Indiana’s Timeless Tales – 1782 – 1791
Chapter title – March 1, 1784 – Virginia Cedes Claim to Virginia Territory to United States
After a legal tug of war and many compromises, Virginia ceded the lands that became the Northwest Territory to the United States. The struggle had imperiled the ratification of the Articles of Confederation and threatened to turn the newly independent colonies into a struggle for land and power. Because of the cession, Maryland became the thirteenth state to ratify the Confederation and set the stage for Congress to form the Northwest Territory and eventual admittance of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota as states on equal footing with the original thirteen states.
Maryland Stalls Ratification
During the Revolutionary War, the Federal Government ran up debts of almost eight million dollars, a staggering sum for that day. The various States also had debts due to the war. Many of the States held claims to the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. New York and Virginia had the largest claims. However, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia also had extensive holdings. These claims totaled more than 222 million acres, a huge expanse.
Virginia’s Huge Advantage
Maryland’s chief complaint was that these states held a huge advantage over the landless states. This was because they could sell these lands to pay their debts. Marylanders felt that landless states like Maryland would have to levy heavy taxes to pay theirs off, stifling their growth.
Maryland feared that land rich states could operate with out any taxes, relying on the sale of these western lands for revenue. Maryland’s residents would flee to the tax-free states. The impasse lasted almost four years.
Virginia’s claims originated in the second Royal Charter, granted by King James I. In it, he granted Virginia the lands of Maine south to the current North Carolina/South Carolina border. The lands were to extend “from sea to sea, west and northwest.” this grant extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a staggering expanse of land. Revisions to this grant occurred over the years, but by the time of the Revolution, they still included lands claimed by Pennsylvania, New York and other colonies. When Virginian George Rogers Clark conquered Vincennes, Kaskaskia, Cahokia and other western outposts, he strengthened Virginia’s claims to these regions. The Treaty of Paris had cut off the boundaries of the new nation at the Mississippi River. This still left Virginia and the other states with a vast territory to squabble over.
Congress and the states worked tirelessly to resolve the problems. New York, in a show of good faith, abandoned its land claims on January 17, 1780. Virginia followed suit on January 2, 1781, but they laid down conditions under which they would make it official. They wanted the Continental Congress to reimburse Virginia for the cost of George Rogers Clark’s expedition, affirm all boundaries, affirm Virginia land claims in the disputed territories and reject all private claims in the cession area. This satisfied Maryland, which ratified the Articles on January 30, 1781. Congress did not accept the conditions, because many of the states still maintained their claims west of the Mississippi River. It took more negotiations to work out the problems and once again, Virginia renewed its offer on October 20, 1783, accepting Congress’ recommendations. Congress accepted Virginia’s cession on March 1, 1784. They had set the stage for the formation of the Northwest Territory and westward expansion.
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