The U.S. Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance in July 1787, laying the groundwork for settlement and eventual statehood of land west of the Ohio River. The territory established encompassed the current states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and a small portion of Minnesota. Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery in the newly-created Northwest Territory.

Article VI

Article VI of the Northwest Ordinance prohibited any form of involuntary servitude except that imposed on convicted criminals within the Northwest Territory. However, the ordinance also called for the return of fugitive slaves caught within the territory. Additionally, the ordinance -- which laid out the process by which states could be formed from within the Northwest Territory -- placed no restrictions on any new state slaveholding policies upon the granting of statehood.

Support for Northwest Ordinance

The ordinance was widely supported in the South based on the belief that many new settlers to the region would come from southern states. It was thought that even though the settlers would not be allowed to own slaves personally, this would prohibit the newly formed states from supporting the growing abolition movement in the North. As it turned out, none of the states admitted to the union from the Northwest Territories allowed slavery following their admittance to the union.