MARIETTA - "Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, that the said territory, for the purposes of temporary government, be one district, subject, however, to be divided into two districts, as future circumstances may, in the opinion of Congress, make it expedient."
So begins the Ordinance of 1787, the Northwest Ordinance, and so began the history of the Northwest Territory. The act of the Congress of the Confederation was passed on July 13, 1787, and the 225th anniversary of the signing will be recognized in a program in Marietta this Friday at 11 a.m. in East Muskingum Park on Front Street.
"I believe this was the most important document other than the Declaration of Independence," said Jean Yost, co-chair of the 225th Marietta and Northwest Territory Committee. "It laid the groundwork for our country and laid out the way our country would expand."
In the ordinance, the Northwest Territory was recognized as the first organized territory south of the Great Lakes, north and west of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi River. It was born from the Ordinance of 1784, authored by Thomas Jefferson, and the Land Ordinance of 1785. It was likely compiled by Nathan Dane, of Massachusetts, and influenced by Rufus Putnam and Manasseh Cutler.
"There are two parts to the ordinance," explained historian Louise Zimmer, who will be a speaker at Friday's program. "The sections are the framework for government - what your country can do for you - and the articles are what you can do for your country."
The Northwest Ordinance paved the way for other documents, including the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, with provisions for civil rights.
If You Go
What: A program on the 225th anniversary of the Ordinance of 1787.
Where: Muskingum Park, Start Westward Monument.
When: 11 a.m. Friday; will run roughly 45 minutes.
Details: Speakers will include historian Louise Zimmer and attorney Roland Riggs; opening by Mayor Joe Matthews; Marietta Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution will present the colors; Nancy Riley will perform chime selections from the bell tower of the First Congregational Church.
"It is so hard for us to imagine - we've always had government," said Zimmer. "But what is so incredible is that our ancestors had roots in Great Britain and Europe, where the man was the servant to the monarchy. We take it for granted that the government is the servant of the man."
Younger generations should attend events like Friday's program to better understand how easily things could have gone the other way, according to Zimmer.
"We could have all been Virginians ... George Washington could have decided to declare himself king," she said. "The reason it is important is to understand that it could have gone the other way and to appreciate what you've got."
Among the civil rights guaranteed in the Ordinance of 1787 were legal and property rights, freedom of religious worship and the right to education, as well as trial by jury and a ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
"The sixth article says there shall be no slavery," said Zimmer. "We weren't really aware of this issue until years later. Of course, Washington and others already saw trouble developing and knew this could not go on."
The ordinance set the stage for the Civil War, said Ada Woodson Adams, of Athens County.
Adams is the president of the Multicultural Genealogical Center in Chesterhill, which is dedicated to documenting the contributions of multiracial and multicultural families, including African, European, Asian and Native American, living in the Mid-Ohio Valley area prior to the Civil War. She is also a descendant of William Woodson, a union soldier in the 5th United States Colored Troops.
"Freedom seekers settled in Chesterhill in Morgan County. It is a stronghold of multiracial and multicultural families," she said. "The Northwest Ordinance was a valuable policy that paved the way for other states and for the road that lead to the Civil War."
Adams said Ohio became a free state by only one vote, that of Ephraim Cutler, and there was still a lot of opposition and rioting after the passing of the ordinance. But the Northwest Ordinance went a long way toward abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude.
"Ohio being a free state brought freedom seekers to Ohio and started the Underground Railroad. It was very active in the 1830s but I'm sure it existed well before that," she said. "It was great that Ohio passed this (ordinance)."