- the act of Congress in 1787 providing for the government of the Northwest Territory and setting forth the steps by which its subdivisions might become states.
A law passed in 1787 to regulate the settlement of the Northwest Territory, which eventually was divided into several states of the Middle West. The United States was governed under the Articles of Confederation at the time. The Northwest Ordinance organized the territory into townships of thirty-six square miles each and provided for self-government and religious toleration in the territory. Slavery was prohibited.