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Arthur St. Clair
Chapter II. The Northwest from the Revolution through the Ordinance of 1787


At the close of the revolution the United States found herself heavily burdened with debts, while the only resources in view were such as might be derived from the sale of the lands commonly termed the northwest Territory, the region between the Ohio and Great Lakes extending west to the Mississippi River, which had been relinquished by Great Britain in the treaty of 1783. The title to these lands was, however, still unsettled; the Indians claimed the territory as their home and hunting ground by right of possession, while the different states asserted claims, based on their original charters and also on conquest in the case of Great Britain herself refusing for a number of years to comply implicitly with the terms of the treaty, retained her military posts in that vicinity; The settlement of state claims to this territory was a matter of pressing importance because Maryland refused to enter the new confederacy, while her neighbors had title to the wide region in the west. She argued that as all the states had contributed their share of blood and money for the common defense of this territory, they should all share in the common advantage from it. When, however, an appeal was made to the patriotism of the states, New York set the example early in 1780 by giving up her claims in the Northwest, the other states proving in turn, congress had title to all the Northwest except a small tract south of Lake Erie, the Western Reserve, which Connecticut did not cede till 1800.

It was also necessary for congress to extinguish the Indian title to these lands before she could set up a civil government. The last treaty recognized as official by the Indians was that if Port Stanwix 1768, between the British and the Indians, which recognized the Ohio as the boundary line of the whites. In gaining the right to the territory beyond this, congress unwisely decided to deal with the Indians by tribes. In 1784 a second treaty of Fort Stanwix was held by which the Iroquois consented to a western boundary line running south from the western end of Lake Ontario to the northern boundary of Pennsylvania, west along that line and down the western boundary of the state to the Ohio, the United States reserving in that district a six mile square about Fort Oswego.

The next year the treaty of Port McIntosh was held with representatives from the Wyandot, Delaware, Chippewa and Ottawa nations. It was agreed that these tribes should retain possession of a region south of the eastern half of Lake Erie, except for tracts six miles square about the military costs in the country which were reserved to the whites. Still another treaty took place in 1786 with the Shawanese Nation at the mouth of the Great Miami.

Theoretically the Indian title was settled by the lands allotted them began at the south line of the lands assigns these treaties but in reality they were not observed and only served to rouse the jealousy of some of the tribes, who denied the validity of treaties with separate tribes and stood for the old boundary line of the Ohio.

Efforts and plans for governing this new territory had not been lacking. As early as April 1783, 288 of the army officers at Newburg had drawn a plan for the organization of the Northwest by which congress might fulfill its debts to the soldiers. For some reason this was not pushed but was allowed to drop, as well as an ordinance for the organization of the west which was introduced into congress in June of the same year. But with Virginia's cession congress was put in actual possession of a large tract of land for which government must be provided.

It was then that Jefferson brought forward his ordinance for the Northwest. By his plan there were to be laid out fourteen states between the 45th and first parallels, allowing two degrees of latitude to each state in horizontal tiers. These states, to which he attached most fantastic names, were to become members of a confederation when they attained a population equal to that of the smallest of the original states. The most important provision of the Ordinance perhaps was that slavery v/as excluded from the territory. T^is clause was later dropped out, together with the fancy names for the states, and thus, with other-minor changes, the Ordinance was passed April 1784.

Though the government for the Northwest had thus been provided, the Ordinance was not put into effect, while for the next two or three years various schemes were proposed for its improvement What is known as Grayson's plan (1785) introduced some variations in the scheme, namely, that there should be but five states, that townships were to be made six miles square, that a section of a square mile in each should be reserved for education, and that the district between the Scioto and Little Miami be reserved to meet the bounties due Clark's troops.

Meanwhile the necessity of a territorial government was keenly felt among the old French settlers on the Wabash, who were in desperate straits from the confusion of war, and trouble from the Indians and squatters. In response to their petition that a government be set up among them, congress ordered on August 24, 1786 "that the secretary of congress inform the inhabitants of Kaskaskia, that congress have under their consideration the plan of a temporary government for the said district, and that its adoption will be no longer protracted than the importance of the subject and a due regard to their interest may require.

But the most potential factor in bringing these desultory efforts at organization of the west to a head was the arrival of an actual purchaser of the lands of that region, for one of the chief motives in organizing a government was that the lands might be sold to pay the public debt. This purchaser was Dr. Manasseh Cutler, a Massachusetts clergyman, who represented the Ohio Company, which had been organized in 1786 by a group of Hew Englanders, revolutionary officers. They hoped to pay for the land in army certificates, thus gaining future homes for themselves west of the Ohio. Though Dr. Cutler was ostensibly interested in making the land purchase, yet he was also concerned in the government which was to be set up there, for on that depended to a great extent the success of the Ohio Company.

He bore numerous letters of introduction to the members of congress, especially the southern delegates, who were more in favor of the project; and it is significant that four days after his arrival the Ordinance was referred to a new committee, three of the five members southerners, whose amended report was accepted four days later, July 13th, by congress. Thus in four days the work of four years was finally culminated. Just what influence^ Cutler himself had on the terms of the Ordinance it is difficult to say. A copy was sent him by the committee and he proposed amendments, all which, he says, "except one, and that is better qualified," were accepted.

