Expansion and Slavery
in National Politics
The problem of territorial government and its relationship to slavery arose in the 1780s, when the first state cessions of western lands made it clear that the new United States was about to take on certain attributes of an empire. In 1784, a congressional committee headed by Thomas Jefferson presented an ambitious plan dividing the entire transappalachian West into at least fourteen states, each to be virtually self-governing from the start. To this liberal design Jefferson added several restrictions, one of which declared: "That after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said states, otherwise than in punishment of crimes." The clause was deleted, however, upon the motion of a North Carolina delegate. The Ordinance of 1784, as finally enacted, therefore contained no reference to slavery. But then the Ordinance proved so impractical that it was never put into operation.
Instead, another committee drafted a new and much different plan of government for the West. After considerable debate and revision, it won the approval of Congress in July 1787. The measure included a repeal of the Ordinance of 1784, and a change of title made it explicitly applicable only to "the territory of the United States North West of the river Ohio." At almost the last moment before passage, a Massachusetts delegate moved an addition to the five "articles of compact between the original States