History of the United States
American Revolution
Articles of Confederation

What was the Land Ordinance of 1785?

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2015-09-20 04:57:37

It was a law that established a plan for surveying and selling

the federally owned lands west of the Appalachian mountains.


Following the American Revolution a number of states ceded to

the federal government their claims to land lying west of the

Appalachian Mountains. The cessions eased the worries of landless

states, cooled tensions between states with overlapping land

claims, and relieved the states of war debts. In turn, the federal

government had to determine what to do with the ceded land. The

Land Ordinance of 1785 laid the foundation for future American land

policy. After the Indian title had been purchased, the ceded lands

were to be systematically surveyed, prior to sale or settlement,

into townships. Of the thirty-six sections of 640 acres in each

township, the sixteenth was reserved "for the maintenance of public


The Land Ordinance of 1785 was adopted by Congress on May

20, 1785. Under the Articles of Federation, Congress did not have

the power to raise revenue by taxing of the inhabitants of the

United States. Therefore, the immediate goal of the ordinance was

to raise money through the sale of land in the largely unmapped

territory west of the original colonies acquired from the UK at the

end of the war.

In addition, the act provided for the political organization of

these territories. The earlier called for the land west of the

Appelachions north of the Oh. river and east of the Mississippi to

be divided into ten separate states. However, it did not define the

mechanism by which the land would become states, or how the

territories would be governed or settled before they became states.

The Ordinance of 1785, along with the N.W. Ord. of 1787, were

intended to address these political needs.

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