Lot 18
  • 18

[Jefferson, Thomas]

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • The Committee appointed to prepare a Plan for the temporary Government of the Western Territory, have agreed to the following Resolutions. … [Annapolis: John Dunlap, 1 March 1784]
  • paper, ink
Broadside (16 1/2 x 10 1/4 in.; 419 x 260 mm). Two neat contemporary marginalia, likely by David Howell (see above).  PROVENANCE: W. Wadsworth (contemporary signature on verso, possibly William Wadsworth, whose brother James was a member of the Continental Congress from Connecticut, 1783–1786) — Thomas W. Streeter (Parke-Bernet, 20 April 1967, lot 1037; acquired from Peter Decker, 1961) — Joseph F. Dush (Baltimore Book Auction, 15 December 1997, lot 315)

Some small repairs at fold separations, costing a few letters at intersecting folds.


W. Wadsworth (signature on verso) — Thomas W. Streeter (label on verso; Parke-Bernet, 20 April 1967 lot 1037) — Joseph F. Dush (Baltimore Book Auction, 15 December 1997, lot 315)


Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Boyd, 6:581-607; Evans 18829; Streeter sale 2:1037; cf. Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr., "Jefferson, the Ordinance of 1784, and the Origins of the American Territorial System," in William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Series, XXIX (1972): 231–262; Arthur Bestor, "Constitutionalism and the Settlement of the West: The Attainment of Consensus, 1754–1784," in The American Territorial System, ed. J. P. Bloom (Ohio University press, 1973)


Broadside (16 1/2 x 10 1/4 in.; 419 x 260 mm). Two neat contemporary marginalia, likely by David Howell). ; two small holes at intersecting folds costing a few letters, some very light dampstaining.Some small repairs at fold separations, costing a few letters at intersecting folds.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

THOMAS JEFFERSON'S VISION FOR THE OLD NORTHWEST AND "THE FOUNDATION STONE OF AMERICAN TERRITORIAL POLICY, WHICH, AS AMENDED, BECAME KNOWN TO HISTORY AS THE ORDINANCE OF 1784" (Boyd). From the 1750s onward, the colony of Virginia consistently expanded its frontier, and, during the Revolutionary War, the commonwealth added the entire French territory of Illinois to its borders after George Rogers Clark and his army of volunteers captured Fort Gage at Kaskaskia. Word of this annexation reached Jefferson shortly after he had been elected Virginia’s Governor in 1779, but the news was not well received throughout the burgeoning United States. In fact, the ratification of the Articles of Confederation was delayed "for nearly four years after land-poor Maryland objected to this huge unauthorized acquisition by her already dominant neighbor" (Randall, Thomas Jefferson, p. 321). So controversial was Virginia’s intransigence that in 1780 Thomas Paine wrote a fiery pamphlet, Public Good, calling on the Old Dominion to cede its claim to these lands. Jefferson finally agreed to release Virginia's claims to the Illinois territory in 1783, thus enabling America’s first body of laws to be ratified. New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts all also claimed land in the Northwest Territory, but refused to surrender their claims until after Virginia had done so. This deed, moreover, demonstrated Virginia’s, and indirectly Jefferson’s, willingness to compromise and to subject the will of the individual State to that of the Union.

Immediately after the "Virginia Cession of Territory Northwest of the Ohio" was accepted by the Congress, Jefferson presented his plan for the division, development, and government of this—and future—vast tracts of western lands. Jefferson’s principal concern was for the self-determination of western governments: "Where others wanted to hand the West over to speculators, he wanted it to belong to actual settlers. Where others distrusted westerners as banditti and wanted them ruled by military force, he wanted them to govern themselves" (Jensen, The New Nation).

The present committee report recommended that "the territory ceded by individual states, to the United States, shall be formed into distinct states. … That the settlers within any of the said states shall, either on their own petition, or on the order of Congress … meet together for the purpose of establishing a temporary government. … That such temporary government shall only continue in force in any state, until it shall have acquired twenty thousand free inhabitants, when giving due proof thereof to Congress, they shall receive from them authority with appointments of time and place to call a convention of representatives to establish a permanent constitution and government for themselves."

Jefferson's report enumerated five provisions that were to be observed in establishing both the temporary and permanent governments of the new states: "1. That they shall for ever remain a part of the United States of America. 2. That in their persons, property and territory they shall be subject to the government of the United States in Congress assembled, and to the Articles of Confederation in all those cases in which the original States shall be so subject. 3. That they shall be subject to pay a part of the federal debts contracted or to be contracted to be apportioned on them by Congress according to the same common rule and measure, by which apportionments thereof shall be made on the other States. 4. That their respective governments shall be in republican forms, and shall admit no person to be a citizen who holds any hereditary title. 5. That after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States, otherwise than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted to have been personally guilty." 

The South Carolina congressional delegation objected to the fifth principle of Jefferson's outline of the new state governments and the Ordinance was ultimately passed without it. This situation was nearly identical to the removal from Jefferson's original draft of the Declaration of Independence of the final point of his charge against the British king: "violating [the] most sacred rights of life & liberty" by encouraging the slave trade. As with the modification of the Ordinance of 1784, the revision of the Declaration was made, according to Jefferson's own notes about the debate over the adoption of the document, "in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it." 

With that single but significant alteration, these preliminary resolutions formed the sum and substance of The Ordinance of 1784 as adopted by Congress on 23 April 1784. (Most of Jefferson's suggestions for new state names—Sylvania, Michigania, Cherronesus, Assenisipia, Metropotamia, Illinoia, Saratoga, Washington, Polypotamia, and Pelisipia—were also rejected.)

Although the present "Plan for the temporary Government of the Western Territory" was entirely the work of Jefferson’s pen, he was joined on the Congressional Committee by David Howell of Rhode Island and Jeremiah Townley Chase of Maryland. Howell evidently wrote the two marginal interlineations on this copy, because they conform to his annotations on Jefferson's manuscript, now in the Library of Congress. In the second line of text, he has careted in the clause "whensoever ye same shall have been purchased of the ye Indian Inhabitants & offered for sale by the U.S." and in the thirteenth line of text he has added "the Territory so to be purchased & offered for sale."

"The broadside of 1784 is a rare and special document and, in the most literal sense, an authentic and important piece of America's history. Among prominent legislative achievements of the 1780s, the articulation of a liberal policy for organizing new states in the west, in which the Resolutions of 1784 were a critical step, have an importance exceeded only by the federal Constitution itself and also by Congress's proposal of a Bill of Rights in 1789" (Pauline Maier).

 VERY RARE: this appears to be the only copy to ever appear at auction.