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Land Ordinance of 1785

How has the land ordinance of 1785 shaped the formation of new States?

Thomas Jefferson was acutely aware of the potential colonization West of the settlements on the Eastern Coast of “New England”.  A growing population in these original colonies, being free from English rule, would require new lands to occupy for the seemingly endless number of new immigrants.

Jefferson originally offered a systematic means to prepare new areas for Statehood in his Ordinance of 1784.  In the following year he began designing a system for surveying the newly explored lands to the West.

n the Colonial States it had become common that ownership disputes would occur because property lines were defined by landmarks such as trees, fences, or waters (all of which are ephemeral in location and relative position).

Jefferson’s proposal resulting in The Ordinance of 1785 advocated the creation of a rectangular system of boundary establishment. The basic unit of ownership was to be the Township, a six-mile square or 36 square miles.  Each township would be divided into 36 rectangular sections of land, each a one-mile square or 640 acres (in principle).

Section 16 in each township would be reserved for the benefit of public education. All other sections were to be marketable to the general public.

The Ordinance provided that whole sections of land (640 Acres each) be offered to the public at the minimum bidding price of one dollar per acre.

In preparing this system for gaining public interest in purchasing Western lands, and perhaps for funding some of the expeditions that had already been conducted and those yet to be proposed, the Continental  Congress introduced this system of rectangular divisions of land that remain the basis for land ownership among most of the United States of America.

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