From Ohio History Central
The Northwest Ordinance, officially titled "An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the United States North West of the River Ohio" was adopted by the Confederation Congress on July 13, 1787.
The Confederation Congress was the legislative branch of government established by the Articles of Confederation of the newly independent United States of America.
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence. The document proclaimed the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain and formally began the American Revolution. The new nation then had to create a new government to replace the monarchy it was trying to overthrow. After much debate, the Americans adopted the Articles of Confederation. This document established a very weak national government that consisted of a one-house legislature known as the Confederation Congress. The Congress had the power to declare war, sign treaties, and settle disputes between the states. It could also borrow or print money. The Americans were so fearful of a strong, centralized government that they refused to give their Congress the power to tax. The Articles of Confederation were first adopted by the Second Continental Congress on November 1, 1777, and were given final ratification on March 1, 1781. The Second Continental Congress became the Congress of the Confederation. This government was then in effect from 1781 until 1788.
In 1783, the Americans secured their independence from Great Britain with the Treaty of Paris (1783). They immediately began to build a new nation but faced many difficulties, primarily due to their weak national government. Without having the ability to tax, the federal government could not pay for a military. This was an especially important issue for people living in the Northwest Territory. As thousands of Americans moved into the area, Native Americans struggled to stop them. Unable to pay for an army easily, the government could not protect its citizens. To solve this and other problems, a Constitutional Convention took place in the summer of 1787. Called together to revise the Articles of Confederation the delegates decided that a new and stronger constitution was needed. The federal government now had the power to tax and its provisions were to be the supreme law of the land. Fearing that one person or faction might be able to gain control of the government, the drafters divided the government's powers among three separate branches, the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. Each branch had checks and balances on the powers of the other two. The Constitution created the United States in the form in which it still exists today.
Despite the Confederation Congress' shortcomings, it did have two major accomplishments during its brief existence. First, it was the Confederation Congress that led Great Britain's former colonies to victory during the American Revolution. Second, the Congress also drafted the blueprint for how Ohio and other territories would become states within what would become the United States of America. The Ordinance of 1784, the Land Ordinance of 1785, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set out a plan for the development and settlement of America's frontier.