Ohio, the first state formed from the Old Northwest, also became the first state in the Territory to test the slavery prohibition in the Ordinance. Other territories had petitioned Congress to rescind or modify Article 6 during the 1790s, but none had yet voted on the status of African-American residents at the dawn of statehood. A resolution to enslave African-Americans came up at the Ohio Constitutional Convention ( 1802), but the proposal never stood a chance. Opponents of slavery had a majority. The Constitutional Convention of Ohio endorsed the slavery prohibition in the Ordinance. Yet, their decision did not immediately eliminate slavery from Ohio soil.
For the first four decades as a State, Ohio allowed slave holders to control enslaved blacks in Ohio. Moreover, slave holders sent enslaved blacks into the state as hired-out workers. Nothing in the federal or state constitutions warranted these courtesies. Rather, state leaders depended on southern trade, and they believed that any threat to slavery might jeopardize their revenue. Every year when slave holders came, they brought along their "chattels." From time to time, therefore, enslaved blacks stayed on Ohio soil. Whether their presence violated the Ordinance or the state constitution would be decided by the courts.
Initially, whites paid little attention to the presence of slaves in their state. African-Americans certainly did, but they were powerless to change state policy. Whenever possible, they lured away enslaved blacks, provided them food, clothing, and shelter before sending them along on the Underground Railroad. White abolitionists were capable of changing state policy. For most of the 1830s, abolitionist James G. Birney argued that certain conditions automatically freed slaves brought into Ohio. Birney had gotten this idea from England, where a court had freed a man because he had been brought onto the free soil of the nation. Birney had witnessed the successful use of this