JO TICE BLOOM
The territorial system of the United States is simply a colonial system with a less odious name and with some radical variations from the old world imperialism out of which the United States grew. Coming from colonial status, the Americans saw the need for changes and instituted a form of empire that provided for the incorporation of colonies into the nation as full partners. The Americans who established the system were fully sensitive to the need for government and the difficulties of administering local affairs in sparsely settled areas. Even before the American Revolution, settlers had established governments in frontier regions, notably western North Carolina and Vermont. Aware of the needs of the back country settlements and determined to provide federal control, Congress first tried Thomas Jefferson's suggestions for a colonial system. Under the Ordinance of 1784, settlers could establish their own local governments, which would evolve into states later. However, the procedures did not provide for strong control of or protection for frontier settlements so the population remained small. The Ordinance of 1784 never really functioned as expected. As a result, the Continental Congress then turned its attention to meeting the demands of the large-scale land speculators who wanted land west of the Appalachians and strong local governments to protect their investments.1
To achieve these goals in 1787, the Continental Congress adopted the "Ordinance for the Government of the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio," a plan for territorial government that laid the foundation for the American colonial system. Over the years, provisions of the original act have been changed, amended, or deleted when applied to new territories, but the basic principles remain unaltered. The year 1987 will mark the bicentennial of the Northwest Ordinance and the eve of creation of the first territorial government one year later. Out of these observances should come more research and understanding of how the ordinance and the territorial system it established functioned and how much of the apparatus still exists.