ON JULY 13, 1787, Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance, one of the greatest achievements of the young American republic. The legislation provided for the government of a huge region then called the Northwest Territory-the modern states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota.
....The Northwest Ordinance treated each new territory as a state-in-embryo. Settlers in the territories could establish free governments and write constitutions, and once they had achieved 60,000 inhabitants, they could apply for admission to the Union as new states. Each state would be admitted on an equal basis with all previous states.
This was the first time in the history of the world that the principle of equality was so recognized. American territories would not be colonies, held in perpetual subordination to the "mother" country.
A crucial feature of the Northwest Ordinance was its treatment of religion. The first article stated: "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." This enlightened doctrine was little short of revolutionary for its time. No other government had ever laid out such a principle for administering newly acquired territories.
Friday, August 28, 2009
From The American Patriot's Almanac by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb: