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The New Nation
Policies and Problems of the Confederation Government
Disposing of Lands in the Western Territory

At the end of the Revolutionary War, the United States owed huge debts. It also owned vast assets, the largest of which were the lands between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. For these lands to have value, however, the Confederation Congress needed to find a way to survey and sell them. To do so, Congress divided the western lands into townships six miles square. Each township was in turn divided into 36 sections. Each section contained 640 acres. Land was to be sold by section at one dollar per acre. In the excerpt below, what other goals was Congress trying to achieve with its land policy? What groups and interests was Congress trying to protect?

View the entire document from which this excerpt came, from Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

An ORDINANCE for ascertaining the Mode of disposing of LANDS in the WESTERN TERRITORY.

THAT the territory ceded by individual states to the United States, which has been purchased of the Indian inhabitants, shall be disposed of in the following manner.---

A surveyor from each state shall be appointed by Congress or a Committee of the States, who shall take an oath for the faithful discharge of his duty, before the geographer of the United States, who is hereby empowered and directed to administer the same; and the like oath shall be administered to each chain carrier, by the surveyor under whom he acts.

The geographer, (under whose direction the surveyors shall act) shall occasionally form such regulations for their conduct, as he shall deem necessary; and shall have authority to suspend them for misconduct in office, and shall make report of the same to Congress or to the Committee of the States; and he shall make report in case of sickness, death, or resignation of any surveyor.

The surveyors as they are respectively qualified shall proceed to divide the said territory into townships of six miles square, by lines running due north and south, and others crossing these at right angles, unless where the boundaries of the late Indian purchases may render the same impracticable, and then they shall depart from this rule no farther than such particular circumstances may require.

There shall be allowed to a surveyor for the surveying of a township at the rate of two dollars per mile, including the wages of chain carriers, markers, and every other expence, and so in proportion for every fractional part of a township.

The first line running north and south as aforesaid, shall begin on the river Ohio, at a point that shall be found to be due north from the termination of a line which has been run as the southern boundary of the state of Pennsylvania; and the first line running east and west shall begin at the same point, and shall extend throughout the whole territory. The geographer shall designate the townships or fractional parts of townships, by numbers progressively from south to north, always beginning each range with No. 1; and the ranges shall be distinguished by their progressive numbers to the westward. The first range extending from the Ohio to the lake Erie, being marked No. 1. The geographer shall personally attend to the running of the first east and west line, and shall take the latitude of the extremes of the first north and south line, and of the mouths of the principal rivers.

The lines shall be measured with a chain; shall be plainly marked by chaps on the trees, and exactly described on a plat, whereon shall be noted by the surveyor, at their proper distances all mines, salt springs, salt licks and mill seats, that shall come to his knowledge, and all water courses, mountains, and other remarkable and permanent things, over or near which such lines shall pass, and also the quantity of the lands.

The plats of the townships respectively, shall be marked by subdivision into lots of one mile square, or 640 acres, in the same direction as the external lines, and numbered from 1 to 36. Always beginning the succeeding range of the lots with the number next to that with which the preceding one concluded. And where from the causes before mentioned, only a fractional part of a township shall be surveyed, the lots protracted thereon, shall bear the same numbers as if the townships had been entire. And the surveyors in running the external lines of the townships, shall at the interval of every mile, mark corners for the lots which are adjacent, always designating the same in a different manner from those of the townships. . . .

As soon as five ranges of townships, and fractional parts of townships, in the direction from south to north, shall have been surveyed {Begin deleted text} [??], {End deleted text} the geographer shall transmit plats thereof to the board of treasury, who shall record the same with the report, in well bound books to be kept for that purpose. And the geographer shall make similar [?] from time to time of every five ranges as they may be surveyed. The secretary at war shall have recourse thereto, and shall take by lot therefrom, a number of townships and fractional parts of townships, as well those to be sold entire, as those to be sold in lots, as will be equal to one seventh part of the whole of such five ranges, as nearly as may be, for the use of the late continental army; and he shall make a similar draught from time to time, until a sufficient quantity is drawn from the return to satisfy the military claims, to be applied in manner hereinafter directed. The board of treasury shall then cause the remaining numbers, as well those to be sold entire, as those to be sold in lots, to be drawn for in the name of the thirteen states respectively, according to the quotas in the last preceding requisition on the states; provided that in case more land than its proportion is allotted for sale in any states at any distribution, a deduction be made therefor at the next.

The board of treasury shall transmit a copy of the original plats, previously noting thereon, the townships and fractional parts of townships, which shall have fallen to the several states by the distribution aforesaid, to the commissioners of the loan-office of the several states, who, after giving notice of not less than two nor more than six months by causing advertisements to be posted up at the court houses, or other noted places in every county and to be inserted in one newspaper published in the states of their residence respectively, shall proceed to sell the townships or fractional parts, at public vendue, in the following manner, viz. The township or fractional parts of a township being No. 1 in the first range, shall be sold entire, and not by lots; and No. 2 in the same range by lots and not entire, and thus in alternate order through the whole of the first range. The township or fractional part of a township No.1 in the second range, shall be sold by lots, and not entire, and No. 2 in the same range entire, and not by lots, and so in alternate order through the whole of the second range; and the third range shall be sold in the same manner as the first, and the fourth in the same manner as the second, and thus alternately throughout all the ranges; so that one half of the territory be sold [?] townships or fractional parts of townships, and the other half in less: provided that none of the lands within the said territory, be sold under the price of one dollar the acre, to be paid in specie or loan-office certificates reduced to specie value by the scale of depreciation, or certificates of liquidated debts of the United States, including interest, besides the expence of the survey and other charges thereon, which are hereby rated at thirty six dollars the township, in specie or certificates as aforesaid, and so in the same proportion for a fractional part of a township or of a lot, to be paid at the time of sales, in failure of which payment, the said lands shall again be offered for sale.

There shall be reserved for the United States out of every township, the four lots, being numbered, 8, 11, 26, 29, and out of every fractional part of a township, so many lots of the same numbers as shall be found thereon. There shall be reserved the lot No. 16 of every township, for the maintenance of public schools within the said township. Also one third part of all gold, silver, lead and copper mines, to be sold, or otherwise disposed of, as Congress shall hereafter direct.
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View the entire document from which this excerpt came, from Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.