In 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance to specify how these western lands would be governed. This ordinance declared that the region would be divided into three to five territories. When a territory had 5,000 free adult men, those men could elect a legislature. When the population reached 60,000 free inhabitants, the legislature could write a constitution and form a government. If Congress approved both, the territory would become a state.
A number of the ordinance's provisions reflected the principle of equality. Each new state would have equal standing with the original states, and its people would enjoy the same freedoms and rights. Furthermore, slavery would be banned in any state formed from the region.