The ordinance was adopted by the United States Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation.
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author. His original draft of the ordinance contained five important articles:
- The new states shall remain forever a part of the United States of America.
- They shall bear the same relation to the confederation as the original states.
- They shall pay their apportionment of the federal debts.
- They shall in their governments uphold republican forms.
- After the year 1800 there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of them.