative, one must have a freehold of fifty acres ; to
be eligible for the lower House, two hundred acres ; for
the upper House, five hundred ; and for the governorship, a
(3) The third stage was provided for in the following words :
"Whenever any of the said States shall have sixty thousand
free inhabitants, 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 respects ivhatever, and shall be
at liberty to form a permanent constitution and State govern
"And, for extending the fundamental principles of civil
and religious liberty . . . [and] to ... establish those prin
ciples as the basis of all ... governments which forever here
after shall be formed in the said territory/' six lengthy
articles were declared to be " articles of compact between the
original States and the people ... in the said Territory . . .
forever [to~] remain unalterable, unless by common consent." To
similar provisions in the previous ordinance this noble "bill
of rights " now added freedom of religion, habeas corpus privi
leges, exemption from cruel or unusual punishments, and jury
trial. Provision was made for the equal division of estates
(even of landed property 2 ) among the heirs of people who left
1 Compare with Massachusetts under her second charter.
2 In the older States, primogeniture was still the rule, or had been so until
just before. Even in New England, the oldest son still inherited a double
share. The principle of equal division of landed property had a special demo
cratic value because of the connection between land and political power.
EXCLUSION OF SLAVERY
no wills. The Third Article declared that "schools and the
means of education shall forever be encouraged" ; and the great
Sixth Article prohibited slavery, with a provision, however, for
the return of fugitive slaves escaping into the Northwest from
The Northwest Ordinance did not make specific provision for public
support of education, as many people suppose. That was done by two
other ordinances of the Continental Congress, one earlier, one just
later, which made smooth the way for western settlement and pro
foundly influenced its character ( 314, 315).
314. In 1785, Congress had passed an ordinance (originating
with Jefferson) (1) providing for a rectangular land survey by
the government, in advance of settlement; (2) establishing land
offices for sale of
public lands at low
prices and in small
lots ; and (3) giving
one thirty-sixth of
the national domain
(in properly distrib
uted tracts) to the
new States, for the
support of public
schools. These three
principles have ever
since remained fun
damental in western
For a rectangular sur
vey, it was necessary
first to fix a north-and-
south and an east-and-
UNITED STATES SURVEY : DIAGRAM A. BASES
AND MERIDIANS FOR THE OLD NORTHWEST.