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The Land Ordinance of 1785 set forth how the government of the United States would measure, divide and distribute the land it had acquired from Great Britain north and west of the Ohio River at the end of the American Revolution.
In the Treaty of Paris (1783), which formally ended the American Revolution, England relinquished the Ohio Country to the United States. However, the Confederation Congress faced numerous problems gaining control of the land. Native American tribes did not agree with the claim that the land belonged to the United States. Numerous states also claimed the land. These states, when they were still colonies of England, had received permission from the king to control all land between their colonies on the East Coast and the Pacific Ocean. The Confederation Congress faced hard financial times at the American Revolution's conclusion. The Articles of Confederation did not allow the federal government to tax its citizens. The Confederation Congress hoped to sell the land in the Ohio Country to raise funds. The government also feared the large number of illegal settlers or "squatters" in the Ohio Country. Some congressmen believed that these people might form their own country, since the Appalachian Mountains left them so isolated from the rest of the nation. The Confederation Congress immediately began to negotiate with the Indians and the states, so that the federal government could claim sole ownership of the land.
While these negotiations were underway, the Confederation Congress implemented the Ordinance of 1784. It called for the land north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River to be divided into ten separate states. The Ordinance of 1784 established that the western territories would become states. However, it failed to establish how the government would distribute the land or how the territory would be settled.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 dealt with these issues. As the states and Indians relinquished lands, government surveyors were to divide the territory into individual townships. Each township was to be square. Each side of the square was to be six miles in length, and the completed square would include a total of thirty-six square miles of territory. The township would then be divided into one-square mile sections, with each section encompassing 640 acres. Each section received its own number. Section 16 was set aside for a public school. The federal government reserved sections eight, eleven, twenty-six, and twenty-nine to provide veterans of the American Revolution with land bounties for their service during the war. The government would sell the remaining sections at public auction. The minimum bid was 640 dollars per section or one dollar for each acre of land in each section.
The first portion of Ohio surveyed became known as the Seven Ranges. The northern boundary was an east to west line beginning where Pennsylvania's western border intersected the Ohio River. Pennsylvania's western border also served as the first north to south line. The surveyors plotted a total of eight lines, each six miles apart, in this first survey. The end result was seven north-to-south rows or "ranges" of townships open for settlement.
The government had now opened up parts of the Ohio Country for settlement, but the Confederation Congress continued to face many of the same difficulties that existed prior to the Ordinance of 1784 and the Land Ordinance of 1785. Squatters continued to move into the Ohio Country and many of the Indians refused to leave.