Marietta honors Northwest Ordinance of 1787
Legislation’s influence on freedom still being felt today
“In 1787 this place did not look the way it does now,” said Nancy Hollister, former Marietta mayor and current vice president of the Ohio State Board of Education. “This place was under debate, what freedoms would be afforded, what place the West would have in the forming of a new nation.”
The ordinance was adopted July 13, 1787, doubling the land under the control of the Second Continental Congress and enticing Americans west.
It’s held equal to such documents as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and laid the groundwork for the development of what later became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and part of Minnesota.
On Thursday, the 230th Anniversary Celebration was held in the first settlement of the Northwest Territory: Marietta.
Put on by the Marietta chapters of the Daughters and Sons of the Revolution, the celebration in Muskingum Park outlined not only the property rights and civil liberties defined by the Northwest Ordinance, but also the roles the document played in education.
“Studying history is a vital part of a well-rounded education, and knowing where you came from, understanding both the successes and the mistakes made by those who came before, is how we truly evolve as a society,” said Bill Ruud, president of Marietta College. “It wasn’t until 1783 (seven years after the Declaration of the Independence) that foreign powers recognized us as separate from Britain. We were still a fledgling nation.”
But even in those early years, belief in a people’s rule seemed to be at the forefront of the founding fathers’ minds.
“Despite being a legal document, the language is forthright in stating what you would get if you came here, and how you could craft your legacy,” said Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French. “It sent the message: come and spend your time and money and your children will inherit the fruit of your labor.”
French said as a lawyer and a judge she has studied legal documents for years, noticing patterns showing the traits of their authors.
“They are really mirrors that reflect the perceptions and imperfections of their authors,” she said. “But you get the idea that the founders wanted to make themselves clear.”
The ordinance was almost 80 years ahead of its time in outlawing slavery in the new territory along with outlawing indentured servitude and ensuring religious freedom.
At the celebration, the descendant of a couple once locked into the two forms of slavery outlined in the ordinance spoke. Denver Norman, of Zanesville, shared an account of how his relative, Basil Norman, had moved his wife, who had been an indentured servant, and their children to Marietta to ensure their freedoms as a mixed-race family.
“Basil Norman researched what the Northwest Ordinance meant to his family,” said Denver. “And Basil came to Marietta and lived in the third ward for many years before moving to the country for 100 acres of farmlands.”
Other rights celebrated Thursday that were first mentioned in the Northwest Ordinance include: habeas corpus, the right to a trial by jury, religious tolerance, property taxing and the preservation of lands set aside for the purpose of education and religious observance.
At a Glance
Rights outlined in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787
* Outlawed slavery and indentured servitude in the new territory
* Habeas corpus
* The right to a trial by jury
* Religious tolerance
* Property taxing
* Preservation of lands set aside for the purpose of education and religious observance