The Northwest Ordinance, 1787. The Confederation Congress adopted the Land Ordinance of 1785 to survey and organize land in the Northwest Territory for sale. Its companion document, the Northwest Ordinance -- adopted July 13, 1787 -- has been called "the single most important piece of legislation in the Confederation period," 1781-1788. An Ohio Historical Society web site says "the ordinance provided the means by which new states would be created out of the western lands and then admitted into the Union. Governors and judges appointed by Congress would rule a territory until it contained 5,000 free male inhabitants of voting age; then the inhabitants would elect a territorial legislature, which would send a non-voting delegate to Congress. When the population reached 60,000, the legislature would submit a state constitution to Congress and, upon its approval, the state would enter the Union." The OHS said: "The importance of the statute, aside from providing for orderly westerly settlement, is that it made clear that the new states would be equal to the old; there would be no inferior or superior states in the Union. Moreover, in the Ordinance, Congress compacted with the settlers of the territories that they would be equal citizens of the United States, and would enjoy all of the rights that had been fought for in the Revolution.
"Where the Articles of Confederation lacked a bill of rights, the Ordinance provided one that included many of the basic liberties the colonists had considered essential, such as trial by jury, habeas corpus, and religious freedom. One should also note, however, the important role that property still played in government, a holdover from British theory that only those with a tangible stake in society should partake in its governance. The Northwest Ordinance would, with minor adjustments, remain the guiding policy for the admission of all future states into the Union."