The Ordinance of 1784 was an early effort by the government of the newly formed United States to deal with the territory north and west of the Ohio River.
In the Treaty of Paris (1783), which formally ended the American Revolution, England relinquished the Ohio Country to America. Despite this, the government formed by the Articles of Confederation faced numerous problems gaining control of the land. Many Native Americans did not agree with the claim that the land belonged to the United States. Numerous states, especially Connecticut and Virginia, also claimed the land. These states, when they were still colonies of England, had received charters from the king to all the land between their colonies on the East Coast and the Pacific Ocean.
The Confederation Congress faced hard financial times at the end of the American Revolution. The Articles of Confederation did not permit the government to tax its citizens easily. The Congress hoped to sell the land in the Ohio Country to raise money to operate the government and pay its debts. The government also feared the large number of squatters in the Ohio Country. Some congressmen believed that these settlers might form their own country, since the Appalachian Mountains left them 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 occurring, the Confederation Congress implemented the Ordinance of 1784. Thomas Jefferson wrote the document. It called for the land north of the Ohio River, west of the Appalachian Mountains, and east of the Mississippi River to be divided into ten separate states. The states would first be territories. They would remain territories until they had attained the same population as the least populous state in America. At that point, the territories would become states, and they would have the same rights as the original thirteen states. The Ordinance of 1784 also guaranteed self-government to the residents of the territories.
The Land Ordinance of 1785 soon supplanted the Ordinance of 1784. The Confederation Congress admitted no new states under the Ordinance of 1784. Despite this fact, the Ordinance of 1784 established a framework for the addition of new states. Most importantly, it declared that the new states would be equal to previously established states. Government leaders included this policy in all future legislation dealing with the addition of new states.