Problems confront new nation
With the end of the Revolution, the United States had inherited the old unsolved western question-the problem of "empire"-with its complications of land, fur trade, Indians, settlement, and government of dependencies. Before the war, several colonies had had extensive and often overlapping claims to land beyond the Appalachians. The prospect of these states acquiring this rich territorial prize seemed quite unfair to those without claims in the west. Maryland, the spokesman of the latter group, introduced a resolution that the western lands be considered common property to be parceled out by Congress into free and independent governments. This idea was not received enthusiastically. Nonetheless, in 1780, New York led the way by ceding her claims to the United States. She was soon followed by the other colonies and, by the end of the war, it was apparent that Congress would come into possession of all the lands north of the Ohio River and probably of all west of the Allegheny Mountains. This common possession of millions of acres was the most tangible evidence of nationality and unity that existed during these troubled years and gave a certain substance to the idea of national sovereignty. Yet it was at the same time a problem which pressed for solution.
This solution was achieved under the Articles of Confederation, a formal agreement which had loosely unified the colonies since 1781. Under the Articles, a system of limited self-government was applied to the new western lands and satisfactorily bridged the gap between wilderness and statehood. This system, set forth in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, has since been applied to all of the continental possessions and. most of the insular possessions of the United States. The Ordinance of 1787 provided for the organization of the Northwest Territory initially as a single district, ruled by a governor and judges appointed by Congress. When this territory should contain five thousand male inhabitants of voting age, it was to be entitled to a legislature of two chambers, itself electing the lower house. In addition, it could at that time send a nonvoting delegate to Congress. No more than five nor less than three states were to be formed out of this territory, and whenever any one of them had sixty thousand free inhabitants, it was to be admitted to the Union "on an equal footing with the original states in all respects." Six "articles of compact between the original states and the people and states in the said teritory" guaranteed civil rights and liberties, encouraged education, and guaranteed that "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory."
Thus a new colonial policy based upon the principle of equal- ity was inaugurated. The new policy repudiated the time- honored doctrine that colonies existed for the benefit of the mother country and were politically subordinate and socially inferior. This concept was replaced by the principle that colonies were but' the extension of the nation and were entitled, not as a privilege but as a right, to all the benefits of equality. The enlightened provisions of the Ordinance laid the permanent foundations for the American territorial system and colonial policy, and enabled the United States to expand westward to the Pacific Ocean and to develop from thirteen to fifty states, with relatively little difficulty.