This is the famous Ordinance of July 13th, 1787. After providing that for the purposes of government the territory should be one district, to be divided, however, into two, as future circumstances made expedient, rules were given for the free descent of property. The government was in the hands of a governor, secretary and three judges to be appointed by congress, the governor and judges or a majority of them being authorized to adopt such laws of the original states as they thou-ht necessary for the district. As soon as there were 5,000 free male inhabitants in the country, they could form a general assembly, which could send a delegate to congress with the right of debating but not of voting during the temporary government.

Then followed six articles of compact which gave religious freedom in the territory and secured the writ of habeas corpus, trial by jury, and proportional representation to the inhabitants.

The third article stated that education was to be encouraged and good faith observed towards the Indians. Not less than three or more than five states were to be organized in the territory and when any state had a population of 60,000 it was to be admitted to the Union on an equal footing with the original states. The last and most famous clause provided that "There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in punishment of crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.

It now remained for Dr. Cutler to make the land purchase which was attended with more difficulty, the committee being unwilling to accede to his terms. Several times Cutler threatened to leave them altogether and purchase lands from some of the states. It was at this time that he wrote in his journal, "Colonel Duer came to me with proposals from a number of the principal characters in the city, to extend our contract, and take in another company, and that it should be kept a profound secret. He explained the plan they had concerted and offered me generous conditions, if I would accomplish the business for them". The "generous conditions" were that Colonel Duer and his friends would undertake to get enough votes to pass the ordinance through on the Ohio Company's terms, that Cutler and Sargent and such of their friends in the Ohio Company, as they chose to interest, should have one half interest in the proposed right of purchase, and that Colonel Duer would loan the Ohio Company $100,000 without interest until they could collect enough for payment in signing the contract. To these terms Cutler agreed and thus the famous Scioto Company came into existence.

On July 27th the purchase was concluded and congress authorized the sale of 5,000,000 acres west of the seven ranges and east of the Scioto River; 1,500,000 acres for the Ohio Company and "the remainder for private speculation in which many of the principal characters of America are concerned". The total price was $3,500,000 but as payments were made in public securities worth only twelve cents on a dollar, the real price was only eig^t or nine cents an acre.

Cutler's contract, as well as the Ordinance of 1787, was parsed through congress, while St. Clair was president of that body, and it seems evident that the passage of the former was considerably due to St. Clair's influence, and that the price paid for this influence was Cutler's support of St. Clair for the governorship of the Northwest. Prom Cutler's Journal we learn that he had intended to support General Parsons as candidate for the governor of the new territory, but suspecting that this was an impediment to the passage of the contract, he declared that if Parsons could be made first judge he would solicit the eastern members to favor St. Clair as governor, which pleased the southern delegates. This proved to be effective, for three days after that declaration we find in the journal, "General St. Clair assured me that he would make every possible exertion to prevail with congress to accept the terms contained in our letter. He appeared much interested and very friendly, but said we must expect opposition. I was now fully convinced that it was good policy to give up Parsons, and openly to appear solicitous that St. Clair might be appointed governor. Several gentlemen have told me that our matters went on much better since St. Clair and his friends had been informed that we had given up Parsons, and that had solicited the eastern members in favor of his appointment."

St. Clair's own version of his appointment in later years was that "the office of governor was, in a great measure, forced upon me," as his friends hoped he might in that fray compensate for the losses incurred during the revolution. But he had neither the taste nor genius for speculation in land, nor did he think it consistent with his office; so that in after days he looked upon his accepting that position as the most important act of his life.

While Cutler was in Hew York negotiating his land purchase, he called on Thomas Hutchins who advised him to pick out his lands at the forks of the Muskingum. This advice was not exactly followed, for the land actually covered by the Ohio Company was the section on the west by a line just west of the Great Kanawha River and extending so far north that a due east and due west line from the seventh range to the said western line would include the whole.

Here at the confluence of the Muskingum with the Ohio the Ohio Company planted its first colony, Marietta, named for Marie Antoinette, which was protected by the garrison of Tort Harmar just across the river. During the late spring and summer of 1788 ground was cleared for homes and for their stockade, Campus Martius, just half a mile up the Muskingum. Industrious farmers who came out to the colony found a soil of astonishing fertility. During the first year 132 settlers including 15 families arrived. So the colony flourished and rapidly grew. In 1789 Harmar wrote Major Doughty, "The Hew England gentlemen are extremely industrious; Campus Martius is nearly Completed. Gay circles of ladies, balls, etc., which I have neither time nor inclination to frequent, these are the changes which in three years this wilderness has undergone."

Here at Marietta it was that St. Clair, the new governor, was welcomed on July 8th, 1783 with a salute of fourteen guns, when he arrived to organize the government of the northwest.

One of Mr.Smith's arguments seems aside from the point. St. Clair returned from New Jersey July 15th accompanied by General Irvine who on July 19th writes Butler in speaking of the Ordinance passed that he did not know who the officers of that government were to be. Mr.Smith argues from this that St. Clair had net been canvassed or such an understanding formed with the Ohio Company else Irvine would have known of it. But Dr. Poole does not argue that any such arrangement was made before July 23rd, when Cutler first suggested it; Mr. Smith's only other arguments are St. Clair's own statement given above which he made in later years, and a rather intangible one based on St. Clair's character.


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