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Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


This thesis analyzes the creation of congressional sovereignty in the 1770s and 1780s. Congressional leaders expanded the authority of the Continental Congress through a series of resolutions and ordinances in order to incorporate the Northwestern Territories in to the union. My sources included primary documents issued by Parliament and Congress. I also researched the writings of various American and British theorists during the debate over parliamentary rule and the rights of colonists to self-government. Also, by studying the ordinances of the 1780s, I documented the expanding confidence and authority of Congress as leaders gained control of the Northwest Territories. I discovered that Britain’s Royal Proclamation of 1763 was an assertion of imperial power over the thirteen American colonies, but more importantly was used as a model by congressional leaders for their own Resolution of 1780. Congress issued the resolution as a framework for incorporating the Northwestern Territories. The ordinances of 1784-5, and 1787 expanded and refined Congress’s sovereignty over the Ohio region as national leaders dictated the conditions of statehood and controlled all aspects of government in the territory. Congressional leaders rejected republican theories of self-determination in order to expand the union. Employing imperial sovereignty to expand a republican union calls into question the concept of state sovereignty. The original thirteen states claimed sovereignty in the Articles of Confederation drafted in 1776. However, subsequent actions by Congress and the states challenged the existence of sovereignty at the state level. Congress asserted its own sovereignty in the 1770s in order to settle border disputes between states, create new states, and protect existing states from restive populations. Congressional leaders methodically worked to centralize sovereignty in America at the expense of the states and territories before the drafting of the Constitution in 1787. A fresh review of American federalism must be undertaken in light of the events in the 1780s to refine the understanding of state sovereignty in American political theory.

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