Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed July 13, 1787
The authors of the Northwest Ordinance believed educated citizens were critical to the success of self-government. Article 3 declared, “. . . education shall forever be encouraged.” The Northwest Ordinance, together with the earlier Land Ordinance of 1785, set aside a section of each new township’s land for the support of public schools.
Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
The Northwest Ordinance
In the Northwest Ordinance, the nation’s first legislators laid down the principles for public education. The ordinance, which predated the Constitution, framed the plan for governing the territories “north and west of the river Ohio” and their admission to the Union. The ordinance also banned slavery in that area and guaranteed religious and civil freedom. Congress reenacted the ordinance in 1789 and subsequently extended most of its provisions to other western territories, as the United States became a transcontinental nation.